Local Insight: Mai Chau

attractions - Saigon/HCMC: May 31, 2016

When people think of mountains and lush, green secrecy in Vietnam, they will usually jump straight to the famous rice paddies in Sapa or Dalat’s pine forests. Mai Chau valley, though definitely earning a place on the country’s tourist radar, is not yet as much on the tourist trail.

And this, together with one of the country’s most eco-friendly infrastructures and the valley’s proximity to three distinctive ethnic groups, is what makes travel to Mai Chau so special. We had a chat with Trieu Thanh Hoa from the Mai Chau Ecolodge for a local’s look at the area.

Mai Chau Ecolodge

As Vietnam’s pioneer in ecotourism, almost all of Mai Chau’s accommodation options, from family homestays to big, luxurious resorts are “green”. The air here seems clearer too, fresher, and definitely cooler, and so Vietnamese people from Hanoi or as far away as Ho Chi Minh City come here to take a break from the heat and pollution of their city. There is absolutely no nightlife here. Unless you count a quiet circle of friends around a fire or on the veranda of their bungalow, soaking in the cool mountain air. People come to Mai Chau to slow down, rest and re-set.

The most popular things to do here are hiking and soaking in the local culture. The area itself is just bursting with natural life and lush, green foliage and there are a number of local tour providers that offer trips through the Valley and the higher ground surrounding it. But the best way to see the area is to simply set off on your own - take a trek to the beautiful Thung Khe Pass or up the hundreds of steps to Chieu Cave, or just get on foot and wander around the many caves and grottos dotted around Mai Chau.

Mai Chau valley

Many of the resorts here offer bicycles for rent which can be a great way to get around in the valley itself, and you can take yourself on a cycle tour through the local markets and ethnic villages. The area is home to three main ethnic groups: the White Thai, the H’mong and the Dzao. These unique tribes are characterised by their vibrant and beautiful costumes, handicrafts, music and dance. You will see their traditional stilt houses dotted around the valley, under the mountains and over the valley’s rice terraces.

Some of the most popular things to see in Mai Chau are the local markets, and the weekly Pa Co Sunday market is a great way to experience ethnic culture. Browse the handicrafts, the colourful cloths and the range of spices and produce. Definitely try some of the local snacks, and the local rice wine.

Pa Co market

One of the best times to come to Mai Chau is in October, to witness the rice harvest. Mai Chau Valley is home to a number of rice farms, and the lush, almost luminous green of these fields is taken up every year at around this time. The Mai Chau Ecolodge actually offers the opportunity to help in the harvest and learn about how local people work in the valley.