Mai Chau is a rural district of Hòa Bình Province, it is about 140 south-west of Hanoi and takes you proximately 4 hours bus journey from the capital. Mai Chau plays hide-and-seek among the mountain surrounded and keep its wonder right over the rice field and terraces on the side of the mountain.
The living-pace is much slower and more peaceful to the big cities. Just imagine that one day, you wake up by roosters sounding the alarm that dawn is on its way and the rain is mildly falling on the straw roof, look through the window, smell fresh in the air and everything seems very vague. That is how we call the peaceful feeling of Mai Chau. It is looking all sleepy and melancholic in some way but this small town will give you the best experience of the life of Vietnamese ethnic minorities on the mountainous part of this country: cheerful, colourful and lovely.
The drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau can take 3 – 4 hours with local or direct buses running daily. If you are still wondering what you will do in Mai Chau, let’s take a look at this list:
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1. First, shall we get used to the local people by visiting the market?
The market on the mountain is packed with people buying food for their daily meals and selling homemade produces and handicraft. You can easily find the common food and necessity of the local people here: from the frog meat to unknown (delicious and editable, of course) fruits and vegetables, from the silver wares to hand-woven silk.
Don’t miss this chance to get those items, especially amazing, unique and well-made handicrafts, straight from the house where they’re made. Each ethnic people have their own colourful traits, patterns and secret methods embodied in those handicrafts, so the handicrafts can represent their cultures. They are authentic and support the local people and there is definitely no reason to refuse to choose it for souvenirs anyway.
2. A bike ride through the rice paddy fields
It’s time for some outdoor activities. It is possible and worth a trip around renting a bike at a really cheap price, the range is from $1 up to a few dollars, and have a tour around the village. You can see the energetic daily life of the villagers and admiring the beauty of the rice paddy fields as well as the highland scenery. Strangely, the rice paddy fields in Vietnam hold appeal, yet those on the Northern mountainous areas like in Mai Chau, are unexplainable charming. Touring around the village on a bike will make you feel like you are a part of the life here. Everything is photogenic, from the children playing and laughing to the farmers with their buffaloes on the golden or green lush field. They deserve to be captured in your eyes and also your camera.
3. Have a sip of rice wine
Among those things to do in Mai Chau, the most local thing must be having a sip of rice wine made by locals. It is said that you haven’t been to the Northern mountainous region of Vietnam if you haven’t drunk the rice wine. It can be viewed as a symbolic delicacy and even Vietnamese people are really, really fond of it. The wine is made from fermented cooked sticky rice and herbs from the local forest, so its taste varies depending on the place it’s made. But in general, it tastes good and easy to drink.
The rice wine will warm you up in the cold night on the mountain. A special thing about this wine is how it is drunk. It will be poured into a large pot and some long, slender cane tubes will be placed as the straws. You can sip in the wine through these straws and enjoy the taste of this mountainous area.
4. Join a local family meal
If you go to Mai Chau in a group or stay with a local family, you will be able to experience the family-style meals. The dished will be home-cooked with local ingredients and in traditional ways. Traditionally, you will eat with chopsticks so you should familiarize with them. If not, ask the locals to teach you how to use the chopsticks correctly to enjoy the meal to your fullest.
Some of the most common local dishes that you might see are steamed sticky rice, grilled meat, bamboo shoots and surely some pots or cups of rice wine. You may expect to have a lot of local fruits as dessert
5. Participate in evening entertainment
After your dinner, it’s time to move to the entertainment part. You will be watching live show of traditional dancing, singing and instrument playing. The people here love doing so, it is already a part of their culture and their daily life.
If Mai Chau, at first sight, is misty, sleepy and melancholic, the nightlife here will change your mind. Beautiful and colourful dances, songs in a mysterious and foreign language and the vibe of traditional instruments will travel your night into a festival on the mountains. What a fun things to do in Mai Chau.
6. Try the local cuisine
Talking about eating, it would be a big mistake if you skip trying local delicacy. Mai Chau has a lot of famous local dishes, all of them are guaranteed to make your mouth water.
The bamboo rice is a daily part of the meals in Mai Chau. This dish is cooked by simple pressing wet rice with added salt, into bamboo tubes, and cooking on direct heat. It surely goes with a tasty dipping mixture of peanuts, salt and other ingredients.
When in Mai Chau, you may have a chance to try the deep-fried cicadas. Yes, you didn’t read it wrong, a delicacy of Mai Chau is deep-fried cicadas. The local people will catch the cicadas from the tree and leave the uneditable parts out. Then, those small incests will be deep-fried in a pan of oil. This dish may sound frightening to some people, but it actually taste good.
If you are a fan of caffeine, don’t miss out the coconut coffee. It is a version of Vietnamese coffee and recently has gained a lot of reputation. Coconut coffee is Vietnamese coffee blending with condensed milk and coconut milk. It is sweet and super delicious. You can ask the local people for the address of the coffee shops selling this type of coffee.
7. Let’s go pick up trash
The tourism may have some negative effect on Mai Chau’s environment. You are likely to see a lot of rubbish thrown on the street. Please spend some time to take and put them into the trash can, it would help the people here.
And don’t forget to keep it clean yourself. Please refrain from throwing or leaving garbage behind you or during your trip. It will show your respect and appreciation for the village and the people.
8. Friendly talk with local people
The people in Mai Chau are familiar with tourists and they do not hesitate to show friendliness and hospitality. They are generally easy to talk with, if you have a tour guide or interpreter, you can ask them to help with this. Or you can even you the sign or body language to chat with local people and some people even can understand basic English.
Talking with them will help you to understand more about life here. They can show you what they do every day, or the beautiful spot only they know about. Talking with them is a way to show your interest in them, as well as convey your positive feeling towards the people.
9. Contemplating the architecture
Another things to do in Mai Chau is exploring the house architecture. The house and other building in Mai Chau are traditionally built and preserved in a way to showcase the culture of the ethnic minority. Some of the traditional stilts houses are turned into homestays or hostels. Therefore, you can see them really well.
The house is mostly built of wood or bamboo, some are over concrete, others are over water. There are staircases to get on the house and livestock are kept under the house, among the stilts. Inside the house, you can find the furniture and decoration are arranged in traditional way.
10. Sleep in a stilt house
As mentioned, some of the stilt houses are now used as homestay or hostels, you can spend the night in one like the real Thai people. Typically you will sleep on the house’s bamboo or timber floors with a mattress. There will be pillows and bedspreads made from the traditional, hand-woven Thai silk.
It may not be as luxurious as a bed in a deluxe room in a five-star hotel, but it is comfortable. Not every day you will have the chance to sleep three meters away from the ground. It’s the way local people sleep from the past till now. Normally you will sleep with other people in your group, or you can choose a private room at a higher price.
11. Spend the night together
Traditionally, local family members sleep together in one big communal room. If you stay in a homestay or in a stilt house, you will have a chance to get a good night sleep with other people. It is obvious that the night will be noisy, people around you will be talking a lot before sleeping. But it is a great experience: you can hear the stories of other people and bond with them. And on a tour trip like this, it is good not to be alone.
12. Together in Mai Chau
Surely on your tour, you will not stay alone. You will meet groups of tourists just like you and may join in some activities together. It is always good to make new friends along the trip. You will never know who is going to meet tomorrow. You can make friend with the local people. Some families are friendly enough to invite you into their own house, eating, chatting with them like a family member. If you are lucky enough, you can follow and join in their daily life: feeding the chicken, taking care of the rice fields or selling goods in the market.
13. Playing with the children and stray dogs
The village is filled with stray dogs and children. They are always playing together, shouting and laughing. You can join the kids to play some traditional game, or you can go pet some docile and lazy strays dogs. Children and dogs alike, they don’t fear tourists. Their smiles will make good photos for you. Just looking at them, you will feel happy.
14. Go hiking for the view
Put on your shoes and hike around your accommodation place. A day wandering in Mai Chau is a day to appreciate the natural beauty of this mountainous area. The view on your way is always spectacular and you will find some extremely dreamlike spots that you will surely snap tons of photos. The scenery, the picture of people working on endless rice fields, the sight of local people in colourful clothes walking on the small path will be unforgettable memories.
15. Waking up with the roosters
Vietnamese country life starts with the sound of the roosters. Roosters have long been Vietnamese living alarm clock since they crow at sunrise, marking a new working day. Staying in Mai Chau for the night means you will be wake up with the voice of the roosters, very likely, beneath the bamboo floors of the stilt houses.
People will get up after the roosters and start their day. It is a chance to watch the day slowly wakes up in Mai Chau like this. You may find this strange and it can be annoying (at the sound of the roosters), but please embrace this small thing of Vietnam. If you spend a long time in Vietnam, especially in the countryside, eventually you will miss the roosters when leaving.
16. Living a peaceful and slow pace of life
Mai Chau is far different from the busy city, the life here is at an easier and slower pace. It is like a way to escape the breathless and rushing city life and refresh yourself. One of my favorite things to do in Mai Chau is waking up in the morning, strolling around and breathing in some fresh air.
You can try living like local people by helping them in their daily activities. From tending the rice crops, weaving silk, cooking wine to prepare the meals, they will all appreciate your efforts.
17. Weaving silk
You can take a step further from buying silk in Mai Chau market to actually weave silk yourself. The local people are more than happy to show you the way they create those beautiful silky fabrics. It takes tons of efforts, time and skills to weave silk, so please appreciate the handicraft of the local people here.
Women in Thai household learn to weave from an early age and spend most of the time beside the loom. They make everything from scratch, they raise the silkworms, harvest the cocoons, reel the silk from them, dye the silk threads with colour and weave the thread into silk. They even embroider patterns on the silk and make their clothes and accessories from them.
18. Visiting Go Lao Waterfall
It is time for you to visit sightseeing destination. The first place is Go Lao waterfall, also called Go Mu waterfall. It is about 15 km away from Mai Chau town. You will be fascinated by the pristine beauty, rustic of this small waterfall.
The road to Go Lao Waterfall is quite hard to conquer, but it worth the effort once you see the waterfall. The scenery of the waterfall is frequently described as majestic and poetic, even the difficult road has its own lively beauty with Muong houses at the foot of the mountains and the dreamy Ba Khan lake.
19. Touring through the Mo Luong Cave
Mo Luong Cave is located opposite the Mai Chau Lodge. This cave system runs deep into the Phu Ka mountain. Inside the cave, it is like a large cathedral linking to different caves.
The shape of the rocks and stalactites will make you feel like Alice in a wonderland filled with mysterious stone creatures. The picture inside the cave is spectacular and impressive just like any other famous cave across this country. A special thing about the cave is it being a historical destination since it was the base for Vietnamese fighters to meet and store their arms during the Vietnamese Wartime.
20. Chieu cave, a thousand steps to heaven
If you want some physical challenge, let’s go to Chieu Cave. The only way to tour this cave is by climbing a 1,200-step stone staircase to the magnificent cave with two chambers. The starting point of the staircase is right beside the giant and ancient Xa Pung tree.
Inside Chieu Cave, it is quite flat and cool and impressive. You will be surprised by the pristine, shimmering and endless stalactite forests. The stalactites come in many shapes, sizes and colours, ready to blow your mind away. it will feel like you are transported back in time, to the vivid Pristine Era world.
This is the end of the list of 20 things to do in Mai Chau. We hope that you will find this helpful and encouraging you to visit Mai Chau someday. If you have any questions or if you want further information and advice, please feel free to contact us, the AZ Local Trip team. It is our pleasure to help you with planning your perfect trip to Vietnam!