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The perfect day trip from Hanoi: Mai Chau Vietnam

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Mai Chau day trip from Hanoi

A Mai Chau day trip from Hanoi wasn’t on my original list of things I wanted to do in Vietnam.  Sapa however was.  I wanted to see the bright green terraced rice paddies that the area is known for.  Even more, I wanted to experience the lives of the minority tribes who live in the Sapa Valley and its surrounds.

It’s a reasonable distance out to Sapa from Hanoi, and whilst that didn’t bother us, I wanted to make sure it would be worthwhile. A quick scan of various articles online and a chat with a few people I knew who had been there made me put my visit to this area on hold until another time.

Due to the time of year, the rice fields had all been harvested.  Instead of the lush green paddocks, all I would be seeing was brown.  As much as I wanted to also see the tribes, I wanted it all!  With a journey taking almost a full day to get out there and the same in return, my timeline didn’t allow for this.  So, Sapa would have to wait.

My gain was Mai Chau.  The “hidden sister” of Sapa, it has similar qualities but so much closer to Hanoi.  With less time taken to get there, you can still spend a quality 24 hours in Mai Chau, without it feeling rushed.  Such is the pace in this area that you’ll feel like you’ve been there for much longer.

I still didn’t get the green paddocks (sigh) but it was still a wonderful place to see, and because it wasn’t peak season, it almost felt as though we had the valley to ourselves.

mai-chau-day-trip-from-hanoi-rice-fields

Where is Mai Chau?

Mai Chau is 140km south west of Hanoi.  It rests in a peaceful valley, surrounded by mountains and rice fields.  Here, the pace is much slower to the big cities, providing a terrific opportunity to relax and unwind.  We took our trip here in between visits to several big cities and it was the perfect tonic.

The Mai Chau valley is home to the White Thai Minority group, and whilst tourism has made this sleepy area a little busier, there are no dramatic impacts caused by this.  Perhaps they might try to sell you a scarf or trinket as you pass through their villages, but given where and how they live, I think this is more than ok.

White Thai Minority women in Mai Chau
White Thai Minority women

I spent most of my time on this trip with my face pressed as close to the window as I can, such is the constant activity that commands my attention.  I love the colour and disorganisation of the small villages we encounter along the way.  The local customs that are part of everyday life here leave me wondering how that would look like at home.  All of it is fascinating.

24 hours in Mai Chau
One of the many beautiful valleys we passed along the way

We pass a young kid rattling his bell to keep the cows off the road but moving them along the busy highway nonetheless.  Row after row of women line the roads selling the same green oranges. How do they all make enough money to survive?  Men sleep in hammocks in the heat of the day and people squat in the middle of nowhere, just because they can.

man squatting in vietnam

The small town of Mai Chau

There’s really not much to do here, and to be perfectly honest, it’s not the reason why you would visit unless you were just passing through.  It’s a small town, with one main street, occupied by a small market.  A visit to Mai Chau is about exploring what the region has to offer.

Explore the small villages around Mai Chau 

Hire a bike (our accommodation had them available for guests) and hit the dirt roads.  They will lead you through the tiny villages that are dotted throughout the valley.  It’s a casual and fun way of getting around, and you are able to go completely at your own pace.

Riding through Mai Chau villages

Beware the speeding motorbikes (yes they still exist out here!) and the odd cow or water buffalo.  Of more concern is possibly the potholes and dodgy road edges that could see you falling into a muddy rice field before you know it.

Mai Chai villages
A few cows block our path as we ride through
Mai Chai villages
This cow wasn’t very keen on me riding my bike near him

Sit and watch the work in the rice fields

It was harvest time when we visited, so there was plenty going on. These people work hard, very hard!  The work they do in the fields and on the farms is all manual labour too.  Not a piece of automated machinery in sight.

Getting from Hanoi to Mai Chau
Some of the manual tools used in the fields

 In the fields, we saw mostly women working, stopping for a chat every now and then as they stood up to rest their backs.  The mental and physical toughness these women exhibit is incredible, with much of their day spent either crouching, squatting or at the very least bent over.  They were always happy to give us a smile or a wave.

Mai Chau Day trip from Hanoi - women working in the field
A women working with her hoe in the field
Mai Chau Day trip from Hanoi - women working

Meet the people of Mai Chau

Like all parts of Vietnam, these villages are full of friendly people.  Because they are minority tribes they can, quite rightfully, be a little over anyone treating them like a tourist attraction.  Say hello, stop to chat, buy something from their stall and ask before you take a photo of them if they are in close proximity to you.

boy in Mai Chau
cows in mai chai village
This little boy was in charge of herding up his cow.

The houses of Mai Chau

The houses of the villages are built from timber and are usually high set.  Intricate carvings may be visible in the timber work.  The houses are high to let the breezes through under the house where many of them work.  It is also good flood prevention.

house in Mai Chau
A beautiful carved house in Mai Chau
A beautiful carved house

Where to stay in Mai Chau

Mai Chau is full of budget accommodation options, mainly in the form of homestays.  Whilst many of these homestays are not quite so authentic (western toilets for eg), they still offer a reasonable idea of how the local tribes live.  Most of them are simply a mat on a wooden floor and often the toilet will be outside.  Many of the families that run the homestays will also provide traditional meals, for an additional fee.

Travelling out of season also makes the accommodation price tag a little less.

We stayed at the Mai Chau Ecolodge right in the centre of the valley.  A truly sustainable lodge, all food, materials and labour are sourced locally, and conservation of the environment part of their everyday operations.  

For Mai Chau homestays, the Mai Chau Ecolodge or other places to stay in Mai Chau, head over to Trip Advisor for availability, prices and reviews.

Mai Chau Ecolodge
Mai Chau Ecolodge

When to go to Mai Chau

The best time to travel is between October and April.  The Mai Chau weather outside of these times is incredibly hot and humid.  Whilst the Mai Chau Ecolodge we stayed at had air conditioning, the homestays don’t, which could make your time here a little unbearable if you aren’t used to these weather conditions.  If you wish to see the rice fields in their full green opulence, then spring is the best season to go.

How to get to Mai Chau from Hanoi

Despite Mai Chau being relatively close to Hanoi in distance terms,  the trip takes roughly 3.5-4 hours.

There are many options for getting out to Mai Chau. The cheapest involve using public transport or hiring your own motorbike. Another way is to hire a driver for the day.  We chose to use the shuttle connected with the Ecolodge we stayed at, for a more convenient experience. A round trip for two people cost US$50.

Whilst 24 hours in Mai Chau was enough for us, it is an area that supports a longer stay, especially if relaxation and reflection are what you are after.

getting from Hanoi to Mai Chau


23 thoughts on “The perfect day trip from Hanoi: Mai Chau Vietnam”

  1. Lovely photos, I’m reading this sitting in Hanoi and what to do tomorrow, right after this i booked a tour to mai chau, going tomorrow early morning. Thank you for inspiring

  2. Hello, This is what I heard too. Some people even say in Cambodia people are more friendly. I guess the on;ly way is to go and discover. We ll keep in touch. Do you also collaborate with Travel agencies?

  3. Hi Vincent, no I haven’t been to Cambodia yet but from what I understand, they are quite similar in terms of culture but with a range of different things to see and do. Being neighbouring countries I don’t think you could go wrong with either.

  4. Hello, I am going to South asia in January for 3 months. I will do Thailand but still hesitating between Vietnam and Cambodia. Your article was very nice and gives desires to visit those remote destination in Vietnam. Have you visit Cambodia? Which one would you choose between both if so? Thanks for your nice posts. Cheers

  5. We traveled to Vietnam last year but only as far north as Hoi An. Would love to return and see the north part. Mai Chau looks like a perfect place to escape from Hanoi. Your eco-friendly accommodation looks excellent as well. Thnaks for sharing the amazing photos! 🙂

  6. Totally amazing photos! Ho Chi Minh City was on my bucket list for some time and it seems like I need to add Mai Chau as well!

  7. I’ll admit, this is the first time I’m hearing about Mai Chau! That’s awesome you can do it as a day trip from Hanoi. What a beautiful part of the world. Your photos are stunning, thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. stacey veikalas

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I actually love your stories and your photos! What fun it looks like it was and the locals all look so sweet! That Lodge is to die for! Love it! I still need to get there!

  9. I’d never heard of Mai Chau – and it looks like the perfect off the beaten path destination. I’ve always wanted to visit Sapa for the green rice paddies tiered into the hills too – so I can totally understand why you decided to skip it because of the harvest. Mai Chau was a great alternative tho!

  10. I’ve never heard of this town, and of course, I like that it is small and has many ways to experience local life and meet locals. I would definitely have to opt for the Ecolodge as I have a hard time sleeping in hot or muggy conditions, but a home stay would be fun!

  11. What a nice discovery! I also had to put Sapa on hold due to the weather conditions (lots of rain so muddy paths and maybe some snow), what a pity I did not know about Mai Chau. Good that you took the bikes, it is the best way to explore these little villages in my opinion

  12. Such a great insight to local life and loving the dresses what some of the local girls are wearing near the top of the image. The area looks beautiful and some of the houses are beautiful. Great post 🙂

  13. Wow — this looks great. I love Vietnam but I need to spend more time outside the main cities! Mai Chau looks like a great idea.

  14. OMG! What a coincidence, i have some photos in my travel diary that match what you mention. The first photo you upload is the same which i took from Uttrakhand, India.

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