We couldn’t have picked our time to stay in Mai Chau any better. After spending time in some of the major cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the lure of lush green rice fields and rolling mountains was just the tonic.
Vietnam is a relatively flat country, with only a few regions boasting mountains. On a trip that has so far seen the smog of the city, the fierceness of an ocean being swept up by a typhoon thousands of kilometres away, and the serenity of the Mekong, staying in the mountains offered another perspective.
Mai Chau is also home to three minority tribes. Here the White Thai Minority have made their home. But, more on all of that later.
Mai Chau is located approximately 150km south west of Hanoi. Whilst the distance might not seem onerous, it takes 3.5 to 4 hours of driving time to get there. Of course, part of the time is just trying to move through the chaos that is Hanoi traffic, but for the main part, it’s country roads.
The town of Mai Chau is not the reason to come out to this area. It’s small and apart from the main street which has a small market and a few stores, there’s not much to see. The real beauty lies a couple of kilometres down the road, in the valley, nestled in amongst the mountains.
Where to stay in Mai Chau
With a somewhat limited accommodation offering in this area, the Mai Chau Ecolodge would be the best option for a comfortable stay. There are home stay options available if this suits your sense of adventure and budget.
This is an independent lodge, with many people arriving here all at once on the hotel’s shuttle. This means that there will often be a queue to check-in. If you are not one of the first to be processed, the reception area is a comfortable spot to take a break from the driving.
Take a seat on one of the timber chairs and it won’t be long before you are served with a welcome drink. This one, a strong blend of ginger, was a little overpowering for me, but quite refreshing all the same.
As the name would suggest, supporting the environment and the community through sustainable practices and processes is a high priority. As you wander around the property, you’ll see weeds competing with other plants, all supporting different forms of life. Bugs and other little critters lurk under the green foliage, and staff members collect garden snails every morning as a food source. Butterflies, such serene and beautiful things are so hard to come by in so many places these days. Here, they fly around everywhere, stopping to flap their wings on some overgrown lantana, or whizzing off beside a dragonfly (another insect not often seen!)
They use chemical free products, provide water in glass bottles from their own water treatment plant to avoid the overuse of plastic bottles and use grey water in toilets. Electricity comes from solar energy and all waste is treated on site and used in the fields once treated.
Everything on this site has had input from locals, whether it be the provision of labour, products or consultation.
The eco lodge and its rooms cascade down the hill, affording all of them a view of the mountains and the paddocks at their base. Ranging from superior rooms, right through to the Presidential Suite, and several options in between there is something to suit everyone’s situation.
We stayed in the Junior Deluxe, a very spacious, airy and comfortable room, with an unimpeded view across to the mountains.
Due to the time of year, the rice fields had been harvested, meaning that they look more brown than green. Still, so much work is obvious in the fields and it was amazing just to watch how hard they all worked. The mountains in the background were of course as green as ever.
Let’s take a look
The room has a rustic, natural feel, as you would (and should) expect from an ecolodge. Tiled floors that wouldn’t look out of place in some European countries or South America keep the room cool, and add an air of difference to a stock standard hotel room. Natural stone walls, using remnants from the road through the mountain from Hanoi to Mai Chau feature throughout. All furniture including the bed is hand crafted. A small cupboard has some hanging space, a minibar and safe.
Perhaps one of the few non-eco inclusions is the air conditioning. I totally understand why they have it, and whilst others might have a different view, in humid conditions such as these, I’m ever grateful for it. It’s also essential at night time. Signs around the room note that mosquitoes may be present and not to leave windows and doors open towards the late afternoon. I didn’t see any mosquitoes in my room, but I just had to bring the net down. I see these so rarely these days that it’s a treat to sleep under one.
The bathroom amenities, including the vanity basin are located outside the actual bathroom, which makes no difference to me whatsoever. It might perhaps be a little unusual to those who are used to it being in a dedicated bathroom.
The bathroom is reasonably spacious although made difficult to get into by a seriously solid door that can’t stay open. This annoyed me so much that I got my engineer husband to use the bathrobe belt to rig up a contraption to keep it open! In a room such as this I’d do away with the door completely (or at least have something lighter !)
Looking right at home in an ecolodge was this timber bath tub, built by locals out of jackfruit wood. With a view outside to the courtyard and total privacy, I didn’t see the need to draw the curtain across.
A note that this is an ecolodge. There are some things that you will find here that you won’t in a normal hotel. There was a rather organic smell in the bathroom as a result of the grey water used. (another reason why the door needed to be kept open)
The taps are those old fashioned types and were a little tricky to get on at times. Anything where I have to select shower or tub off the one device usually sees me covered in water!
Once I worked out how everything functioned, the tub was a relaxing way to end the day.
Bottled water is provided in your rooms. Whilst there are many who will try their luck drinking the local water in any country they go to (I’m not one), there were explicit signs here advising guests not to drink the tap water.
A jar of Mai Nhot (rice wine) and fresh fruit was in our room as well. A lovely touch, although I honestly couldn’t drink that wine. It was pure alcohol! The inclusion of a Non La (vietnamese hat) for both of us to wear when riding our bikes was super cool!
Our villa was in a bungalow adjacent to another. Whilst I never heard another soul, it pays to remember your security as anyone can walk around to your room. And even though I was happy to bare all out the back in the bathroom, the front window isn’t probably the best place to get dressed, especially with the curtains open 🙂
For the most part, the activities here centre around exploring the local villages and relaxing. It’s the place to take it easy. The gym at this ecolodge is an outdoor one. Grab a bike and head off onto the dirt roadways, winding your way through the local villages, and saying hi to everyone you meet. Just watch out for whizzing scooters (no escaping them even here), cows, dogs and all manner of other possible obstacles.
Tip – don’t just grab the first bike you see. It took me a while to find one where I could a) reach the pedals b) didn’t have a seat that swung 90 degrees when I rode it and c) had pedals that didn’t fall off.
If you are staying a bit longer and want to explore further afield, the team at reception can assist with some organised tours.
Relax by the pool
In the heat of the day out here, the pool offers cool respite. The water was incredibly cold and not at all what I expected, but ever so refreshing once I was in. Pool towels are provided at the bar, along with a range of cocktails, beer and wine. The service was a little slow at times, with the wait staff seeming to accumulate orders before preparing them. What a great thing that no-one is in a hurry out here!
It’s also necessary to understand that this eco lodge employs locals from the minority tribes, teaching them English and other transferrable skills. It’s one of those great opportunities to be truly helpful to other people and assist them with their learning.
Enjoy the food made from fresh local produce
The lodge is serviced by a restaurant located above reception. The breakfast that is included in your room rate is served here each morning, along with lunch and dinner. There are not many other options nearby so if you stay here I would expect to be eating all your meals here.
It was here I enjoyed talking with the White Thai minority people the most. Ever so keen to look after you, and serve you good food, they were an absolute delight.
The food is all cooked fresh to order and there’s nowhere better to eat it than on the outdoor verandah.
Don’t miss the dancing show
Every night dancers from the local tribes put on a wonderful display of traditional dance.
If you are a budget traveller, public buses connect to the town of Mai Chau from Hanoi. If you are staying at the ecolodge, you would then need to find your own way here.
For ease, convenience and safety, I chose to pay the US$25 per person for a return transfer from my Hanoi hotel. The van is air conditioned, comfortable and with bottled water and wifi included, it was a hassle free way of getting directly to the lodge. The driver stops along the way at a local shop which also has clean toilet facilities. It’s a chance to buy a drink and something to eat from the store owner to thank them for the use of these amenities which are few and far between along the road.
Going to Vietnam ? These might come in handy. Click on the images below.
A special thank you to the Mai Chau Ecolodge for extending an invitation to stay with them. As always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.