Travel Guide to Off Beat Mai Chau Nearby Hanoi, Vietnam
STORY: After getting some much needed sleep, i was off to find a decent travel agency to help me figure out where i should go. I've done my research on top places to go, but i wanted to understand where i want to be. It's my first time in Hanoi, and the cold wave of the Thursday morning breeze made me more excited to venture into far flung places. I met Hoang who was there busy manning this travel agency along Hanoi's old district. It was inevitable that she would recommend Halong Bay. Why not? It's Hanoi's biggest tourist attraction. I asked her if there would be a lot of people going there. She said, "many tourists go there". After a brief pause, i said i will go Mai Chau instead.
EXCLUSIVE: When i started traveling back in 2007, i had a fascination with discovering hideaways and partying with other tourists. For a while, it was like an addiction. Meeting people of your age from all parts of the world is such a delight. Little by little, as years pass by, i began to realize that i have been too preoccupied with too much of temporary things that the real essence of traveling has started to be a second priority, and that is to really uncover hidden gems of the destination.
I was picked up by a bus similar to the photo above in front of the travel agency a day after. With nothing but a warm jacket and a promise of less people, more local destination, i was off to Mai Chau. I was excited as hell.
Located in Hoa Bin Province, about 135 kilometers away from Hanoi, Mai Chau is a rural destination that's home to 7 ethnic groups, mostly white Thai people. With a population not exceeding 50,000 people, you know you'll be in a off the beaten path destination. And that is exactly why i went here in the first place.
The road to Mai Chau is extremely beautiful. Passing through mountain ranges and jagged cliffs, the elevation of the road started to rise. The air is so much cleaner on the road to Mai Chau. After stopping by for a refreshment break, the bus sped away on the last 40 kilometer ride to my destination.
When i stepped outside the bus as soon as we arrived, I already concluded that i made the right decision. The view of emerald green rice paddies, and not too tall mountain ranges are such a sight to behold. The houses made of stilts made living conditions less commercial. There were a couple of four-legged creatures roaming around Mai Chau. All of which complemented the vibe of the place.
First order of the day was to eat our lunch. What was served was mostly vegetables and a plate of poultry. Good thing, rice was available as i needed carbohydrates to keep myself energized for the day. Then, we were off to the trail. There were free bicycles to use to explore Lac Village. But i wanted to ride a motorcycle, so i was at the back of our fantastic guide who made everyone laugh and smile with his amazing stories. It's funny that the last helmet available was pink, so i trooped and wore it for OOTD. Ha.
To be totally honest, if you're looking for adventure in Mai Chau, you're better off somewhere else. What won me over was that Mai Chau is such an off beat destination. And discovering with only a handful of tourists made the experience worthwhile. I was chatting with locals the whole time, and made new friends even if they don't understand half of what i was saying.
There were many products on sale, and i had a bargain buying too many weavings for the home. Now, as i write this, i could literally see memories of my trip to Mai Chau as the blanket is now tucked in my bed. I forego Halong Bay during this trip, but it's okay because i went to Mai Chau anyway.
With two amazing guides whose smile were from ear to ear, it's impossible not to like Mai Chau.
TIPS: The best time to visit Mai Chau is from October to November, and February to May. During this time, the weather is sunny but not too hot. December to February is an ideal time to visit, too, because the weather is cool enough to make strolls relaxing. Avoid the monsoon season which falls from June to September, where mornings are too hot, and afternoons receive heavy rain showers.
RECOMMENDATIONS: You can visit Mai Chau on a day trip, or better yet, you can stay overnight in one of the many guest houses and homestays. Nearby is Pu Long Nature Reserve which is home to many endangered animals like langurs, leopards and birds. Make a way to visit Mo Luong Cave, Chieu Cave, Pieng Kem Grotto among others. Of course, try to explore Lac Village, and nearby Pom Coong - home to an ethnic Thai village.