Introducing Mai Chau
The distance from Hanoi to Mai Chau Valley is approximately 150km; therefore, it takes you more than 3 hours to reach a beautiful Mai Chau Valley. Here located the Lac Village, about 1km from the town center of Mai Chau District. Coming to Mai Chau, tourists will be warmly welcomed by the picturesque scenery of Mai Chau lying in a green valley of paddy fields dotted with rows of stilt houses. These stilt houses belong to Thai Community – one of six ethnic minorities living in Hoa Binh. Spending one night at one of the stilt houses in Mai Chau, tourists have chance to enjoy the folk dances and songs that are accompanied by Gong music, as well as experience the feeling of drinking Can Wine – an important cultural symbol for ethnic minorities in Hoa Binh.
Mai Chau is located around 140km from Hanoi in a peaceful valley sheltered by the outside world by a dramatic ring of hills. Its isolation has allowed a traditional way of life to thrive in a way that you wouldn’t expect so close to the capital city.
Strictly speaking, this doesn’t apply to Mai Chau itself, as it is just another small Vietnamese country town with the usual array of garishly-painted concrete houses. What we’re really talking about here is the adjoining villages of Ban Lac and Pom Coong. Here it’s all about bamboo stilt houses and paddy fields, with a feel that’s more like rural Laos or Thailand than Vietnam.
It’s no surprise that Mai Chau doesn’t feel particularly Vietnamese, as most of the villages’ inhabitants are from the White Thai ethnic group, speaking Thai as their first language, though they are also fluent in Vietnamese. But this is not some kind of Sapa-style “hill-tribe experience” – it’s much more low-key here. You won’t usually see people in traditional dress, unless it’s for a special occasion, nor will you be chased down the street by a mob of women trying to flog you ethnic handicrafts.
Mai Chau is certainly no stranger to tourism, but it’s not on the tourist map in the same way as, say, Sapa or Halong Bay; most visitors on a typical two-week north-to-south Vietnam trip won’t come this way. And although it gets a lot of weekend visitors from Hanoi, these are largely students or ex-pats rather than the typical domestic tourist, so it’s escaped the karaoke bars and grandiose hotels usually found in domestic tourism hotspots.
Why Not Go
Two words sum up the Mai Chau experience – “village homestay”. Unless you can afford to stay in the plush Mai Chau Lodge, there is really no point in coming to Mai Chau if the idea of a village homestay doesn’t appeal. You are sleeping on a mat in a bamboo stilt house, in a large communal room probably shared with the host family and/ or other travellers. There are no restaurants or bars unless you walk back to Mai Chau town itself – you eat and drink with your homestay hosts.
On the other side of the coin, Mai Chau may not appeal to the more hardcore traveller looking for a really authentic homestay experience. The stilt houses have been modernised to meet the needs of foreign visitors, with electricity, running water and sit-down toilets. The villages get their fair share of tour groups, especially Lac, and the majority of houses are geared for tourism in some way, either offering homestays or selling textiles.
Mai Chau is the perfect respite from the craziness of Hanoi. It’s a serene, relaxing rural idyll, and the vivid green paddy fields will match your picture postcard fantasies of the Vietnamese countryside. It’s a good way to meet one of the ethnic minority groups in a setting that’s neither too touristy nor too inaccessibly off-the-beaten-track. And a bamboo stilt house really is a pretty memorable place to spend the night.
There is an estimated 48,570 inhabitants including 7 Ethnic Minority groups. ‘White Thai’, ‘H’Mong’, ’Zao’, ’Muong’, ’Tay’, ’Hoa’, and ‘Viet’. Mai Chau consists mainly of the ‘White Thai’ people. The Ban Lac People have Thai ancestors that settled in the North-Western area of Vietnam. The two tribes, White Thai and Black Thai, settled in the same area and make up the largest ethnic population of the region.
The Mai Châu area is well known for its stilt houses. The type of stilt houses, or pile dwellings, they construct are called Thai stilt houses and are made of bamboo and timber. These houses are elevated 10–12 feet off the ground in order to avoid water damage and shelter animals from the elements.