Mai Chau (Vietnamese: Mai Châu) is located in Hoa Binh province in the northwestern part of Vietnam, approximately 160Km from Hanoi. 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.
As you approach Mai Chau you will have the chance to view the village from afar. From the top of Cun Mountain you will be blown away with the superb panorama of Mai Chau, nestled, snugly between two towering cliffs and surrounded by lush emerald green paddy fields, the sight is truly enchanting so make sure you have cameras at the ready.
If you are looking for a get away from the busy and crowded hustle of Hanoi, you may have just found it. Mai Chau would be ideal for travelers seeking an authentic Vietnamese experience with the option of ‘Home Stay’, available in two of the ‘White Thai’, villages nearby. Ban Pom Coong and Ban Lac are both run by the ethnic minority families who have lived and worked the land for generations. ‘Home Stays’, purpose is to give an insight into the lives of the local people and the structure and cost of the stay is almost exactly the same in both villages. I did however find Ban Lac to be the more developed of the two as Ban Lac boasts more gift shops and a busier ‘night life, what there is of it anyway!’
The housing is traditional wooden buildings sat on top of stilts. For your ‘Home Stay’, you can expect large communal rooms on the second floor where mats will be laid down on top of the squeaky, split bamboo flooring. The ‘White Thai’, are very conscious of hygiene and cleanliness so remember to leave footwear outside at all times. Although it is very basic and simple accommodation, you will find western style toilets, hot water and in some houses satellite television installed. The cost will set you back around 150,000VND and for this price you will enjoy an evening meal prepared and cooked for you by the locals, a bed for the night and also breakfast the following morning. Sitting down for dinner with the ‘White Thai’, is a truly warming experience, their hospitality really is second to none.
While living with the locals you will be sure to see some of their old traditions and customs. Green tea would be offered to guests, especially by the man of the house and it would be common for the female (usually an older lady), to offer you the chance to blacken your teeth by chewing ‘Betel’! A betel chew is made up of several ingredients: betel leaf, slivers of areca palm nut and a bit of lime paste. The pieces of nut covered with lime paste are wrapped in a leaf of the betel pepper vine, making a tiny package that fits neatly into the pouch of the cheek. Although teeth look unsightly to us, tooth blackening prevents tooth decay. Those who have had their teeth blackened maintain a full set of teeth longer than those who have not undergone the process. Teeth blackening may prolong life by maintaining the capacity to enjoy a wholesome diet.
I was fortunate enough to visit and stay at ‘Mai Chau Lodge’, courtesy of Ms. Cung Minh Ha who is working alongside the Lodge. The occasion was 125 years of tourism in Hoa Binh Province and we attended to show our support.
An elegant building with 16 beautifully designed and decorated rooms located in the heart of the village looking out onto a spectacular view from every possible angle, whether it is towards the mountains or the valley. On entry I was greeted, warmly by the staff. Rest assured, while staying at the lodge they will see to it that you want for nothing and what’s more, it is always service with a smile which I believe to be very important.
A mix of local specialties and world cuisines meet in the middle creating a memorable dining experience. You also have the choice of a fine selection of wines and spirits or if you are really set on experiencing all things traditional throughout your stay, go for a bottle of locally produced rice wine. My personal favorite!
Although in the middle of this basic and undeveloped, picturesque paradise, you will enjoy comforts including; en-suite bathrooms, hair dryers, air conditioning, satellite television, telephones and free unlimited internet connection.
After a day of wandering around the local market and seeing the many weird and wonderful things for sale or traditional clothing being skillfully woven operated by the ‘Thai’ women using fascinating homemade machines, I really enjoyed a dip in the lodges’ swimming pool, a soak in the Jacuzzi and a steam bath before sprucing up for the evening.
Visiting Mai Chau, I would recommend one night with the locals to quench your thirst for Vietnamese culture in a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere at the lodge. Simon James Smith