So having travelled down Vietnam and back up again, I had a couple of weeks left on my visa to use and I knew there was still plenty of this unravelling country to explore. Having got sucked into Hanoi’s backpacker party scene for a few days I needed to escape to greener pastures so decided to take the easy option and book a tour to Mai Chau with an agency in the backpacker area near the Hanoi Backpackers Original Hostel. A tour, always a risk as you can never be sure what you’ll get, but this time it paid off…
Mai Chau valley is home to the White Tai hill tribe who live in stilt houses that sprinkle the area, built to provide natural ventilation through the bamboo flooring and protection from the damp and nature’s creepy crawlies. We stayed in a lovely guest house/home stay style accommodation surrounded by verdant paddy fields and dramatic limestone cliffs. I was instantly captivated by the litter of puppies playing in the yard!
The highlight of the trip was the bike ride and trek up to a remote village at the top of the valley. I was expecting to find swarms of tourists and local people waiting to sell us their handicrafts, but it was quite the opposite – I was relieved to find we were the only ones. On the way we saw the villagers collecting wood to construct a new community building: the men worked in pairs to carry huge trunks on their shoulders whilst the women carried heavy baskets on their backs secured around their foreheads with a band of fabric. It was serious work. The strength of the tribal people here continues to amaze me.
Although it’s not top of everyone’s list in Vietnam, Mai Chau really is a beautiful place and makes a good, perhaps more low-key but less touristy alternative to the heights of Sapa in the north. Personally I think it’s worth it if only to see the green of the rice paddies!