The Charm of Mai Chau, Vietnam

Nestled in a valley of the mountainous area the North West of Vietnam, Mai Chau is a comfortable, easy, relaxing and totally charming place to visit. It’s in the Hoa Binh Province just 140 km from the capital city of Ha Noi. It’s a place to chill out with the local hospitality, a place to enjoy the planned and spontaneous local entertainment and to indulge in a little easy, not too energetic exploration.

The People and the Culture

The local people are primarily from the Thai ethnic minority groups which includes the White Thai and the Black Thai. In Vietnam, when a colour is given to the name of a tribe it denotes the primary colours used in their traditional dress. Other than in the dancers, you do not see many people wearing traditional clothes in this area (unlike Sapa and the more rural areas). However they do still live mainly in the very traditional stilt houses. 


Mau ChauThis picture is typical of the area….lush green foliage and crops surrounded by distant haunting mountains. The town of Mai Chau is a small busy local town with little other than the market to distinguish it from many other small towns. You will most than likely stay in the village of just outside of the town that has specialised in welcoming tourists into its midst. It does a wonderful job of retaining its charactor of being a rural village while offering first class accomodation, food and things to do.

There is one small boutique hotel in the village that is very comfortable. Food is excellent catering for the western taste of eastern food. Room are small but smart and the equally small but smart swimming pool brings a welcome relief on a hot day. There are also home stays that cater for the more adventurous traveller who wants to experience some of life in a stilt house. I have stayed in both. Loved both but for me, I would always veer towards the homestay end of things. True it is not as comfortable or as private. We slept in a large open space on mattresses on the floor with curtains dividing one sleeping space from another. And I slept like a log and woke feeling refreshed and ready to go.

The view from the dining area of the home stay.
The view from the dining area of the home stay.

The Thai people are generous and have a lovely sense of humour. English is widely spoken very well in the village but in the town, it is less likely to find many people who are fluent (unless they work in the village).  

Most of the locals are subsistence farmers owning and farming their own plot of land to grow rice and other crops to form their staple diet. If you are lucky and it is ‘that’ time of year, you might be invited to have a go at planting the rice crop. I tried it and it is surprisingly difficult to do properly.

Things to do in the Area

A gaggle of very amateur cyclists off for an adventure.
A gaggle of very amateur cyclists off for an adventure.

Cycling is a great favourite. The land is largely flat making cycling easy and fun for the most basic of amateurs. And if you get tired, there won’t be far to go before you reach a place of rest that proobably also serves some scrumptous local beer. But of course if you don’t trust yourself on the two wheels you can always stick to your two feet and take a walk.

Other activities that can be arranged in the area are rock climbing and scrambling into the depths of the local cave. This cave is a true adventure. Make sure you go prepared in good shoes. You start off in a huge cavernous entrance area that was used to store ammunition during the Vietnam/American war. You then leave this area and walk, then scramble then duck and dive through ever narrowing corriders. Lighting is minimal offering an amazing atmosphere. You eventually open out to another huge area at the bottom of which runs a river that, apparently, you can swim through to the open air. I hasten to say that there were no takers to prove the theory!!

There are the inevitable gift shops and the local ladies who weave lovely scarves that they sell andMai Chau 093 a ridiculously low price. Food is delicious, all made with local fresh produce. Drink is plentiful and you are surrounded by friendly faces. One afternoon, while strolling through the village, we entered into a game of pool with the local youth and a great time was had by all.

If you want to see more of the extended area, take a ride into the mountains and visit the Ethnic Minority market of the Flower H’mong people. This scene is a riot of colour with the locals not only selling brightly, multi coloured material but also wearing it in the traditional way.

These are a few more picture of this really lovely place. If you are in Vietnam and are in the North and have a couple of days spare, do not miss this area!!

If you planning to visit Vietnam and want to organise your complete trip with a travel agent or if you prefer to go it alone but would like some help in arranging short visits, go visit We have standard tours from half a day to 17 days and also arrange bespoke tours to match your individual needs. If you are in the UK and want to talk about Vietnam, give me a call on 0792 5300320.

Bon Voyage, Pat





Memories to Savor from IndoChina

Map of IndochinaA trip to any or all of the Indochina trio of countries will totally delight you and leave you with memories to last a lifetime..or at least until the next visit!

What is Indochina? It is an area in SE Asia made up of three countries, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It was in effect a colony of France, dominated and ruled from 1887. The Second World War saw a serious weakening of the power of France and they were indeed driven out of Vietnam but the famous leader, Ho Chi Minh. The federation of Indochina was finally officially disbanded on April 27th 1954 and the three countries were declared to be independent of outside rule.

And independent they truly are. They are akin to family members with some similarities but totally unique characters. To visit one is a wonderful experience, to visit all three is just the perfect adventure packed full of memories that will last you a lifetime. 

So what exciting delights await you among the smorgasbord of choices? Well, as I have used the analogy of food, we might as well continue in the same vein.

Laos food

Wine, beer are widely available in all three countries as is the spirits made from rice….delicious and potent. Although as a nation, the locals of the trio tend not to be regular drinkers themselves, alcohol is readily available as are the most delicious smoothies and fresh juices. Interestingly, there is little left of the legacy of food from the French reign other than baguettes and wine although you will Camdodia foodsee hints of the old influence when you see items like roasted frogs legs and snails on the menu. Laos and Cambodia are heavily influenced by Thailand as well as China in their cuisine. But both counties add their own unique flavor to the dishes that they create. And of course as with most countries, there are also regional differences.   Lots of rice dishes, noodles with sauces of fish, meat, tofu and vegetables. Vietnam 

Viet Foodhas more of a cuisine of its own. Meals are crafted with a balance of tastes, textures and content. A typical meal is made up of many dishes that complement each other many served with their own sauce on the side. Noodle soup and Hot Pots are firm also favorites in the area. 

Ok so that deal with the culinary needs. Now let’s move to the more spiritual.

P1010670 Whatever you own personal beliefs, you will be delighted with the many Pagodas that you will visit in your travels. All three countries are Buddhist but of differing styles of worship. The Vietnamese are Animist Buddhists which means that they worship the ancestors. They are deeply spiritual people many of whom pray daily at their altar at home and visit the Pagoda at certain times. There are people who serve the Pagodas but it is not in the way in which we think of Buddhism. For the orange clad Monks walking the streets with their begging bowls and spending many hours at quiet mediation in the temple, go to Cambodia and Laos. Both countries have beautiful Pagodas that have ornate decorations and a very active and evident community of Monks, young and old.

History abounds in all three countries from past history from the ancient and extensive Champa Cambodia 195dynasty, through the Chinese domination through the French region and finally into the more recent history of the Vietnamese/American war and the Khmer Rouge horror in Cambodia. All three countries have their stories to tell through their architecture, their way of life, their way of being and even their languages.

Let’s have a whistle stop of the highlights to visit. In Cambodia THE highlight has to be the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat National Park. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. This is definitely one for the bucket list.Luang Prabang

Laos boasts spectacular countryside that links the two main most visited cities are the small but beautifully formed capital of Vientiane  and magnificently preserved Luang Prabang. Both snuggle up to rivers, both have some beautiful buildings to visit and both exude a laid back, gentle approach to hospitality.  If you are looking for more adventure, head North of Luang Prabang to the mountainous area, West along the stretch of the Mekong Delta that takes you into North Thailand or South to the exquisite 4000 Island area where you can get away from just about everything and enjoy the vistas and the simple lives of local people.

P1090043Vietnam is a treasure trove of many gems. Travelling south to north, you start off in the modern, busy and charismatic city of Ho Chi Minh. From here, short trips will take you to visit the river life of the Mekong Delta, the beaches of the south coast including a trip to the adorable island of Phu Quoc and the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Khong not only fought but they lived in large communities during the war with America.

The central area of Hoi An and Hue offers you an Hoi Aninsight into past times when the country was influenced by the Chinese. Despite damage from the war, the area exudes charm and warmth (from the climate and the people alike). Travelling East takes you into the magnificent Central Highlands to visit the wonders of nature and man alike. The North of Vietnam is not without its own unique charm. Hanoi is arguably the most interesting of all the Indochina cities. It has ancient charm in its architecture but also in the way the locals live their lives. Street culture is huge here in the Old Quarter and you cannot but help be charmed by the vendors, cafe’s and family gatherings that happen in the narrow and hectic P1010343streets. Hanoi, as any good capital city should, can offer just about anything that you want, ancient, new, traditional. modern, beauty and innovation. Travel East to Ha Long Bay, another UNESCO world heritage center and this year voted as one of the 10 Natural Wonders of the World. Words belay the mystery and wonder of the Bay. It is unique and totally engaging. Travelling north brings you to the extensive area of the Sapa 9Northern Highlands, home of many of the 52 Ethnic Minority groups who live in Vietnam. Each province has a different character, different ethnic groups but all share the most majestic scenery that is rarely challenged.

Looking for something different? Want to guarantee a warm welcome in a charming, beautiful Ha Long Bay 056and varied setting? Indochina just cannot be beaten. It is somewhere you will either crave to revisit or it will live in  your memories for a lifetime.

A variety of tours are arranged by HGHTravel to the Indochina area. Visit the website and check out the options And if you don’t see exactly what you want, don’t hesitate, email or call HGH and the helpful staff will be more than happy to discuss options. As well as doing published tours, HGH also specialize in planning bespoke tours designed to match your exact profile. Don’t settle for less, make sure you go for the best!!!