Mai Chau, Pu Luong National Park and Hoa Binh Lake
30km southwest of Hanoi lies Hoa Binh province, in the heart of which nestles a quaint little district called Mai Chau that is known for its boundless rice fields highlighted by the distant layers of mountains. 12km north of Mai Chau is a very large Hoa Binh lake and directly to the southeast is Pu Luong national park. These locations make the area a great place to explore via motorbike from Hanoi.
Heading to Mai Châu from Hanoi directly is a 3 to 4 hour ride via the AH13 or along side the CT08. There is also a much nicer ride taking the small road following the Red River until Sơn Tây District and passing through Ba Vì district. If time allows, we recommend visiting Ba Vì national park . After Ba Vì, cross Đá River and follow this south to Hoa Binh joining up with the AH13 and continuing to Mai Chau. This longer route is an extra 40km and can take about 1.5 hours more.
30km before reaching Mai Châu you can turn off the AH13 into Pù Luông national park on the DT440. The national park is split between Hoà Bình and Thanh Hoá province. Most of the homestays locate in southern Thanh Hoá area, ranging from affordable dorm room in quiet mountain area all the way to large resorts with swimming pools and private rooms with stunning mountain views.
Pu Luong National Park
The main road running through the national park is not busy and cuts through some small villages. About 1/3 of the way south, there is a turn that takes you west on the DT432A which can be explored but you will be returning the same way to head south. Heading west does take you through some nice views and small roads which are enjoyable to ride but are not the highlight of the national park and can easily be missed if you want to save time. As you head south you will continue to rise into the mountains until you pass into Thanh Hoá province. Soon after this you will come to a pass with a stunning view of the national park and a steep decline into the villages below, one of which will have your homestay for the night.
Pu Luong Waterfalls and Rivers
Whilst in Pu Luong you enjoy a dip in the water at thác Hiêu (Hiêu waterfall) , or you can go down suối Chàm (Chàm stream) either via kayak or bamboo raft. Here you will see the bamboo waterwheels that are used to flood the rice fields in the area and will come across many children playing in the water.
Leaving the national park en-route to Mai Chau, head north on the QL15C. This is a lovely ride in the mountains until you descend down into a small village on Mã River which is the most southern point of the valley and will be flanked by mountains as you ride north into Mai Chau.
Upon arriving in Mai Chau there are many guesthouses and homestays to choose from. Many sit right on the rice fields offering a great view for the morning coffee. Within Mai Châu, Lác village has a great range of accomodation as well as many restaurants with delicious barbequed foods and some tourist shops selling colourful souvenirs. It is best to enjoy some food and beers in Lác village but the best homestays are usually located just behind this village in the rice fields, they offer a range of quality and price so it is easy to find something suitable. Mai Châu is famous for growing rice and as such it also has lots of rice wine and is a great way to spend the evening.
Below is a link for some of the festivals that happen in Mai Chau.
Mai Châu has some of the small roads running through the peaceful rice fields in the village which are best to explore via motorbike early morning.
Hoa Binh Lake
When leaving Mai Châu, you will join the AH13 and a few km east towards Hanoi. There is a view point looking down into the valley allowing you to see the rice fields, Mai Châu and all the surrounding mountains that have been your home for the last few days. From here you can either ride back to Hanoi via the AH13 or head north to the Hoa Binh lake for a longer but scenic ride past the lake or even an extra night on one of the homestays situated on the lake.
The motorbike ride along the lake is about 13km and towards the end rises higher to offer a nice view. Just before reaching the lake, there is a waterfall, “Thác Gò Lào”, this is a lovely place to have a swim, even better than the lake itself. There is less of a selection of homestays here but a few kms along the river there is a few sat directly on the bank of the lake offering another chance to go swimming. The road following the lake eventually leaves the lake and heads south joining back up with the AH13 and the same options for returning to Hanoi as leaving.
We do have a tour that runs through this area if you feel you want a guide.