Mai Chau is located only 4 hours outside of Hanoi in the north of Vietnam. Although it is located fairly close to Hanoi, many travellers choose to cross this off their travel list because it is yet to gain popularity compared to neighbour regions.
Mai Chau is a valley which grows large amounts of rice fields and is surrounded by mountains, while Pu Luong national park is part of the mountains in the surrounding area. Covered in rice fields, at the right time of the year, its scenery is equal to that of Sapa but with much less of a crowded scene, and virtually no tourism in the national park.
As the area is much closer to Hanoi than Sapa, it is easier to visit Mai Chau on motorbike if you are short on time. You can see some of the routes we recommend that go to Mai Chau here. (Hanoi-HCMC route) and (Mai Chau 4 day trip)
The town of Mai Chau is quite small but has plenty of accommodation in the form of homestays and hotels, ranging from budget-friendly to high-end. Food options in Mai Chau are diverse. BBQ is a must-eat. A consequence of all of the rice produced here means that they also produce rice wine (happy water). You will be offered plenty of this during your stay.
The ride to Mai Chau from Hanoi is usually 4 hours depending on which route you take. The further out from Hanoi, the more quiet the road becomes. The most quiet follows the river West of Hanoi towards Ba Vi then South past Hoa Binh. Just before you enter the region, there will stand a flag pole with a panoramic view of Mai Chau with mountains layering one after another between sky and earth.
If you started from Hanoi, Mai Chau will be a big change of pace from the hectic city. It is much more tranquil with rice fields and river. Pu Luong national parks offers an even more serene scene carpeted in endless green horizon.
Pu Luong national park is just east of Mai Chau and is higher in the mountains providing a views back into the valley and terraced rice fields similar to Sapa. Riding through you can get right inside the fields if you want. There is some small villages in the national park. You are able to stay the night if you decide although I would recommend staying in Mai Chau for another night as there is better accommodation here and it means you can leave your bag there when you visit the park with your bike.
To get into the park, head from Mai Chau to Hanoi and enter from the North East near Xom Lo. You can then travel South through the park crossing from Hoa Binh to Thanh Hoa district before joining the QL15C. From here, head North West on the QL15C then QL15 which reaches Mai Chau from the South.
It is easy to spend a whole day in the park but it is important to not be riding around the park when it is dark as there steep drops and no light so can be dangerous.
It is possible to reverse this route but from Mai Chau to Pu Luong there is a big change in altitude. Heading in the direction mentioned above means that the incline is much more gradual and the decent is sharper which will be much easier on the bike and much safer for someone without too much motorbike experience.
There is no petrol station located in the national park but there is in Mai Chau so make sure that you fill up before you head into the park.
Mai Chau can either be a through stop on the way north or south between Hanoi and HCMC but the highlight of the area is heading into the national park here.
Mai Chau is a great alternative if you want to see terraced rice fields yet cannot afford the time to visit Sapa. While it doesn’t have views that are quite as stunning, lack of tourism, friendly people and tranquil nature here makes it a must-visit in Vietnam.