Enchanting Mai Chau

Off to Mai Chau

When planning our time in Vietnam, we knew we wanted to spend some time in a more rural, agricultural area. Most tourists take a 7-hour overnight train to a popular town called Sapa where there are terraced rice paddies and many tour options. Internet sleuth Justin, found a quieter, less touristy town only a 4-hour drive from Hanoi. When we arrived in Mai Chau we knew we’d (he’d) made a great choice.

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Eco Lodge

Driving into the town, I never guessed there was much in the way of tourist accommodations (that is a massive understatement), so my jaw dropped when we walked up to the Mai Chau Eco Lodge and instead of finding straw on the floor of an open room, I saw a pool and full restaurant!

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The staff welcomed us and brought us to our room complete with welcome flowers, wine and fruit in the bedroom, an outdoor shower in the back yard, the largest tub I’ve seen in my life — and the most beautiful deck overlooking the rice paddies.

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We even had a private pool on the ground floor!

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Don’t mix up where you go to the bathroom and where you swim

It was cool and overcast our entire time there so instead of lounging by the pool, we sat and gazed out at the rice fields and mountains, transfixed by the mist and the beauty. It was a nice respite from the Hanoi heat and the quiet of the village lended itself beautifully to recharging and relaxing.

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I was so grateful to be in such a gorgeous, tranquil place, because the US Presidential election results came in while we were there. There we were, in a rural town in Northern Vietnam, with no tv or newspaper, but strong wifi so we could tune into the results of an election half a world away. The election results consumed our thoughts for a couple of days and the magic of the mist and the beauty around us definitely helped get us through the shocking results.

Biking tour through the village

Justin booked a bike tour for us through the village and it was incredible to set out with a young man from Mai Chau to learn about the town. We loved biking along the fields and gazing up at the tree-covered mountains. The previous night’s rain left a fresh smell in the air that we took in as our bikes bounced along the dirt roads. Rice had just recently been harvested so we could see farmers tending to their fields and all sorts of animals pecking at the remaining stalks.

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At one point on the ride, we stopped at the home of a local woman and joined her upstairs for tea. She walked very hunched over and probably stood 4 feet tall at most. This was one of the few times I felt tall — so that is how the rest of you feel all the time…cool. I guessed she was about 95 but our guide said she was only 80. She poured us tea and we all sat on the floor drinking together. She didn’t speak any English but was curious about the video on our camera and enjoyed seeing some pictures. We laughed together in a way that transcended language and culture.

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After a few more hours around town we wrapped up the bike trip. It had starting to drizzle and our butts needed a rest. Walking back to our room we looked back at the fields and reflected that this had been one of the coolest days of our trip.

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Cooking class

The next day we took a cooking class onsite. We started back on the bikes with a trip to the market. I love going to food markets. I love them in the US, and can spend ages in the produce section of a well-stocked grocery store, but food markets overseas are the best. I wanted to see, smell and touch everything (although Justin reminded me that touching things is not usually a good idea in most places — I’m just so tactile it is hard to help it). We saw fantastic eels, bugs, meat, fish and even cooked rat in this market. I could have stayed there all day.

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On our way back from the market, I mentioned to our 24-year old guide that he had a great haircut, and that Justin was looking to get a haircut similar (guys and their need for frequent hair cuts). Before we knew it, we were taking our newly acquired fish and vegetables to a local salon for Justin to get a haircut. Who knew it would be a rural village in Northern Vietnam where he would get his first honeymoon haircut? There were definitely some things lost in translation, but for the most part Justin got what he was looking for — for the most part. I thought he looked very handsome!

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We returned to the lodge and it was finally time to cook. We were given aprons, chef’s hats and began a class better described as food assembly than cooking. We mixed some fish with herbs that we put into bamboo to steam and we rolled spring rolls. That was about it. They were nice to humor us with this “cooking.” But we looked great doing it and the food was actually very tasty. 

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The finished product of our steamed fish — it tasted better than it looked!

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And we even learned how to make roses out of tomatoes. This was my celebrity chef moment. Do my hands look like any tv chef you know?

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Seriously, don’t my hands look just like Giada De Laurentiis’s hands on her cooking shows? Manicured nails and everything!

The sun came out on our last morning and although we missed sunny lounging, I’ll always think of Mai Chau as magical with the memory of the mist over the rice paddies and the fresh smell of wet fields. This is a relatively undiscovered gem and an absolutely gorgeous relaxation destination.

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