Mai Chau; Vietnam’s hidden gem

Arriving in Hanoi after 4 weeks in India was wonderfully refreshing. Whilst India was an amazing experience, it was great to enter a country with slightly cooler weather and also be able to walk around without everybody asking “Where you from?”. We fit right in here.

This is our second visit to Vietnam together, having gone on a 4 week South East Asia backpacking trip in 2011. I personally have never really warmed to Hanoi, maybe it’s cause my family are from the South, however this time was different. Maybe its cause we’re a little older now, maybe its cause we’re more relaxed, who knows, but Hanoi felt a lot more inviting this time. We stayed in the Old Quarter where there are streets dedicated to selling specific categories of items eg. shoe street, gravestone street, party supplies street, toy street etc, Here we met up with Jason’s sister Denise who flew in from London for a one week getaway.

One of the highlights of our stay in Hanoi was attending a Cooking Class at Orchard Restaurant. This included a tour around the local fresh food market and cooking a variety of traditional vietnamese dishes. We each took individual cyclos (bicycle-driven rickshaws) to the market. There we were shown an array of unusual fruits, vegetables and proteins (Eg. turtles, toads and seas snakes). We also were ‘fortunate’ enough to sample a few delicacies including chicken foetus (boiled fertilized egg with formed body), deep fried silk worm & maggot patty. Surprisingly all were quite tasty but not something we’d have on a daily basis. Following the tour we returned to the kitchen where we spent 3 hours preparing: Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), Chay Gio (Rice paper spring rolls) & Bun Cha (Pork mince patty with rice vermicelli) and my oh my was the final result delicious.

The next morning Jason and I took a 4 hour bus ride to the Mai Chau Valley. Our tour group included 3 American guys and 2 British girls, a great mix of people. The valley is often nicknamed ‘Mini Sapa’, Sapa being the northernmost mountainous valley region of Vietnam known for its local tribes and beautiful sloped rice paddies. The Mai Chau region is inhabited by both Vietnamese and people from the Thai tribe (not from Thailand). Unfortunately a week before we’d arrived the rice had just been harvested so the fields weren’t as green as they usually are, but nonetheless, the sight was still spectacular with the mountains shielded by low-lying clouds.

Our first activity was cycling through the village and around the rice fields. It was one of the most relaxing thing we’d done so far. Unfortunately it is wet season so the rain is quite unpredictable and of course it bucketed down whilst we were in the middle of the tour, and of course we had no rain jackets and I was carrying my large DSLR camera, so in order to provide it with some protection I had to cycle with it tucked under my drenched singlet top. This miraculously worked and my camera was undamaged! Phew!

The next day involved tackling 1200 steps up to a cave. This doesn’t sound too hard, but in 35 deg heat in direct sunlight, my ‘heat-stroke’ face was bound to make an appearance. Unfortunately one of the girls in our group had broken her foot a few weeks ago and was in a camboot, so she and her friend made it up about 1/4 of the way and had to stop. It took the rest of us about 45 mins to get to the top which was a dark stalactite cave which remained relatively untouched.

Our final day in Mai Chau was probably the best. We hired out motorbikes and drove about 35km to the village of Pu Long. There we hiked for about 2 hours crossing rivers and mud tracks. Again another sweltering day, and again ‘heat-stroke-Ann’ made an appearance, but not as bad as the day before. Being on the motorbike (with Jason driving of course) was fantastic, there’s a certain sense of freedom driving around the Mai Chau with the endless views of rice fields and mountains and no law enforcement there to check speed or our licences (which we don’t have).

We really enjoyed Mai Chau, 3 days was the perfect amount of time there. The food was delicious, accommodation faultless, views incredible and the locals are warm and inviting.

Next stop Vietnam beaches!

Til next time
Ann & Jason xo

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