Highlights of Northern Vietnam: Mai Chau

Mai Chau

After my horrendous, tourist-packed Halong bay experience, I decide against visiting the equally touristy Sapa and instead go to Mai Chau – claimed to be similar to Sapa with far less tourist. I travel down to Mai Chau with Di, a Vietnamese girl I met in my hostel.

The Road to Mai Chau is spectacular, winding up steeply rising Karst Mountains reveals dramatic views of valleys layered with green rice paddies.

We arranged a home-stay and our host meets us at the bus station and takes us to her stilted home. Mattresses are laid out on the floor under mosquito nets and there is a marvelous five-course meal prepared for us.

Note on home-stays: They are wonderful but very established in this town – it feels more like a hotel. The daily rate is cheap, only 70 dong/person, but watch the cost on the meals – they do not tell you the cost until you receive your bill at the end, which may be a little more than expected.

The next morning we rent bikes and ride off to explore the town – still cloaked in the morning fog. We park our bikes and begin to climb up the stairs to Mo Luong cave. The fog is thick and we cannot see how high we are climbing but the stairs keep climbing on and on. Finally we reach the cave the mystical fog curls around the entrance giving it a spooky, yet enchanting feel. The cave is not very deep – we searched for a passage to explore deeper but found none.

Leaving the cave we decide to explore a dirt path leading from the staircase. The path winds up the mountain, passing through gardens of Casava. We pass an old woman who tells us the path goes nowhere and warns us not to get lost. We continue to explore anyhow and soon find ourselves on the other side of the mountain looking out over endless peaks still covered in a hazy fog.

We begin to head back. The sun begins to burn the fog away and like magic a breath-taking view of the valley below appears. We find a tall rock to climb on and sit for a while admiring the valley of Mai Chau surrounded be spiny mountainous terrain – stunning!

Later that day we head back to Hanoi but I am fearful we will not arrive, as our driver seems to have a death wish. We fly down the mountain, passing cars on the narrow bends and at times racing the other buses on a two-lane road. I have seen crazy driving all around the world – Vietnam is in a class of its own!

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