In an idyllic valley, the Mai Chau area is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. The small town of Mai Chai is unappealing, but nearby are Thai villages surrounded by lush paddy fields. There’s minimal traffic, and the rural soundtrack is defined by gurgling irrigation streams and birdsong.
The villagers are mostly White Thai, distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China. Most no longer wear traditional dress, but the Thai women are masterful weavers producing plenty of traditional-style clothing and souvenirs. Locals do not employ strong-arm sales tactics here: polite bargaining is the norm.
Mai Chau is a successful grassroots tourism project, though some find the experience too sanitised, and the villages are firmly on the tour-group agenda. If you’re looking for hard-core exploration, this is not the place, but for biking, hiking and relaxation, Mai Chau fits the bill nicely.