After spending a few days too many in Hanoi, we decided to visit Mai Chau.
We couldn’t decide between here or Sapa, as both are supposed to be beautiful and we didn’t have the time or money to do both. Eventually we settled on Mai Chau because we heard that Sapa is quite a lot like Yangshuo and GuiLin in China with the rice terraces and pertruding Karsts, whereas Mai Chau is less touristy and supposedly more like the rural Vietnam. We booked through our hostel in Hanoi and they organised a home stay in an eco lodge. It is in the Northwest of Vietnam and was a two hour incredibly scenic drive from Hanoi, up into the mountain pass with lush, green rolling hills and steep layers of rice terraces. I was absolutely bursting for the toilet so the driver made a toilet stop which actually turned out to be the top of a random cliff…so the girls had to try and clamber down the rock face and seek out somewhere covered by a few plants to try to hold on to our dignity, haha pretty dangerous but beautiful view, as opposed to the back of a toilet door I suppose!
When we pulled up to the home stay we were greeted by a lovely family and five GORGEOUS puppies! The accommodation was pretty basic and the bedroom was basically a large room with 15 mattresses laid out, each with its own mosquito net. The room was situated on stilts, which is true of the authentic villages, to avoid water damage and to keep all the farm animals underneath in some sort of shelter. The Mai Chau area is well known for these stilt houses and they are made from bamboo and timber and sit 10-12ft off the ground.
We were each given push bikes and set off on a 15km ride around the villages where we passed really friendly locals; a number of elderly farmers herding their water buffalos through the narrow streets as well as loads of excitable children. The children would all run along side us and wave and shout ‘hello’. The views of this area were completely stunning and really vibrant shades of green for miles around. We were taken to the village markets and shown how people weave sarongs and clothes, as this area is well known for this tradition. You never really know how authentic stuff like that is though or if they are just doing it for the tourists, but still it’s nice to see. You just can’t really touch anything in a shop or on a market stall without someone appearing over your shoulder and trying to bite your hand off whilst reciting ‘good price, good quality, how much? You can try on?’
I was still feeling rubbish from Castaway and still had a horrible eye infection and no voice so that night we had an early one and skipped the rice wine…which was rank anyway sovwe weren’t too bothered!! It was slightly nicer than the one in China but still a lot like drinking diesel..YUM! The evening food was nice, quite basic and all traditional vietnamese food, but you could really tell they were on a tight budget to feed us all due to the mountains of rice we were forced onto the plates. They have one dish called ‘Morning Glory’ which obviously raises a few alarm bells, however its actually really nice and is made up of this spinach/ bok choy type thing.
There was an evening show of traditional dancers that performed for us all and got us all involved, but we, as we were ill, just slid away and made a run for it before we were forced to dance haha. However we were dragged in the next night and had to dance over some sticks on the floor for about 20 minutes, much to Matt’s delight.
The next morning we all took out motorbikes to explore further afield than the previous day. I decided to ride on the back of Matts so I could enjoy the view, take photos and not fall off and crash! Probably should have given it a go, everyone else did, but it was quite nice to be able to sit and chat the whole way with Matt and take in the amazing settings together. It was (cheesy as it sounds) one of those moments you try to take a mental picture of, so you can look back to it when you are sat in an office 9-5…although on the other hand if I was back in an office and remembered that time I would probably wanna pack up and leave that second!
We were taken to a bamboo factory in a remote village and had a quick tour around the place. I was gobsmacked to find out that the workers here get paid 80,000 VND per day – this is less than $5/£2.50. Yet every day they risk losing fingers and hands by operating this machinery with no protection or proper equipment. They all seemed so happy and were gladly showing us their end products, which in this case was chopsticks. They then use the remaining bamboo from the chopsticks to create toilet paper. They do not waste any part of the trees which is good to see. They even use the bigger chunks of sawdust to build fires for other materials they make.
From here we headed to the hosts parents house (that also had loads of adorable puppies!) in an even more rural area of the town and had a cooked meal with them. This was the meal that ruined the Mai Chau experience and led Matt to not be able to even talk about the trip but i’ll get to that…
The food (AT THE TIME) seemed nice, pretty standard low budget local food, and shortly after they brought out floor matts so we all took a nap on the floor…this is extremely random thinking about it because we were here in some random old Vietnamese ladies lounge, sleeping on her floor, next to 13 complete strangers. But at the time we just got on with it haha.
We continued on and rode through several other villages when we eventually came to a cave. We were all raring to get in the cave and then we found out it was only reachable by climbing 1,200 stairs. Absolute killer! 2 months without the gym and a lot of crap food and alcohol did not set us in good stead but we eventually made it somehow! The view on the way up over the whole town was incredible too (also gave an excuse to stop climbing steps and pretend you wanted to look at the same view for the 11th time). It was cool when we were in there, as far as caves go, but there was no water to dive in after the sweaty and traitorous climb up there, which would have made it perfect.
We got back to the homestay and had an early night as we both felt a bit rubbish…only to wake up in the early hours with the worst food poisoning known to man! Matt was throwing up all night and we had to spend the next day in bed there because we were too ill to bike to the waterfall which was supposed to be the highlight of the trip! The food poisoning definitely came from the hosts parents house because around 9 people out of the 13 got sick! After a horrendous 2 hour bus journey back to Hanoi, where we had to be seated next to the door incase of an emergency vom, we checked into a private room in a quiet hostel and literally slept for 16 hours and did nothing at all the next day, just sleep off the poisoning!