If you’ve spent any time in Vietnam, you know that the country’s major cities can feel hectic, with motorbikes darting everywhere, crowds navigating the markets, and plenty of activity in the streets. While I love the energy of the city, sometimes you need to catch your breath with a few days somewhere quieter.
On a month-long trip through Vietnam, my husband Alan and I found that quiet escape in the town of Mai Chau, in the hills of Hoa Binh Province about three hours southwest of Hanoi. Our base was the scenic Mai Chau Lodge.
Here’s the scoop:
Most visitors come to Mai Chau to explore the ethnic Thai villages that surround the town, which are known for their ornately crafted wooden stilt houses, colorful textile work, and distinctive local cuisine. Located on the edge of town, within easy walking or cycling distance of several of these villages, the 16-room Mai Chau Lodge is a comfortable, smartly designed lodging from which you can easily explore the area.
Starting from the lobby where staff greet arriving guests with mugs of fragrant cinnamon tea, the hotel incorporates traditional designs into its carved furnishings and its embroidered linens and other textiles. Throw pillows and bedspreads in the guest rooms feature ornate embroidery.
Even the pouches that hold the remote controls for the rooms’ TVs and air conditioners are made from local textiles.
While the rooms, spread over two floors, aren’t large, they feel bright and airy. They’re equipped with coffee- and tea-making supplies, small fridges, and safes, as well as modern baths, robes, and embroidered slippers.
Book a room on the back side of the building, which overlooks the pool and the nearby fields, rather than the rooms that front the busy road with its parade of honking buses – a far cry from city noise, but still potentially disruptive to light sleepers.
With daytime temperatures around 70F (20C) during our early December visit, it was a bit too cool to swim in the small outdoor pool, but the midday sun warmed the lounge chairs on the pool deck nicely. The hotel also sits next to a large lily-filled pond, and we enjoyed catching up on our email from the waterside terrace. The hotel’s wi-fi signal reached both the pool area and the pondview patio.
Mai Chau Lodge offers complimentary bicycles to guests, which we borrowed one morning to pedal through the surrounding villages. The lodge also offers several organized tours, although we found it easy enough to explore on our own, stopping for a lunch in a family-run eatery nearby.
In Mai Chau itself, within walking distance of the lodge, we sampled steaming bowls of pho for lunch and feasted another evening on hot pot with cook-your-own squid, shrimp, pork, chicken, and an assortment of fresh greens.
When Mai Chau Lodge is busy, breakfast at the hotel’s Bo Luong Restaurant is a buffet, while at quieter times, the morning meal is a la carte. Either way, the offerings include Vietnamese dishes like beef or chicken pho or a thick savory rice porridge, alongside eggs, breads, jams, and fresh tropical fruits. There’s always plenty of sweet Vietnamese coffee.
We also enjoyed a light dinner in the restaurant one evening, when we sampled banana blossom salad and garlicky stir-fried greens.
Staff throughout the hotel and restaurant generally spoke good English and were unfailingly gracious and helpful. Every night, the staff brought chocolates to each room alongside a scroll with a local fable or parable. How many hotels deliver bedtime stories?!?
If you’re looking for the fast pace of city life, Mai Chau might not be for you. But if you need a place to recharge in the countryside for a day or two, the Mai Chau Lodge is a lovely spot for an escape.
Most Hanoi hotels can book seats on comfortable tourist buses to Mai Chau. They pick up at hotels throughout Hanoi’s Old Quarter and surrounding districts and will drop you off at your hotel or other destination in Mai Chau. We paid about US$12 per person each way. The staff at Mai Chau Lodge can also assist with transportation to and from Hanoi.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller.