Mai Châu is about four hours outside of Hanoi, in northwest Vietnam, but as all the guide books and tourist literature will tell you: it feels a world away.
it’s a bit of a cheesy ploy, a blatant advertising tactic, but it works. I am sold. I’m looking for a break, again, from the dizzying pace of Hanoi, a city I love, but a challenging place to live nonetheless.
A ride through twisting and turning mountain roads leads to the lush rural valley town of Mai Châu. I check into the Mai Châu Lodge and go on a small group bicycle tour through the nearby villages of Ban Lac and Pom Coong. we ride on dirt roads through rice paddies, and the fields are vibrant shades of bright green, lighter green, yellow, brown. we pass by stilt houses made of bamboo and timber. we ride alongside cattle and hear roosters crowing. we pass people sorting through grains of rice on bamboo mats. on the horizon, always, looms the jagged outline of the mountains.
the villages have adapted to the call of tourists: many open up their homes for homestays and sell handicrafts for souvenirs, gorgeous embroidered bags and scarves in rich, bright colors. as we bike through we see many women outside working at looms. it is a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new, of traditional and modern, like so much of Vietnam.
the lodge at night is every bit the peace and quiet I hoped it would be. in the morning I wake up feeling more clear-headed and rested than I have in some time.