While the frenetic streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offer a unique insight into Vietnam’s urban life, it’s not until you’ve ridden through the serene – and surreal – surrounds of Mai Chau that you get to know the real Vietnam.
The first thing you notice about Mai Chau is how quiet it is. The sounds of honking motorbikes and noisy truck engines are replaced by the shouts of farmers tending to their herds, and the dull clang of bells around the necks of water buffalo. Riding here, on one of Intrepid’s Vietnam small group cycling adventures, instantly feels calmer. Without having to contend with city traffic, the biggest challenge cyclists may face will be staying focussed on the road; those soaring limestone cliffs can be pretty distracting.
Here’s what we love about cycling in this beautiful destination.
1. The scenery is spectacular
Located in the Hoa Binh Province, the Mai Chau valley is the inland equivalent of the famed Ha Long Bay, with majestic limestone hills (karsts) rising dramatically from the valley floor. The main difference is that here the emerald green is not water but an ocean of lush rice paddies stretching as far as the eye can see. The best view in the region (and one of the best views in Vietnam) is from the white slopes of the nearby Thung Khe Pass, towering high above the valley floor. But don’t worry: we’ll catch a ride in Intrepid’s support vehicle to get us up the steep bits.
2. The cycling is flat
While the soaring limestone hills and cliffs demand the attention of your eyes, your legs will notice that the valley is beautifully flat. If you’re lucky, you might share the road with a local cyclist or a gentle herd of water buffalo. Alternating between bitumen and smooth gravel roads, the even terrain makes for a wonderful excuse to simply cruise along and enjoy the day, safe in the knowledge that you can conserve your energy for the days to come.
3. The food is delicious (and will give you the energy you need)
There’s no way we can talk about Vietnam without mentioning the food. And here, food isn’t just fuel: it’s a way of life. And, due to the strong influence of the Thai ancestry in the region, it takes on a different flavour than the rest of Vietnam. Local favourites include Com Lam (bamboo-tube rice) with the delicious traditional Thai spice cham cheo, grilled pork meat marinated in spices then cooked on charcoal or, if you are feeling adventurous, try the distinctly local delicacy of stir-fried bees with bamboo shoots, washed down with a drink of fermented ‘can wine’ – delicious!
4. The accommodation is comfortable (and there’s more great food in store!)
One of my favourite things about Intrepid adventures is staying in locally run accommodation. And the homestay we spend the night in in the quiet Pom Coong Village is about as local as it gets. Harking back to its Thai hill tribe heritage, the sleepy village – which is free of tourists – features quiet streets and wooden stilt houses, and is surrounded by emerald-green rice fields. For dinner, join our homestay hosts for a traditional Vietnamese banquet (which may include some locally produced wine), before heading upstairs to bed. Accommodation at the homestay is more rustic than you may be used to – you’ll be sleeping on a futon on the floor with a blanket, mosquito net and fan – it’s surprisingly comfortable. And the hot shower is a perfect treat after a long day of riding.
Interested in seeing Vietnam on two wheels? Check out our range of small group cycling adventures in Vietnam now. (Not so into bikes? We’ve got trips for you too. Explore our full range here.)
Feature photo by Renae Saxby.