My girlfriend and I embarked on the journey West from Hanoi to Mai Chau, hoping to find a relaxing spot in the Vietnamese countryside, for some much needed R&R. Having spent the last few months living and working in Vietnam’s never boring, but often breathless capital, we were more than ready to replace the hustle and bustle with peace and quiet. Despite just a few hours separating Hanoi and Mai Chau, the contrast in atmosphere is stark. The smoggy concrete jungle of the city is replaced by fresh mountain air and breathtaking landscapes. Northern Vietnam is famous for its stunning topography and Mai Chau does not disappoint. On the road from Hanoi you drive through the winding Thung Khe mountain pass, the gate to Mai Chau. This yields several awe-inspiring views across a vista scattered with traditional villages, farms and rice paddies. Locals line the road at regular intervals, selling produce from the fields you pass. Sweet oranges and lightly roasted corn on the cob made our journey a feast for the stomach, as well as the eyes.
We arrived at the Ecolodge just before midday, giving us a few hours to settle in before lunch. Immediately we were struck by the endless shades of green in the village. Every free space is filled by foliage of some flavor, creating a garden-like feel across the whole site, while conveniently giving privacy to each lodge. Once we emerged from the botanics on to the balcony of our lodge, we were once again amazed by the scope of view that lay before us. The Mai Chau region lies in a bowl encircled by vast mountains, creating a stunning contrast when matched with the open farmland below. Workers in Vietnamese hats can be seen toiling in the fields under the mountains standing vast in the background. It’s quite a sight, made all the sweeter by the fact it can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own deck.
Inside the lodge, its spaciousness immediately grabbed our attention. Space is a luxury we are not accustomed to after living in the densely packed capital and it value really cannot be underestimated. The second attention grabber was the large wooden bathtub, a welcome surprise, and the first of its kind I have ever used (or seen). It is made from local jackfruit wood and after a relaxing night-time soak, I can assure you it comes highly recommended! Another bonus is the inclusion of a private back garden complete with outdoor shower. While perhaps not for everyone, I found this to be uniquely refreshing when I wanted to cool down in the afternoon heat. The bed, while firm, was a dream to sleep on, especially when compared to the rigid nature of most hotel beds in Vietnam. There’s no danger of feeling like a Flintstone resting on bedrock here! The decoration of the lodge is again ‘on theme’, with bright handmade brocade fabrics, a speciality of the local White Thai people, adorning the walls. The furnishings are almost exclusively crafted from Mai Chau bamboo, which can be seen growing all over the area. To complete the aesthetic, each lodge has crafted stone walls and a thick thatched roof. When viewed from afar, Mai Chau Ecolodge is truly picturesque. Its architecture is built to resemble an ancient Thai village. While I wasn’t previously familiar with the appearance of such a village before visiting, I was immediately struck by the sense that it looked like a film setting for an Asian blockbuster movie. The eco lodges are handcrafted to perfection and each detail of the village feels expertly curated. The lodges stand raised on stilts, allowing them to cascade down the Pom Pu Hill and providing each with a view of the rice fields from varying altitudes.
Lunch was a set menu of six(!) courses of the finest cuisine Mai Chau, and Vietnam, has to offer. Beef, chicken, pork, tofu and prawns were all included, but my highlight was the green papaya mint salad, a dish bursting with as much flavor as to rival anything I have previously tasted. The wide range of traditional dishes made by the restaurant means everyone will be sure to find a favorite.
As the name suggests, the not so secret weapon of the Mai Chau Ecolodge, is the emphasis they place on ecotourism. While this concept is becoming increasingly popular (and fashionable) in the West, it remains a rather novel concept in Vietnam. My girlfriend’s degree was based around climate change and I’m from a family who recycles like it’s a religion, so this was certainly a major selling point for us. The Ecolodge strives to reduce its carbon footprint by using renewable wind and solar energies, grey water treatment and non-toxic cleaning agents. Their food is locally sourced and organic, another relative rarity in a country that struggles with food safety standards. What’s more the lodge helps financially support the local people, ensuring your visit is both beneficial to you, and to the local people. Personally, being able to practice this kind of responsible tourism was a great added pleasure, particularly after meeting the locals and witnessing their traditional way of life. If you’re the type of traveller who pays to offset your carbon footprint when flying, or insists on feverishly searching for the nearest recycling bin, you’ll be at home here. Our stay left us revitalized and replenished, ready again to jump back into our full-throttle Hanoi lifestyle.