Another ‘day’ trip from Hanoi landed us in Mai Chau.
From everything we could understand Mai Chau was described as a ‘mini Sapa’ but closer in proximity to Hanoi, and with consistently better weather. Sapa is ~10 hours away, while Mai Chau is ~4 hours away. Most accounts we heard from fellow travellers was that the weather wasn’t great in Sapa this time of year (very cold, foggy and rainy). So it was a no-brainer that we give Mai Chau a shot.
The trip was organized through our hostel once again and this was a much more intimate trip. As there were ~5 others on our trip. We could do either a 2 day or 3 day trip. Both trips shared a similar itinerary, except that the 3 day trip had a longer motorbike ride on the first day. Since this was our virgin motorbike experience we decided that we should keep it to the 2 day trip, just to air on the safe side.
Day 1 consisted of riding uncomfortable road bikes for roughly 3 hours on bumpy dirt roads. While beautiful to start for the first 30-60 minutes, it became quite painful to sit down and pedal, making it more of a chore and less enjoyable as time went on.
We then were treated to a home cooked meal, as this was a home stay with a family. The food was quite good, but I was playing it safe, still trying to get over a stomach bug. After dinner, across the road, one of the family members had set up a legit sound system and we plugged in someone’s iPhone and started an impromptu dance party as the gentleman pressured us into taking shots of home made rice liquor from a gas canister. It turned into a pretty fun night, getting to know one another and getting away from the noise of Hanoi.
Day 2 was our virgin ride on the motorbikes. I was pretty nervous, especially after I got the ugly duckling of the group, mine consistently did not start, and switching gears was a bit of a pain as well. After a few ugly practice runs on the bike I really wasn’t that confident in my motorbike skills, but f’ it, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. We set off on our trip and I made sure to stay as close to our guide as possible. It was a fairly easy ride with little to no traffic, so it was the perfect learning experience, except for the fact that a large majority of the route was along along mountain, with no guard rail for protection. On the flip side, that also meant we got some pretty amazing views in a truly serene setting.
The destination for motorbiking led us to a lake where we were taken out for an hour and had some more breathtaking views in an undisturbed setting, along with a dip in the lake to cool off. We were told we were being taken to an island, and 30 minutes later they pulled up along side this rusty metal station, and dropped anchor. Unsure of the setting we waited about 5 minutes until Erik took initiative and made his way to the top of the platform, roughly 30 feet up. After being our test dummy and proving that it was indeed safe, we took our turns jumping off until we wanted to call it a day.
We then made our way back to ‘basecamp’ via motorbikes and called it a day.
It was a really amazing, relaxing experience and I’d gladly do it again in a heartbeat. One of my favorite experiences in Vietnam for sure, probably tied, if not better than my time in Ha Long Bay.
That was all ruined by the ride home on our minivan. As some can understand, the driving in SE Asia is not for the feint of heart. This was by far the worst ride I’ve had, out of many white knuckle rides. You really play Russian roullette when you step into a cab/bus/minivan and hope that your driver isn’t a complete maniac. The horn is used constantly, not only to let people know that you’re passing them, but also to let oncoming cars that you’re coming their way. So that means it is probably used every 30 seconds or so. Passing happens far too often on cramped 2 lane roads and many times you’re left scratching your head as to why it was necessary to do so.
Our ride home placed me behind the driver seat, so I got birds eye view of what was going on. I probably shook my head in disbelief 15-20 times as we nearly missed many a car/motorbike/truck/semi. The one that really had me and most everyone else in the van nervous, was our drivers decision to pass someone going downhill on a mountain around a bend, with a semi-truck headed our way. He was able to squeeze his way past the car he wanted to pass, and narrowly miss the oncoming truck, but from then on I couldn’t relax, and knew it was going to be a very long 4 hour ride.
Luckily we made it back in one piece, but any shred of relaxation I had was lost on that ride back to Hanoi.