The remote Mai Chau Valley, a couple of hours’ drive out of Hanoi in the lower reaches of the Truoung Son Mountains, makes an excellent base for treks into the nearby hills, inhabited by a mix of ethnic minority communities, including the H’mong and Tai. Staying in local houses, you’ll have opportunities to meet local people and go for extended cycle rides through rice fields and villages of wooden stilt houses in which the livestock are stabled on the ground floor.
In the evenings, be sure to sample rice wine, or ruou can, drunk communally from large jars using bamboo straws – the perfect primer for sessions of traditional music and dance, which many homestays offer as entertainment. Standards of both hospitality and hygiene are high in the valley, making its homestays comfortable bases from which to make treks deeper in the surrounding hills.
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