Isolated Mai Chau is a 139km trip from Hanoi, and 66km further on from Hoa Binh. Though it's not far, the trip from Hoa Binh to here takes almost two hours by motorbike due to the mountainous terrain.
Mai Chau is in a valley just over the biggest hump, about 10km from the Song Da river and only 150 metres above sea level. The village, nestled between two towering cliffs and surrounded by emerald green paddies, is an enchanting sight as you wind down the cliff side.
Mai Chau itself presents an idyllic rural valley that could easily charm you into staying longer than intended.
In spring Mai Chau is a bright, almost parrot-green and by autumn this green transforms into golden hues as the rice approaches harvest. Taking the time to watch these transitions of colour seems like a perfectly useful way to spend your life while in Mai Chau.
Those bemoaning the dearth of truly budget accommodation in Vietnam will be happy to learn that this is one place you can stay for a song. The star attraction here is a 'homestay' in a stilt house in one of the two ethnic White Thai villages, Ban Pom Coong and Ban Lac. But, it's hardly like trucking into a Karen village in northern Thailand and staying in the spare room of someone's house.
The 'bare bones' accommodation here is purpose-built to give tourists the 'homestay' experience, while the watchful eye of the government makes sure they have western toilets, ample bedding, and sometimes even satellite TVs in the common rooms.
Ban Lac is the more developed of the two, and the main drag was packed with tourists and tour buses on our visit, people playing pool at an outdoor billiards table, and pop music blasting on a sound system somewhere.
But this, surprisingly, does not spoil the fun all that much. The homestays are still run by ethnic minority families who have lived on and worked the land for generations, and it's heartening to see how the influx of tourist dollars hasn't changed their essential character, which we gauge to be as warm and easy-going as you please.
Driving for a bargain here is a meandering lark through the countryside compared to Hanoi.
As far as eating is concerned, all guesthouses in the villages offer food at quite reasonable prices and varying standards. If they don't live up to your expatiations there is little option other than to track back into town to try the local restaurants. Be warned though you will struggle to find anything of outstanding worth there. In town, after dark, a small market opens. You can eat noodles, fruits and bread on the street. During the day time there are three noodle shops in the vicinity of the market/bus station.