Things to do
1. Trekking around Mai Chau
Hoa Binh's mountainous terrain with lakes, caves and forests is an outdoor lover's dream. Trekking is the most popular activity in Hoa Binh, with guided tours available to take you into tribal villages, along rice fields and up some challenging hills. Mai Chau serves as a base for most of the province's trekking journeys. Among the most popular is an 18-kilometre trek that leads from Lac village in Mai Chau up a mountain pass through White Thai tribal territory to Xa Linh village, where the Hmong people live. The trek is usually done over two days with a one-night's stay at a village. The caves of Hoa Binh are fascinating not only for their stunning geographical features but as historical sites containing many ancient artefacts. Spelunkers and rock-climbers can be amateur archaeologists at the same time, at such sites as Khu Trai mountain cave with thousands of fragments of ancient pottery, rice and stone and a trail that dates back tens of thousands of years. Cho Cave and Muoi Cave also contain ancient relics.
2. Shopping and markets
As the heart of Vietnam's hill-tribe culture, Hoa Binh has a rich variety of textiles and traditional arts and crafts sold in the village markets. Be sure to also visit some local homes and watch the creation of beautiful fabrics and clothing by the skilled hands of ladies weaving on their looms. Mai Chau has a Sunday market, which brings in tribes-people from the surrounding hills to sell their wares including their signature tho cam embroidered fabrics and agricultural products including bananas and corn. Polite bargaining is the norm here; be sure to keep it light and friendly.
Arts and crafts unique to Hoa Binh include go lua, figures and furniture sculpted from tree trunks; mats, hand baskets, hats, fruit trays and lampshades made with hand-made bamboo wattle; and beautiful brocade weaving using indigo dyed cotton and coloured silk on hand-crafted looms. The brocade fabrics are then made into pillow cases, tablecloths, bed spreads and other decorative items for the home.
3. Soaking yourself in Kim Boi hot springs
Kim Boi, one of the districts of Hoa Binh province, is said to be granted with a natural hot spring by the Nature. The hot spring is now a tourist spot which “can-not-be-ignored” if staying in Hoa Binh. Putting aside all the tensions and troubles of life, tourists will feel relax and comfortable when soaking themselves in Kim Boi Hot Spring.
The mineral water continually spouts from the fountains, normally between 340C and 360C. According to some scientific tests, Kim Boi water resources are qualified to meet the standard for drinking, bathing and treating some diseases such as arthritis, gastritis, high/low blood pressure. This mineral water Kim Boi is now bottled and become favorite refreshment for tourists in Vietnam travel. It has almost the same composition as certain wellknown foreign brands of mineral water.
As for tourists joining tours in Vietnam, depending on their budget they can choose to stay at any hotels in the resort area. Wherever they are, the same point is that they can hear the sound of water spouting out, which makes them relaxed. Being immersed in a large mineral water deposit of Kim Boi stream is also not unmemorable for any visitor.
Certainly, coming to Kim Boi hot spring once, no one can refuse to spend time in such a spot!
4. Admire Hoa Binh nightlife
Though electricity has extended into even the most remote villages of Hoa Binh, life in this province still pretty much shuts down to sleep in the evening hours. As the Lonely Planet describes it, "Even the dogs seem mellow." Evening folk dance and music performances are occasionally put on by the local hill-tribe people, which you'll be able to catch if you're doing a home-stay or tour of a local village.
Otherwise, simply enjoy the stillness and serenity of the Hoa Binh night, and indulge in some stargazing while listening to the forest rhythms. If staying in the Mai Chau valley, visit the Veranda Bar at Mai Chau Lodge to sample its nightly beer and cocktail happy-hour specials and a decent wine selection. Those seeking more nightlife excitement head to the bright lights of Hanoi, just a few hours away by car.
5. Learning about the tradition festivals
Because of the historical and geographical situation, Hoa Binh’s festivals have certain distinctive traits. The festivals represent not only the special values but also the living conditions of the residents here.
The festivals in Hoa Binh when compared with Kinh and Mong ethnic group’s are not held on large scale and they are not held in accordance with strict regulations, either. Ethnic community in general and Muong minority people in particular; nevertheless, have their own traditional festivals. The most famous ones are Vai Communal House festival, gong festival, Muong Bi summer festival, Hang pagoda festival, Tien pagoda festival and so on. As a whole, the festivals clearly illustrate the traditional faith and the cultural exchange among different groups.
6. Homestay in Mai Chau villages
There are two accommodation centres in Mai Chau: the village of Lac and the village of Pom Coong. Pom Coong is slightly more rural and less developed than Lac village.
Set a few hundred metres back from the main roadside, both villages offer a rustics experience in traditional Thai Stilts houses. The villagers will sometimes organize traditional song and dance performances in the evenings and anyone is free to join in the fun. A mild word of warning about the showers: the doors may have fairly large gaps between the walls and the occasional opportunists guide or driver has taken the chance to observe the proceedings. Use your towel to good effect.