Mai Chau: Hill-tribes & hiking</p>
<p>Tucked up amongst the mountainous terrain of Northwest Vietnam, just 160km away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi is the peaceful rural district of Mai Chau. The picturesque paddy fields of this valley are scattered with water buffalo, farms and stilt houses belonging to the Thai ethic minority group (who not surprisingly originate from Thailand, and also Laos). The verdant landscape of Mai Chau is perfect for outdoor activity including hiking and biking; kayaking is possible on Hoa Binh Lake, which resembles a mini version of Halong Bay, featuring karst mountains and bordered by evergreen forest.</p>
<p>The Thai people’s fascinating traditions can be viewed first-hand during trips to the villages of Mai Chau, where visitors will be treated to traditional dance music performances (featuring drums and gongs) and invited to sample local food and drink specialties. They favor hot, salty, acrid and buttery tastes and no meal is complete without being seasoned by ground chili, salt, coriander and onion. Smoked fish, rice cooked in bamboo and grilled meat are some of the specialties, often washed down with local wine.</p>
<p>Although most Thai people rarely wear traditional dress nowadays, the women are talented seamstresses and produce intricately-patterned clothing and handicrafts perfect for mementoes and souvenirs.