Buses directly to Mai Chau that drop off in town depart from the My Dinh bus station in Hanoi at 06:00, 07:30, 14:00 and 14:30 and cost 80,000 VND. The journey takes around 4 hours.
Alternatively buses to Hoa Binh leave Hanoi every 15 minutes between 06:00 and 18:00 (from 50,000 VND) and from Hoa Binh bus station there are regular buses to Mai Chau. The bus might drop off down the road from the bus station but if you make it clear that you're heading to Mai Chau they'll kick you off at the right place and point you in the correct direction. From Mai Chau town it's a 2-3km walk or 20,000 VND on motorbike taxi to the villages.
Another option is to take any bus leaving for Son La or Dien Bien Phu which will pass by and drop off at the Tong Dau junction about 5 km from town (the road sign for Mai Chau town centre reads 'Pho Vang'). From there, a motorbike taxi will be about 50,000 VND, or more, and since you're essentially stranded, bargaining won't get you far.
Be warned that some people have found it tricky to obtain a ticket from the desk at My Dinh and while it's possible to buy a ticket on the bus be prepared to overpay.
Direct buses back to Hanoi depart from the bus station in town -- although no timetable is available they seemed quite regular. Ask at your guesthouse though, as some will be willing to get the bus to pick you up. On our last visit we were informed that buses went back to Hanoi directly from Bac Village at 11:15, 13:00 and 15:00 but this could change regularly so don't rely on it.
If you have no joy at the bus station, head to the Tong Dau Junction and wait for a minibus to come along. Passengers tend to wait in front of Com Pho Tuan Anh just past the Petrolimex station on the road to Moc Chau. There will be something coming along each way every half hour or so during daylight hours.
For both buses from the bus station and Tong Dau be prepared to pay 100,000 VND to get to either Hanoi or Son La -- you might have some bargaining power if you pick the bus up at the bus station but that depends on how long you're willing to wait for the next bus.
If you’re keen on travelling by motorbike, the drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau has some stunning stretches, cruising through villages and along mountain roads with views over the surrounding paddy fields and limestone karst scenery, The final stretch, coming into Mai Chau, is particularly jaw-dropping. However, on the more negative side, be warned that before getting to these more pleasant areas you’ll have to endure busy, noisy, dusty and potentially lethal highways.
By the most direct route, Mai Chau is 139km from Hanoi, and 66km from Hoa Binh city, but despite the relatively short distances the drive from Hanoi to Mai Chau can take around 5 hours -- allowing for stops and a steady driving pace -- although it’s doable in less.
If you’re staying in Mai Chau town or one of the villages you can easily get around on foot. But if you want to travel further afield it’s easy to rent a bike in the villages for 20,000VND per hour -- negotiable for longer rental periods.
Mai Chau taxi company can be contacted on T: (0218) 386 8788 if you need to get back to the main road and can’t find a motorbike taxi.