While planning our trip to Vietnam, Sapa wasn’t really an option to be honest but after a bit of research I was mesmerised with the beauty that this place had to offer. So I decided to look into it a bit further and found this amazing place to stay called the Topas Eco Lodge. I needed to go!! So I showed Mick ….and his instant reply was…. ‘BOOK IT NOW!!’. In truth it was a little expensive for us but we always try to stay somewhere really nice once during our trips even if its just for a day or two. Having booked, the Lodge itself organised our transport from Hanoi where we were picked up from our hotel in a very plush Minivan that was equipped with WiFi and (thankfully) very comfortable and roomy seats for what would be a rather long road trip. During which were able to enjoy and photograph many stunning small mountain-side villages and some amazingly beautiful scenery.
Upon arrival at the lodge we were welcomed not only by the very warm staff but also by the Dao tribes-women….who, it is safe to say are very, very……very forceful and pushy and will hound you constantly to buy their hand-made goods. This I must say was very intimidating and somewhat frustrating after a 6 hour drive up from Hanoi. To top it off, after we did buy a couple of bits, they also got rather aggressive as we ‘only’ bought from one of the ladies and not from the other two!?! Once we managed to check in and put our bags down in our room the only thing we wanted to do was walk around and enjoy the absolutely stunning, peaceful tranquility of this super remote mountain top retreat. The lodge had everything you would need for a relaxing couple of days, including a restaurant, a bar/cafe, with books and board games and a massage and sauna area….but be warned… after 9pm it is extremely quiet, so if you are looking for a bit of action then this place is not for you and in keeping with the ‘eco’ part of the project….no TV in the rooms and no WiFi either.
We were really lucky during our stay as the visibility in this area is usually below par due to low cloud but sitting on the veranda was totally breath taking thanks to the wonderfully clear skies.
Staff at the lodge are locals and by working at the lodge they are able to support their families, something that in such a secluded area is rather difficult bar working the mountain side in the tea plantations. The lodge not only offers them a place of employment but also the opportunity to learn foreign languages, chef training, along with other valuable skills in order to give them the qualifications needed for a career in hotels and catering. Mick and I love contributing to great causes so knowing that our visit was also contributing to the advancement and betterment of the lives, well being and future of the local residents made it all the more wonderful.
The Lodge offers day trips that include hikes, bike rides and visits to different tribes in the area. We decided to make our stay a relaxing one as we’d spent the majority of our trip trekking, walking and climbing so unfortunately we cannot offer any feedback on the activities offered by the lodge. There are spa treatments though and we can assure you that you will not experience a spa, a hot-tub or a massage with more spectacular views like those offered by Topas Eco Lodge anywhere else in the world!!
We decided to visit Sapa town the following day, there was a shuttle bus from the lodge that takes you directly, a drive of approximately 45 minutes on what must have been the worst ‘road’ I think I have ever had the displeasure of travelling along……not an inch of tarmac to be seen, although it was very entertaining having to blow the horn in order to try and move the random cattle and other livestock from our path. What was very disappointing though was the fact that we did not like this town at all! The moment we arrived and stepped out of the shuttle bus and started walking we were surrounded by every single lady in the town! Whether it was to buy something or to participate in a walking tour it was just an onslaught of voices and faces not taking no for an answer. In the end, we walked around the town (with a constant and ever changing entourage). We just wanted to walk and see the town and take it in but unfortunately the peace and tranquility of the lodge is a world away from this, it’s closest town. One thing that we can say and one thing that is unquestionable are the views, they are absolutely beautiful, however the town itself is not and that is a crying shame because it could and should be a jewel in the north-west mountainous region of Vietnam. Having said all that I know of a lot of backpackers that organised home-stay with the locals and they absolutely loved it and this is probably one of the most endearing features of this area of Vietnam, the warmth and openness of the local people. If we had done that, maybe our opinion of Sapa may have been different. Besides the views there was nothing else that would draw me back to this place. We walked, saw a few local markets, had a coffee and we were ready to go back to the lodge.
I refuse to end this post on a sour note so I will make it abundantly clear that if you have the opportunity to visit the Topas Eco Lodge in the mountains of north west Vietnam, do not, under any circumstances pass it up. Magical beyond words, air as fresh, clean and refreshing as I’ve ever experienced, quiet to the point of surreal and so wonderfully peaceful that it’d be near impossible to leave here without feeling totally recharged, energised and ready to take on some more wonderfully fulfilling travels!!