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Topas Ecolodge is around an hour east of Sapa, an old French hill station that’s now the hub for Vietnam’s mountainous northwest. The region is home to Indochina’s highest mountain – 3,147m (10,325ft) Fansipan – and its hills and valleys offer numerous trekking opportunities. There are markets and battlefields to explore and different ethnic groups to meet, including the colourfully dressed Hmong. Parts of the northwest are remote, but the area around Sapa and the Topas Ecolodge is a fine place to immerse yourself in the region’s charms.
Sapa is where the northwest’s people come together to work and trade. It’s home to a museum exploring the region’s history, a market offering food and local crafts, and some great restaurants offering Vietnamese and international cuisine. Despite a lovely highland setting, it’s not the most beautiful town: recent growth has been fast and not particularly carefully planned.
There are plenty of good accommodation options, both in town and in the surrounding countryside, including boutique hotels, traditional clay houses, spas and homestays. And Topas Ecolodge is one of the most appealing places to stay, far enough from Sapa’s bustle to feel peaceful.
The lodge has 33 chalet-style bungalows, built from white granite quarried in the nearby Hoang Lien mountains. The executive bungalows have private balconies, air conditioning, rain showers and mosquito nets, and can house up to three adults or a family of four. The suite bungalows are around twice the size and also feature a lounge and a stone bathtub.
Just down the hill from the main lodge, the pool might be the star of the show. It curves around a sculpted terrace, offering views of peaks, trees and valleys. The vista might be bathed in sunshine or look hazy through cloud or mist. There’s a shallow section for children and a bar area for adults, who can take drinks into the water, and there’s also a spa and sun loungers. In line with the lodge’s efforts to be eco-friendly, the water is heated using green technology.
The lodge is inside Hoang Lien National Park. The tallest point in the park is also the tallest point in the country: Fansipan. Forests give way to rock as you ascend, but this isn’t a classic middle-of-nowhere hike: instead, cable cars and funiculars can take you right to the top. You’ll pass Buddhas and pagodas on your way to its monument-topped summit, where stellar views of the cloud-specked mountains around await.
Topas Ecolodge can organize excursions to see more of the local area, offering hikes to the Red Dao villages of Lech and Nam Cang. The Red Dao are known for their bright clothing, embroidery, jewellery and traditional medicine. Cycling trips can range farther, with a descent into the valley to visit communities of Tay and Xa Pho people.
All that exercise might make you peckish. Hearty mountain breakfasts are included with the room, and the food is based on sustainable local produce. There are two restaurants: the Stilt House, in two converted traditional Tay stilt houses, offers a varied menu, while the (evening-only) Pavilion is barbecue-focused. Both have outdoor seating, and it’s worth bringing insect repellant – to preserve the environment, the resort doesn’t spray against bugs.