Anniversary Trip to Topas Ecolodge @ Sapa, Vietnam
Hey there! First of all, I need to admit that this post has taken way too long than I could ever imagine. I started drafting it since last September but didn't have time to properly arrange the pictures to complete it and I know it is no excuse at all for such high level of procrastination. Then again to be fair, I visited Japan on the same trip and got on this, this and this right after I came back to SG. Perhaps this just shows how passionate I am towards writing and sharing about Japan than anywhere else! :P
We celebrated our Anniversary last year by traveling to Vietnam and Japan on the same trip, spending approximately 4 days in each country. As with every trip, the "highlight of the trip" for us was our 3d2n stay with Topas Ecolodge, a beautiful hilltop lodge situated within the boundaries of Hoang Lien National Park in Lao Cai province, and about 45-min ride away from Sapa town.
It's the first time for me and second for Koon.
Koon visited Topas Ecolodge with his buddies back in the year 2016 and I remember how excited he was while sharing his experiences with me; one of which includes his first time witnessing the night sky full of stars. He made a promise to bring me there ever since and the trip finally happened in Sep-17! Unfortunately, we didn't manage to see the stars due to the weather. It was cloudy when we visited but overall this place is still beautiful, unbelievably beautiful.
And even though the weather did not bless us with clear skies, there are still many reasons that made this trip perfect. I had an awesome companion, traveled and explored a new destination, woke up to mysterious mountain views, got surrounded by paddy hills and finally had a whiff of fresh mountain air after being stuck in the city life for so long.
Hokie Dokie, let's start with some pictures, shall we? :)
The compound of Topas Ecolodge is huge and surrounded by undulating hills which makes every corner picture-perfect. It's a great place for nature-lover because there is so much to explore within the compound itself.
From the lobby where we first arrived at, it takes about 10-15 minutes of brisk-walk to reach the main building where the reception and cafeteria are, and another 5 minutes to reach our personal lodge.
Here's the main building which houses the reception, cafeteria-cum-bar on the first floor and restaurant on the second floor.
Interior of the cafe
Outdoor seating of the cafe which is one of my favourite spots
And here's another picture of the view from the cafeteria.
These fine lines of agriculture never fail to remind me how beautiful nature can be ≖‿≖
Room and Facilities
The lodges are strategically built around the hill and because of it's equally picturesque surrounding at every corner, it is unlikely that you will get a less-stunning view as compared to your neighbor.
Here's the interior of our lodge and I loved it. It's spacious, clean, and the best part for me was being able to wake up to a mountain view.
Unlike modern hotels, Topas Ecolodge has neither TV nor internet connection in the room and this is why they call themselves a 'lodge'. The reception on the mountain is very poor and even though I signed up for a personal mobile data plan, I could barely use it.
Here it is; the view from our balcony. This is a bonus find from my album because I cannot find any better ways to describe the weather we encountered during our stay. But it's nice and I liked the mysterious vibe it gives off. Feels as though I'm living in the clouds, haha.
The Infinity Pool
The infinity pool came as a surprise to both of us because we weren't expecting this and it wasn't there when Koon visited in 2016.
What more can I say about this view?
If it looks beautiful to you in pictures, it's even better in real life. I am in a state of bewilderment as I scroll through the photos. I can't believe I was there and I feel so lucky to be there at least once before this place becomes a common tourist destination.
We had all our meals in Topas Ecolodge throughout our stay as it can be quite time-consuming to get to Sapa town although we'd really love to. The cafeteria offers a decent selection of Vietnamese and Western food and I guess one can never go wrong with the signature Pho. In case you are wondering why the Pho in the photo looks different, that's because I had it without spring onions. Apart from that, I was basically munching on fries and sandwiches as my comfort food.
Massage / Spa
Having a good massage really complements your vacation especially if it is meant to be a relaxing trip. We signed up for a couple spa package and had a really good session which started with a herbal massage, followed by a herbal hot bath and ended off with a traditional cupping therapy. Yes, cupping! It was the first time for me as I'd normally prefer gua sha. I thought it was quite rare of a resort to offer cupping therapy, and even more so in a remote place. The therapists are very skillful in my opinion. Well, at least I didn't feel any discomfort during the therapy.
What I really enjoyed most though, was the overall ambiance where we were served white wine during our herbal bath. We were in the tub for a good 45 minutes at least, all these while with the picturesque scenery in front of us.
What we did not like about the place:
Mosquitoes. (Really Cammie, such a trivial matter?)
In the first instance, this might seem trivial to most but can be easily magnified ten times if you think of the killer-dengue virus. Up till now I still cannot believe the amount of effort we spent fighting against these buggers on our vacay. So here goes.
We pre-booked a private hilltop dinner for our second night and everything seemed perfect; we were seated in a hut, enjoying the evening sun while waiting for dinner to be served, had a personal chef, in fact, two (they were taking turns), grilling a variety of dishes for us and a waitress.
In a nutshell, almost like private fine-dining where you get your personal butlers except this was alfresco.
The mozzies attack started even before dinner was served and we were being so positive the whole time thinking "it will go away later". "Later" never came. The waitress lighted a mosquito coil for us and strangely it did not help. We spent a good one hour there, had our dinner and "slapping" ourselves wherever and whenever we felt an itch. Think of the bites we amassed and all the while it was just us. The waitress and chefs were not affected at all. We pointed to the mosquito coil and told the waitress it was not working... and asked if she had a mosquito repellant, she said no. Even though she couldn't speak English well, her body language reply to us was "I am not bitten, it will be ok".
How is it okay, we thought. At that point, we were really frustrated with the whole experience as we couldn't eat in peace.
Once the sun sets it got even worse to the extent that we asked to be seated indoors and have our food delivered there. To our horror, it did not stop the mozzies from following us. Everyone else in the restaurant seemed so fine, so what's wrong with us (or our blood)?
I remember documenting these on my IG stories inside the restaurant. A bunch of them were caught and killed by Koon (never thought he had a hidden talent. lol) because he can feel them on his skin even before they could bite. I'm quite the opposite!
Anyway, that was it. Maybe this is what you get for being in somewhere so "natural"? I don't know, but I thought some pest or mosquito control would be essential to prevent your guests from going through this sort of experience.
Getting to-and-fro Topas Ecolodge
Getting there via the train can take some time, but you'll get there. We tried both options (train and private transfer) and to make it easy for anyone who is planning to visit Topas, I'll break my itinerary down into steps.
Getting to Topas (Hanoi >> Lao Cai >> Sapa >> Topas Ecolodge)
1. We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and you can click here to read about our experience. Tickets were booked via the tour agency Sapa O'Chau. Duration: 8 hours // Price: USD 35 per pax
2. From Lao Cai train station, take a transfer to Sapa Town. You can also book the transfer via Sapa O'Chau. Duration: 1.5 hr // Price: USD 3 per pax
3. From Sapa Town, walk to Topas Ecolodge Office. Duration: 30 mins
Note: We were running out of time when we reached Sapa Town, and we knew that Topas' office is just around the corner. We were afraid that hitching a ride may need a detour (since it's on the mountain and traffic was bad) so we chose to walk. We traveled downhill through a local market and the paths were not suitable for dragging a luggage at all. Best to travel light.
4. Take a shuttle bus ride provided by Topas Ecolodge. Duration: 45 mins // Price: Free
You can check out the shuttle bus timings according to the timings here.
And tadah, you are there!! Total time required: 11 to 12 hours
Getting back to Hanoi (Topas Ecolodge >> Hanoi)
For our journey back to Hanoi, we chose to go with the private car service (USD 50 per pax) - Topas Mountain Express - provided by Topas Ecolodge. It was a 5 hr ride to Hanoi and to be honest it was really worth every penny because:
1. The seats were comfortable and spacious
2. They have USB ports for you to charge your elecrtonic device
3. Snacks (muffin and a banana) and drinks were provided
4. The driver drove at a comfortable and safe speed
Bonus: Their website says that WIFI is also provided in the car. I didn't try to use it because I already had data roaming on my mobile plan. I have always been afraid of traveling on mountainous terrains and all I ever need is a safe ride to my destination. I would highly recommend their private transfer and to come to think of it, you are paying just a tad more for more time to spend in Sapa!!
That pretty sums up our vacay to Topas Ecolodge and even though it's been more than 6 months since we visited, I can still feel the excitement in me while I am typing this.
The place is truly a gem and I would love to go back again.
Topas Ecolodge also offers several activities such as hiking and mountain biking tours and you can read all about it here. It would have been really awesome if we had more time during our stay but because we were there for our pre-wedding photo shoot, time was limited.
Lastly, I would like to do a special shoutout to the photographer - The Qui - whom we engaged during our time in Sapa. Most of the photographs (especially those with Koon and I in it) are taken by Qui and his team :)
Hanoi – Sales Office
N° 1B, Alley 12/2/5 Dang Thai Mai Street,
Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 (24) 3715 1005
For last minute bookings, outside office hours:
Tel: +84 (0)169 630 8580
Sapa – Operation Office
21 Muong Hoa, Sapa, Lao Cai
Tel: +84 (214) 387 2404