A two-day stop at Topas Ecolodge was a ‘bucket list’ tick for Good editor Carolyn Enting.
Words and photography Carolyn Enting
Building an infinity pool amongst the mountains near Sapa, Vietnam was an inspired idea by Topas Ecolodge.
Images of this idyllic location are shared on a daily basis around the world on Instagram. Even in winter, guests like me climb in – and it can get really cold here but no problem because the pool is heated.
The infinity pool is the jewel in the crown for Topas Ecolodge. It’s the stuff of dreams and just seeing a photograph of it made me want to come here. When we decided on a last minute overseas Christmas holiday images of this pool, and the fact it was an ecolodge, was the reason I voted Vietnam and after a quick search on booking.com I secured my dream booking.
Most people travel to the lodge from Sapa via a complimentary coach that leaves twice daily. Transfers can also be arranged directly from Hanoi (through Topas Ecolodge) – allow a day’s travel to get here from Hanoi. We opted to travel by scooter as we like to be independent.
Topas Ecolodge is 18km/45 minutes from Sapa. Access is via a windy potholed dirt road so we arrived rather muddy and with hardly any luggage which bemused staff. Most visitors are of the luxury variety that come with giant suitcases.
Topas Ecolodge is part of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World group. Built in 1993 by Topas Travel it originally had no power and was built to have minimum impact on the environment. Today it runs on solar energy. Water refill stations are available to guests and 95 per cent of the lodge employees come from surrounding villages.
The pool, a recent addition in 2017, is heated using an eco-friendly system which uses 85 per cent less energy than standard technology.
The spacious two-level villas are built from stone and overlook the valleys of Hoang Lien National Park. They have all-important heat pumps for winter, as well as a balcony and outdoor patio with a mountain view. There is also no TV or internet connection in the villas so if your idea of a good holiday is to disconnect and lie back with a good book in a comfortable villa and enjoy the peaceful serenity that surrounds you, then Topas Ecolodge is for you.
The villas are set away from the pool area, main restaurant and spa. I enjoyed a wonderful hour-long hot stone massage after our bumpy scooter adventure. You can also indulge in a traditional herbal bath in a wooden tub, with a mountain view of course.
The gardens are tended by the local Dao tribe who also offer guided walks to the villages in the valley below, and they will ply their handicrafts too. I bought many of these from Dao women in Ban Ho village as these people are very poor and it is good to support them. It is important to buy directly from the person who made the piece to ensure they get paid, and also important to avoid buying from children. The more tourists buy from children, the more they will be held back from school to work to earn money. A vicious cycle for these marginalised communities. Topas Ecolodge also buy crafts directly from the villagers to leave on your bed as a farewell gift when you check out, which is a nice touch and another way of supporting the local community.
With the lodge situated high in the valley, buffalo trails spiral down through rice patties to the valley below. Guests can walk along the buffalo trails or borrow a free mountain bike to explore the area but the terrain is hilly so we were thankful for our scooter as it enabled us to visit Ban Ho village (1.3km away) without breaking a sweat.
If you are travelling in winter, as we did, it is worth bringing a pair of hiking shoes and a walking stick as the trails can be muddy and slippery.
In the early evening the pool is one of the best places to sit enjoy the sunset and magic mountain silhouettes before retiring fireside to the shared lounge beneath the lodge restaurant – a cosy and sociable spot made even better by the fact that you can help yourself to complimentary mulled wine.
If that doesn’t warm you up you can choose a traditional hot pot for dinner where you cook your own dinner – thinly sliced meat and local vegetables – in a boiling pot of soup on the table in front of you.
Local fare includes Sapa rainbow trout served many ways and local specialty fried spring rolls with pork, and crispy pork belly. The passionfruit brulee served in a passionfruit is worth a mention.
There are no cooking facilities in the room. If you stay here you must eat at the lodge. The nearest village is 10 minutes away and serves local street food if you want a change from a la carte fare.
According to a Booking.com’s 2019 Sustainable Travel Report almost half (46 per cent) of global traveller respondents acknowledge they find it harder to make sustainable choices while on vacation than in everyday life. Sixty-eight per cent would like the money they spend to go back into the local community. And almost three quarters (72 per cent) are seeking authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture. So we thought we’d make it easier for you. Here are some other wonderful sustainable travel options in Vietnam!
Set in Nam San, Mu Cang Chai Eco Lodge features relaxing and environmentally friendly accommodation with access to a garden and a terrace. Guests can enjoy a meal at the in-house restaurant, which specialises in Asian cuisine and also offers dairy-free and kosher options. Price per night $51 NZD.
Located in Pu Luong region, Puluong Retreat offers a peaceful resort set amidst nature and lush greenery. It features an outdoor infinity pool, a restaurant and a rock garden. Guests can enjoy views of the rice terrace and mountains from the resort. Price per night $49 NZD.
Surrounded by mountains and paddy fields, Mai Chau Ecolodge features modern rooms and suites with picturesque views. It has a restaurant, bar, an outdoor pool and in-house spa for guests to relax in. Price per night is $181 NZD.
Set within 15 km of Bai Dinh Temple and 35 km of Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh, Buffalo Eco Garden Homestay features a terrace and scenic garden. Price per night is $43 NZD.
Mango Bay Phu Quoc Resort is spread over 700 m of private sandy beach and 20 hectares of natural greenery. Private and quiet, this eco-friendly nature resort features a beach bar and sun terrace. Price per night is $178 NZD.
Providing free bicycle rentals and free fishing equipment, Mekong Lodge is a charming nature getaway surrounded by gardens and the Tien River. Free 2-way transfers from Cai Be Tourist Pier are included. Price per $72 NZD.
Featuring a terrace with a garden view, swimming pool and traditional hut-like architecture, this is the perfect location for a cultural experience. Price per night is $44 NZD.
Featuring an Asian breakfast each morning, an in-house restaurant, outdoor pool and terraces in each room, this location is perfect for a relaxing and eco-friendly stay in Vietnam. Price per night is $58 NZD.
Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa is located along a peaceful lagoon between Hue and Hoi An. The spacious villas and bungalows at Vedana feature modern décor with traditional accents. Guests can enjoy relaxing massage treatments and beauty services at the spa. Tai Chi and yoga classes are available. The resort also opearates a tour desk and water sports facilities. Price per night is $132 NZD.
Situated amongst the rustic nature, Bho Hoong Bungalows features views of the vast mountains in the Quang Nam Region. Also available is a demonstration of Co Tu cuisine cooking demonstration an on-site bar where guests can enjoy a drink of their choice. Price per night is $112 NZD.