Sa Pa, Vietnam.
Topas Ecolodge is a rustic boutique hotel that lives and breathes sustainability. Perched high on a hilltop overlooking the Sapa Valley and surrounded by lush rice fields, this cloud-reaching getaway boasts some of the best views in the world.
The property is situated deep in the mountains of Hoang Lien National Park. Although wild and remote, it’s only a 45 minute drive outside Sapa town, a popular hub for hill tribe trekking.
Created in 2005 with funding from a Danish foreign aid programme, this environmentally-conscious lodge was the first in the region to be built. With sustainability and community development at the heart of the lodge’s ethos, almost all of the staff are from local villages and an array of systems are in place to protect local plants and wildlife at all costs. The green credentials are well recognised, too – National Geographic recently labelled it one of the ‘Unique Lodges of the World’ and placed it number one on the list of ’21 places to stay if you care about the planet’. Top marks from the big boys.
With mountainous terrain as far as the eye can see, Topas is a quintessential ‘off the beaten track’ experience. It’s simple and close to nature, yet the ethereal mist of the mountains gives the whole place an otherworldly feel, one that isn’t easy to replicate. Although relaxation is virtually mandatory, the lodge also allows you to get a real taste of rural Vietnamese life and a unique insight into the complex community ecosystem maintained by the various local ethnic groups. So maybe don’t spend all your time sunbathing.
Premium executive bungalows are priced at £185 per night and Suite bungalows stretch to £270 per night. A buffet breakfast and transfers between the lodge and Sapa town are included.
My brother – also known as the poor sod who had to take photos of me at every waking moment.
Where You’ll Stay
Topas Ecolodge consists of 33 mountain bungalows built in a rustic chalet-style. They are spread out in a circular fashion around the hill, offering contrasting views of the surrounding countryside. Each bungalow comes with its own private patio, overlooking an expansive vista of emerald peaks ringed with rice terraced valleys and hill tribe settlements.
Inside Our Room
We stayed in the cheaper of the two options and snapped up a Premium Executive Bungalow for a night. This stone-walled villa is furnished in a minimal style, with interiors made entirely of wood, rattan, bamboo, and stone furnishings. Simple yet tastefully decorated with charming terracotta tiled floors and a balcony, it boasts breath-taking views of the Ban Ho Valley, Thank Kim village and Hoang Lien mountain range.
Watching the sunrise from the privacy of the balcony, wherever you are in Topas, is highly recommended. The absence of Wi-Fi and a TV is all part of the charm; switching off and reconnecting with both nature and yourself is strongly encouraged. But have no fear – the room does still have some modern conveniences such as air-conditioning, minibars and tea and coffee making facilities. Phew.
The infinity pool commands striking panoramic views of the landscape – taking a dip overlooking the mountaintops, basically at eye level with the clouds, is quite something. It can get a bit chilly up there, but rest assured the pool is heated using an eco-friendly system, which uses over 85% less energy than standard technology. Dry off on one of the poolside loungers to the soundtrack of nature and a drink from the pool bar.
All meals are served in a central two-storey building, which was built from old traditional Tay stilt houses. The breakfast buffet primarily features international fare, while lunch and dinner offer traditional Vietnamese delicacies. The menu also offers a range of hearty European and Asian dishes, as well as barbecue dinners – unique alfresco experiences under the stars, served on the hilltop pavilion. The food served at Topas is either sourced from local farmers or taken from the lodge’s very own farm, or vegetable and herb garden behind the restaurant. All bases covered.
The stone fireplace warms up the lounge area, where guests can enjoy a decent collection of alcoholic beverages and afternoon cakes, while sinking into one of the books or board games on offer. Millennials rejoice – Wi-Fi is available in this area.
The wide range of excursions will keep you busy. There are bike rides, hikes and market visits, and the opportunity to meet members of local hill tribes and learn about their different language and customs should not be passed up (don’t be offended if they ridicule your bike riding skills).
The hotel uses a wastewater filtration system to purify its wastewater before it enters rice fields. They share resources with locals by distributing recyclable materials to reuse in their households, and they give their food waste to local farmers to feed their livestock. They have a near zero single-use plastic policy and work to educate staff and guests about the reasons behind it.
Things We Loved
The hillside and rice terrace walks, as well as the more demanding hikes and bike rides, are fantastic opportunities to soak up the tranquillity of your surroundings and trek on local terrain flanked by undisturbed natural beauty.
Freely mingling with the fascinating Hmong tribe. Topas Ecolodge assists in maintaining the lifestyle and culture of local villages untouched by the modern world, and you can see why they would – life in the area is vibrant, eclectic and the relationship the lodge has built with these communities facilitates unique experiences for those who stay here.
Their Remarkable devotion to social responsibility. The hotel is proudly employs almost exclusively local people, who receive occupational and educational training on site. Topas are invested in various community driven projects, support the local school and source almost all of their raw materials from the surrounding area.
The valuable take-home treats – all guests are given a bamboo flask at check in; perfect for refilling at the water stations throughout the stay and even better for living a more plastic-free life back at home.
Things To Know
Nothing good comes easily and Topas Ecolodge is no exception. The bus journey from Sapa Town takes approximately 45 minutes and with the roads in fairly poor condition, prepare for a very bumpy ride – I didn’t. The only saving grace is the stunning landscape you see along the way, which really sets the tone for the authentic experience that awaits.
Given the lodge’s rustic and remote setting, at times there are power cuts or temporary issues with the water supply, and after heavy rainfall it can sometimes be very muddy – approaching Topas with an open, eco-friendly mind is key.
There is a complimentary shuttle bus service that runs from Sapa town to the property twice per day, and back to town three times per day. When arranging your journey to Sapa, please note that the last shuttle for the lodge leaves town at 13:15pm. Alternatively, Topas offers transfers from Hanoi directly to the lodge.
Due to the elevation of the location, fog and clouds are common regardless of the season. March to May and September to November are typically the best times of year to visit the region, inviting dryer and sunnier days. But even then extra layers will come in handy, as nights get very chilly even in Sapa’s warmer seasons.
The property is spread across a mountain peak, and although it is very much child friendly, it’s not the most accessible of locations, so would present some challenges for a person with mobility issues.
Couples, friends and small families – anyone who is an adventurer, nature lover or eco-conscious. Topas Ecolodge is the perfect stay for anyone who appreciate simplistic luxury and a sustainable approach.
An incredibly unique stay awaits at Topas Ecolodge. The location is, of course, the main reason for staying here, but it is the respectful and supportive approach to the local community and environment which makes this property phenomenal. After staying at Topas, you will return home enlightened – both physically and mentally!
about the author
Hi! I’m Maz, born and raised in London. After working in finance for 5 years, I was left craving a life with more meaning and less monotony - so I decided to set up my hotel reviewing business, something I'd always dreamt of doing. Now I am always in search of beautiful spaces which inspire people and create memorable experiences.