There is a secluded pocket of northern Vietnam where mountains ripple with a thousand shades of green, rice paddies cascade down the hillsides, and rural villages weave a cultural mosaic that’s vibrant and timeless. Sa Pa can feel a world away from the Vietnam you imagined—and centuries removed from most destinations on Earth—and it’s where you’ll find the bungalows of Topas Ecolodge, crowning an emerald peak amid some of the region’s most remote hill tribe communities.
The stilted common buildings at the heart of the lodge were sourced from a nearby community of ethnic Thay people; and private guest bungalows swirl along the ridgeline, ensuring a spectacular view no matter which one you check in to. Wake in the morning to the mist rising with the sun, and spend your days exploring the surrounding forests and ethnic villages—you’ll start to feel the pull of the hill tribes’ centuries-old lifestyle, native to these mountains and virtually untouched by the modern world.
Topas Group, the lodge’s parent company, was a fixture in northern Vietnam even before the country completely opened its doors to foreign tourists in 1997—and long before Sa Pa became a popular trekking destination. In partnership with a local Vietnamese family, the Danish company began offering tours through the region in 1993; and as their connections in the valley expanded, so too did their vision for an experience that would truly immerse guests in hill tribe culture.
To that end, Topas Ecolodge opened in 2005 on a mountaintop far removed from the emerging tourist hub of Sa Pa town. The lodge vision has stood the test of time. Even with other tourism outfits popping up across Sa Pa, the lodge still offers one of the area’s most culturally enriching travel experiences. Here, visitors live among the hill tribe communities, rather than trekking through them for a day or two before returning to the city; and they leave with a deeper understanding of life in these rural villages.
When you book your space through National Geographic, you’ll get an insider’s look at how the region’s famed rice wine is produced during a visit to the mountain village of Thanh Kim. Alongside your private guide, walk the paddies surrounding the town to see how the rice is tended and harvested. Then step into a local stilt house to learn the steps of fermentation. The experience culminates with a tasting of the various wines produced by your local host.
As one of the longest-running and most philanthropic lodges in the region, Topas Ecolodge has nurtured strong relationships with the local hill tribes—and with each passing year, the lodge conceives new ways to give back to these communities that are so integral to their operation.
Throughout its time in the region, Topas has invested in improving infrastructure for many of the area villages, with projects that range from building schools and bridges to improving water filtration and recycling systems. The lodge also engages community members on a more regular basis by offering ample employment opportunities and sharing resources. For example, water from their freshwater reserve is used by neighbors, leftover food is donated for livestock, and locals who tend lodge-owned paddies are invited to keep the harvest for their families. In the coming year, Topas plans to build a shop where Red Dao ladies can sell their crafts.
National Geographic Travel, 21 Places to Stay if You Care About the Planet, 2017
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