Topas Eco Lodge (unique)
Our brief comments:
The Topas Eco Lodge is about 18km from Sapa. It's a newly built development of 25 individual bungalows perched on the top of a hill together with a restaurant and bar complex. Needless to say, the views across the wide valley populated with small communities of Tay, Red Dao and Black H’Mong ethnic minority people.
The bungalows are built of stone with a thatched roof and a private balcony. At 32m², the rooms are spacious. However, although they seem a trifle spartan with a matt tile floor, woven rattan chairs and a rack for in lieu of a wardrobe, they're equipped with an en suite bathroom with a hot water shower - no television or telephone, though. There's also no air-conditioning - the cool climate of the Northern Mountains renders it superfluous.
All the bungalows use solar panels to generate energy for heating water. To avoid pollution, waste water disposal facilities have been installed.
The restaurant is located in a Tay stilt house. Three meals are served daily - a Western-style breakfast and Vietnamese lunch and dinner, the latter a buffet. The bar serves drinks, beverages, snacks and light meals, and has a fireplace for chilly mountain evenings.
The Topas Eco Lodge operates in accordance with the tenets of responsible tourism. The building materials and supplies are sourced locally, and employ ethnic minority people. The principle is to minimize the impact on the environment and local culture, and maximize the effect on the local economy.
For the visitor, there's much more than sweeping views of some of Vietnam's most striking landscapes. Hiking and trekking are obvious possibilities, but mountain biking, visiting local villages and markets and getting to know the vibrant cultures of the various ethnic minority communities are all on your doorstep.
During our inspection, one or two concerns surfaced. The lack of a telephone in the room means a long walk for anyone staying in the further bungalows (possibly a frequent annoyance as the rooms have no mini-bar). We also had misgivings about the ability of the small room heaters to cope with a cold mountain winter.
Establishing the Eco Lodge is a brave venture. However, if it succeeds, it has the potential to galvanize truly sustainable development in one of Vietnam's most impoverished areas. In keeping with our commitment to responsible tourism, we fully support the endeavour.