Best of both worlds
27th November 2019
In this week's blog TL customers Martin and Jill travelled to Sapa and kept a diary of what they saw. If you have a travel story you want to submit to us for publication on our blog send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walk, Sit and just Look!! - North Vietnam July 2013
Having made our bumpy way across Cambodia from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, then taken a few flights via Hoi An up to Hanoi we were very excited to finally get on the night train up to Lao Cai - final destination being the Topas Eco Lodge! The guys at TravelLocal had introduced the Topas Eco Lodge into our world a few months back and before you could say "Xin Chào" it was booked!
So, it's about 21.30 and we are walking across the tracks at Hanoi central train station. In the background you can hear the Hanoi chorus of bikes, car horns and train whistles. But the good news is that it couldn't be further away from where we would be 12 hours from now. The night train is great, although if you have the budget (about $70 per head each way) I would recommend booking out the other 2 beds in the cabins. If you're "flashpackers" like us then the extra space is welcome and you just never know who you are going to have to share a bumpy 9 hours with!
On our arrival we had booked a day excursion to the Bac Ha market. It's a good 3 hour drive from Lao Cai to Bac Ha, up along the Chinese border and then inwards and upwards into the clouds. When you finally arrive and step out of your car your senses switch to overdrive. The vibrant dress of the beautiful Flower H'mong people, the smell of the cattle market and the noise of the chatty local ladies is a rare experience. For now, Bac Ha is still for the local people. Sure, there are some tourists, but the market is very local and very authentic! I would have stayed at the market for hours clicking away with my trusty 50mm but it's a fair old way back to the Eco Lodge so we had to get on the road.
When you get to Sapa you start to appreciate even more why you made the effort to go to Bac Ha. Sapa, although full of character, is very busy with plenty of tourists. However if, like us, you are headed for Topas you keep driving through Sapa and head south down the valley and away from the bustle of the town. The road (which is currently being improved) deteriorates from road, to rubble and then mud. Finally, you take a left and with a breathtaking view over the valley you see for the first time the Eco Lodge. The hilltop location of the lodge chalets is out of this world and it's at that point you realise that you have a couple of days of perfect peace and quiet ahead of you.
There are plenty of organised treks and bike rides in the area, and you are sure to become friends with the local tribal ladies trying to sell you their homemade trinkets. At first they seem pretty intense, but just embrace their enthusiasm and enjoy their company while you're out and about walking. Once you're back to the chalet and you've scraped the mud off your boots it's time to sit and look across the valley. Trust me, time will run away while you watch the shades of green change and the clouds roll through. You could spend a day, or a week, at Topas as the recipe for each day is very simple; walk, sit and just look. It really is a stunning place.
Make it happen
For ideas on how to visit Sapa on a TravelLocal trip check out our Vietnam page. All trips offered by our local partner companies are completely bespoke to you. To talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call 0117 342 7898.