Places - August 20, 2018 | 12:04 am PT

Giving ‘off the beaten track’ a whole new meaning

Topas Ecolodge is in Muong Hoa valley, which is archetypal of the exotic beauty of Vietnam’s northwest.

Topas Ecolodge nestles amidst the terraces of Sa Pa, the beautiful gem of northwestern Vietnam.

Situated 11 miles from Sa Pa center, this so-called “flower of Muong Hoa valley” attracts celebrities like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Manchester United football player Chris Smalling.

Behind picturesque forests of pine trees, 33 hilltop balconies overlook a spectacular panorama of terraced rice fields and mountains.

So sit back, enjoy a cup of hot cinnamon tea on a balcony, take in the majesty of nature and let your thoughts wander around the steep terraced paddy fields across Muong Hoa valley, far away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The resort’s restaurant and bar represent a perfect harmony of ancient Thai stilt houses and Western architecture. Here you can enjoy local delicacies and marvel at the sunrise and sunset behind the far mountain peaks, waterfalls and the beautiful villages of the Red Dao and Black H'Mong ethnic peoples.

In the morning you can take a walk along yellow rice terraces on winding tracks around the resort while admiring the mountain top covered in clouds.

At night you can hear the sound of insects and the murmur of faraway streams.

Despite its exalted reputation, the resort is equipped with only basic room essentials. There are no TVs or computers. The furniture, made from natural materials like wood, bamboo and rattan, too is minimalist.

The resort emphasizes sustainability and minimizing its ecological footprint. Electricity for the garden lights comes from solar energy, and 80 percent of the staff are locals.

A remarkable feature of the resort is the infinity pool on a hill 900 meters high and directly overlooking the valley.

The saltwater pool is warmed all year round with an environmentally friendly system that reportedly reduces energy use by 85 percent. The pool is currently not open to visitors.

The resort may not be perfect for people focused on creature comforts with its small beds, lack of modern equipment and a long distance from the entrance to the rooms. Besides, the road from the town is quite long and bumpy.

Lien, a visitor from Hanoi, says: "Seven years ago I knew about this place after the founder of Facebook visited it. At that time the price was only over VND1 million ($43.25), but most of my friends don’t like this remote place without TV or Internet. Everyone prefers to stay in the center of Sa Pa, which was then very nice and tranquil, not shabby like now.”

Lien has just had a serene weekend at this resort.

The resort offers a buffet breakfast and a la carte lunch and dinner. Admittedly the remote location means visitors do not have varied food options there are virtually no restaurants or cafes outside the resort.

The ideal time to visit here is between August and October, when the rice is ripe on the terraces.

After exploring the resort, visitors can go to Sa Pa, climb Mount Fansipan, the roof of Indochina, or rent a motorbike to travel around Ban Ho, Thanh Phu, Thanh Kim, and Nam Cang villages to get a hang of life in the highlands.

This year Topas was listed among the most unique lodges in the world by National Geographic. It is also ranked first by the site in the list of “21 places to stay if you care about the planet" in 2017.

Quick guide!

Transportation: Traveling by car from Hanoi takes about five hours. From Sa Pa town it takes 45 minutes (11 miles).

If you travel on your own, you can follow the Ha Noi - Lao Cai Highway until Xuan Giao Commune and then turn right into Muong Hoa Village. This is a lovely route because of the beautiful scenery.

Reservation: There are 3 types of rooms: Executive Bungalows, Premium Executive Bungalows and Suite Bungalows. Room prices are VND4-10 million ($173-429) per night, varying with the season.

During peak seasons like spring and summer, visitors should need to 1-2 months in advance since the number of rooms is quite limited.

Story and photos by Khuong Nha, Ban Mai