Want a different take on this famous region in northern Vietnam? Then check out this secluded Sapa itinerary for 3 days!
I was luckily invited by Topas Travel for a four day trip to visit their Riverside Lodge as well as their famous Eco Lodge (shout out to Frances for recommending me and the post name idea). What follows is a more condensed version for you to follow yourself!
This itinerary has a little bit of everything! You get a cool place to stay, meet some local hill tribes, check out the famous rice fields, and get to end with a massage and one of the most gorgeous pools I’ve ever seen. Not too shabby for a long weekend trip!
Tips for Your Secluded Sapa Itinerary
Where to Stay: Topas Riverside or Eco Lodge?
For a truly secluded Sapa trip, you’re going to want to book with Topas at one of their lodges outside of almost an hour outside of Sapa town. The question is, which one is better for you? Well, since we got to stay at both, I thought I’d break it down to help you decide!
For Travel Vibes: Topas Riverside Lodge
Buried in Nam Cang village is the newly renovated Topas Riverside Lodge! To me, this lodge is better for those who want more of a travel experience vs. a vacation experience. From the start you’re dropped off in the village and have a short walk to the lodge itself. It’s a more intimate set up as all the rooms and common/dining area are in one building. Meals are served family style
Personally, I loved the Riverside Lodge! It was fun being able to swim in the natural pools both in front and behind, and I liked how relaxed the whole atmosphere was. The food was incredible, and it’s definitely set up so you get to know fellow visitors during your stay. Also, because it’s in Nam Cang, you’re near a ton of activities and things to do to get to know the area better. Check here for booking + availability
For a True Vacation: Topas Eco Lodge
As one of only six National Geographic lodges in Asia, Topas Eco Lodge is a true luxury resort in the clouds. I’ll put it this way, I’d go to Riverside Lodge for a fun girls’ trip or if I wanted to meet other travelers, but I’d come to the Eco Lodge for a truly romantic getaway. With incredible views from your bungalow to, of course, the iconic infinity pool, you want to come here for a proper vacation!
The Eco Lodge is designed to feel like a small village and each bungalow is a way to disconnect. There’s no wifi in the rooms or any other electronic distractions, which really makes you enjoy your surroundings. While the Riverside Lodge is more intimate and designed to be a base for your adventures nearby, the Eco Lodge is designed so that you feel like you’re in your own world.
Sure, you can arrange for some activities off the resort, but with so much to enjoy right there, why leave? Lounge by the pool, walk around the lodge itself (it’s big enough!), get a massage and an herbal bath at spa, and, most importantly, relax. Check here for booking + availability
Sapa is pretty far north in Vietnam (just look it up on a map, it’s very close to the Chinese border). This means it can get quite cold in the winter. I remember my friend, Roxy, writing about her trip back in January 2014 and immediately nixing it for my own February travels two years later. I was trying to escape winter in Korea, not add to it!
However, in the summer it’s humid and hot, just like you’d expect in Hanoi or down south in Hoi An or Saigon! We were there in June and were definitely working up a sweat even just walking into town.
One big thing to be aware of, as with most mountainous locations, is that rain comes and goes pretty consistently in Sapa no matter the season. You kind of just have to plan with it in mind! During our four days, it rained hard in the morning twice.
What to Pack & Wear
It depends on the weather since you’ll want warmer clothes in the winter and cooler clothes in summer. Because a lot of activities involve walking around and a little hiking at least, you’ll wind up wanting two different outfits a day. Trust me you do not want to sit down for dinner in the same thing you explored villages with in the morning. I’d pack at least:
- one outfit per trek/hike/outdoors experience. Make sure you wear longer clothes as the mosquitos are a pain. I wore my girlfriend leggings
- one outfit per evening (some cute linen dresses I got in Saigon)
- one Eco Lodge outfit
- one swimsuit
- one or two travel outfits (linen pants or leggings + a t shirt)
- shoes: waterproof hiking shoes and slip-on sandals
One thing I would’ve brought if I knew I was visiting Sapa (and, you know, staying in Vietnam for 5 months longer than intended) are my hiking shoes! Luckily we wound up not doing any major trekking, so my black Asics were just fine. However, I imagine any trekking more intense than what we did would require much sturdier shoes. If you’re waffling between your hiking shoes and running shoes, bring the former!
How to Get There
By motorbike! Just kidding ;)
The “closest” city to Sapa is Hanoi, which is still a good 4 to 5 hours away! Most people fly in and use Hanoi as a base and do Sapa and Halong Bay from there. If you book one of the Topas lodges, they offer a private shuttle from Hanoi and Sapa town for an extra fee.
You could also book a train to Sapa town via Baolau and get a taxi to the lodges on your own. Depending on how many people you’re with, the private shuttle might actually make a lot more sense!
A Sapa Itinerary for 3 Days
Now for the itinerary! I would say book two nights at the Riverside Lodge and then get a shuttle back to Sapa town or Hanoi from the Eco Lodge on your third day.
That gives you a day to do one of the culture activities like meeting Phang and Guyen of the Red Dzao tribe while also experiencing the herbal bath and getting a little fancy and checking out the famous infinity pool.
Day One: the Red Dzao Herbal Bath
Drive to Sapa
Your first day is going to start out with a bit of a drive! The Topas Mountain Express can pick you up at your hotel in Hanoi, so I’d try to book an earlier shuttle. That way you can just climb aboard and pass out. By the time you’re awake again, you’ll start seeing lots of rice fields and mountainous countryside views. We left Hanoi around 8:00 AM and were at the Riverside Lodge by lunch!
Like I mentioned above, you’re not dropped off directly at the lodge itself. Rather you have a short walk through Nam Cang village before you get there and someone will come get your luggage. Keep in mind this is a truly authentic village, so you’ll experience every sight, sound, and smell you might expect on your walk up!
Lunch at Riverside
After you cross the very rickety bridge to the lodge and check in to your rooms, it’ll be time for a nice, fresh lunch. I seriously can’t rave enough about how good the food is here. Every meal, I wished my stomach was twice its size so I could eat everything! If you’re vegetarian or vegan, don’t worry. Meals in general are planned to be 80% plant based and 20% meat based, so it’s very easy for them to adapt the menu and you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
Afternoon: Hiking & Herbal Bath
After lunch, check out the activity that lets you following a Red Dzao herbal expert through a bamboo jungle before getting to experience your own herbal bath! This is definitely a hike, but you’ll learn about the tribe itself as well as get to see the herb collecting in action. You may want mosquito spray and long pants. Everyone who wore shorts, regretted their decision immediately.
Afterwards, you can experience the herbal bath! Since the bathhouse at the lodge wasn’t completed during our stay, we tried out the baths at a different location. However, you should be able to have a more proper spa experience by your stay ;). You can choose to bathe in a swimsuit or your birthday suit.
The baths are supposed to help with a slew of health situations from digestion to back pain. Apparently, Red Dzao women bathe in one every day for three days after giving birth and are able to go back to work!
Chances are you’ve worked up quite a sweat between the hiking and the hot bath, so the river is going to feel so nice. Both are right there, so it’s easy to just throw on your swimsuit and go out. It’s very likely you’ll be joined by some cheeky village kids who are utterly fearless with their jumping and running.
Dinner: A Hot Pot Meal & Drinks
After you’re all cooled off in the river, grab a shower, and throw on something comfortable for dinner. Of course you don’t need to dress up at all, but we enjoyed putting on something nice after sweating all day! Grab some wine while dinner gets prepped or, in my case, some delicious juice. ;)
Then it’s time for another feast! We had a hotpot dinner our first night, and it was just as delicious as lunch. Again, vegetarian friendly as one pot was for meat and one for tofu and veggies.
Enjoy the evening and relax over ice cream bars and more drinks with your friends or other lodgers as the weather cools off!
Day Two: Ricefields & Hill Tribes
Day two is definitely going to be your most active day as you visit with some tribes in the morning and then go for a rice field trek in the afternoon (or vice versa).
Breakfast at the Lodge
First things first, enjoy your breakfast a the lodge! Breakfasts here are light and fresh with lots of fruit and good bread. You can also get a nice bowl of pho made if you’re prefer that!
Learn More about the Red Dzao
This morning is a little more low key as you get to know two prominent tribes in Sapa. First up is the Red Dzao tribe as they live in the surrounding Nam Cang village. We chatted with Phang and later a silversmith named Guyen, which you can read all about here!
Blue Hmong Tribe
Next, we drove a bit further to meet with the Blue Hmong tribe and learn more about their traditions and culture. It’s always so interesting how different and similar two groups can be while living in the same area! On our trip, we specifically met with Say who, with the help of our guide, Kien, told us about her own life and other traditions.
Similar to the Red Dzao, the Blue Hmong’s main industry is in farming, rice, and cardamom. Two big visual differences are in the Blue Hmong’s traditional outfits and that the women here actually grow their hair incredibly long and pin it up.
Lunch at Riverside
After a morning of visiting with the Red Dzao and the Blue Hmong, time to return to the lodge for lunch! As you might expect, lunch will be just as delicious as the first day (the above photo was taken before they really started putting all our plates down).
Afternoon: Rice Field Trekking
From here you have two options. If you want a relaxing trip, then you could just hang out in the village or at the resort for the afternoon. Or, if you don’t want to miss them, you could sign up for some rice field trekking! Originally, we were meant to do a proper 7 to 8 km hike and meet with more hill tribes, but it rained for us, so we only did maybe 3 km and met with the Xa Pho tribe. Either way it should only take about half the day, so you could even switch and do this in the morning.
Dinner & Drinks
Come back and get cleaned up for your last big meal at the Riverside Lodge! I’m not sure how strict their menu is, but if you can, try asking about their fried spring rolls when booking. They’re seriously so good!
Otherwise today was pretty intense physically! Enjoy the food, drinks, and evening chatter. Tomorrow is your day for a little luxury.
Day Three: A Pool and Massage with Views
Today is all about relaxing. Arrange for your shuttle over to the Topas Eco Lodge and get ready for a nice pool day with some of the best views in the world. Seriously, bring your Kindle and get ready to spend as much time as you can here before it’s time to get the shuttle back to Sapa town or Hanoi!
Swimming around Eco Lodge Pool
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this pool is kind of famous! I mean you mix an infinity pool with epic mountain views? How could it not be? The day we had there was a bit cloudy and we still had these kinds of views!
You actually have two pools on two different layers, and the top one is heated in a way that uses 85% less energy than normal. So, yes, even if you come in colder weather you can enjoy it! There’s also a bar there where you can order drinks and food for lunch. I didn’t have it myself, but Alexis said on her last visit she had the Caesar salad and it was delicious. Also can recommend this purple drink that wasn’t on the menu. If it’s not there when you go, any of the signature drinks are an excellent choice. I tried each of them just to be sure ;).
Hot Stone Massage
In between pool and sunbathing sessions, you can also book a treatment at the spa. It’s only a short walk away (you’ll pass it on your way to the pool), and it’s so lovely. Take another herbal bath or get a massage! If it’s nice out, you’ll have similar mountain views, and if it’s overcast, like for me, it’ll feel like you’re getting a massage in the clouds.
We all got different treatments, but I opted for the hot stone massage, which was heaven. You can check out their menu ahead of time.
Time to Go Back
And, sadly, it’s time to leave this secluded, mountainous paradise for Hanoi, Sapa town, or home! If you’re using the Topas Mountain Express, you can arrange for your departure with them. If you have extra time, you can always splurge on a night at one of the bungalows here, and then you get the breakfast experience and maybe, weather permitting, one more morning with that pool!
Have you been to Sapa and one of the Topas lodges? What did you think?
Since I’ve been here, I’ve had fun getting to know the country more including cave-hopping in Phong Nha, beach-lounging in Mui Ne and Phan Thiet, exploring Vinh Long, one of Mekong’s cities, and more of Saigon’s districts, specifically District 1 and District 5 and Cholon.