Sapa: Trekking Vietnam’s Emerald North

In a corner of Vietnam’s remote far north, on a hilltop deep within the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, sits Topas Ecolodge. Removed from the well-worn tourist path, this hidden gem encourages guests to slow down and savor life as it has been for centuries.

Anyone who has stopped over in Sa Pa's main town can attest to the dizzying array of tours offering to whisk travelers away to village stays and experience authentic hill tribe life. However, at Topas, you can rest assured that you are actually contributing to the well-being of the local people. Since its inception in 2005, the lodge has worked intimately with the surrounding hill tribes, building strong relationships and ensuring that the profits brought in by the property also benefit the locals. The lodge has built schools, improved bridges and road infrastructure, and created water filtration and recycling systems. In addition, the majority of hotel staff are from neighboring villages.

One of the most rewarding activities at the lodge is the full-day trek through Hoang Lien National Park to visit with one of the nearby hill tribes. In the company of a guide, wind your way through seemingly infinite terraces of cascading emerald rice paddies to a Red Dao village and stop to visit the home of one of the resident families and learn about their daily life. If you arrive early enough in the morning, you may be able to witness the process of making rice wine, and perhaps even sample a little—if a shot of 40 proof alcohol is your idea of the perfect after-breakfast beverage. Then continue to the workshop of the local silversmith to learn how he crafts jewelry from French coins dating back to the late 1800s, and perhaps buy a ring or pair of earrings to commemorate your time in this enchanting corner of Indochina.

Upon returning to the lodge, you can soak your tired muscles in the heated infinity pool while drinking in the stunning views of the valley below. With no place else to be and nothing to rush off to, you can reflect on your day—what you saw, smelled, tasted, felt—and be grateful for the chance to experience this untouched corner of the world.