Well, I am back from holidays. Andrea and John did a great job keeping Mainline Photo running smoothly, while my wife and I trundled around Northern Vietnam and then Cambodia. We had a fantastic time and our month long trip went with out a hitch, which I must admit amazed me as we arrived in Hanoi with no real plans apart from that of buying a scooter to cruise around the country on. Which in the end wasn’t going to happen for several reasons. So from our hotel we patched together a rough plan booked a few hotels and flights and we were off!
Red Dao Mama. 85 yrs old and she could run up the mountains!
First stop was Sapa in the north west mountains of Vietnam. An overnight train trip and then a 2.5 hour minibus brought us to our final destination the TOPAS ECOLODGE right in the heart of a National Park situated on the spur of a mountain. At first we thought oh no, what have we done this place is out in the boonies! ahh, but then it dawned on us that the lodge is right amongst all the ethnic hill tribe groups… Which made us very… very excited.
Topas Ecolodge, Sapa Vietnam
We stayed four days at the lodge, which consists of 25 solar powered bungalows set facing into the valley below. We were blown by away it’s remote location and the layout gives the impression that you are at the end of the earth. Plus there is no TV or phones and definitely no Wi fi which really helps make it seem even further away from everything. But wait it gets much better…
All the bungalows are made from local materials.
Oh, and did I mention the View!
Topas is situated in a National park and you are surrounded by Hill tribe villages. No need to go on tours here folks, to meet the locals you just need to step out your door. The lodge is right in the heart of Red Dao territory and the Red Ladies (as the lodge managers refer to them) are waiting en mass to greet every guest at the entrance to the lodge grounds. Calls of “buy from me!” are the first thing the new guest hears upon arrival, before they have even had a chance to check in. The ladies pounce and will have the hapless visitor surrounded in moments all of them offering their wares for purchase at once.
Red Dao ladies waiting to Greet you outside the lodge grounds.
The trick here is to not run away from them but to go with the flow and integrate with them as they will happily guide you to the surrounding villages and show you the local sights as long as you give them the opportunity to sell you some of their goods. They do not ask nor seek payment for guiding you. This is strictly a business transaction involving the sale of goods. They are poor and the handmade items they sell are cheap so you are doing good.
Just remember to bargain hard and have a lot of laughs and fun with them. You will be richly rewarded with a once in a lifetime cultural experience. They speak simple English and love to learn more and have a knowledge of the land and village ways of life that only a local can. Quite simply the four days we spent with the Red Dao ladies wandering through the mountains was the highlight of our trip made even more fantastic by our stay at the ecolodge.
PS: They love having there photo taken especially if you show them their image on the screen after you have taken the shot.