Dec 17 2012
Those seeking to relax in stunning surroundings may not find what they’re looking for in busy Sapa town, but out of town accommodation, like H’mong Mountain Retreat, which overlooks the breathtaking Muong Hoa valley, provides a welcome alternative.
The retreat consists of an 85-year-old stilt house, which was transported to its current location from a small village 150 kilometres northeast of Sapa, a H’mong family house, also relocated and reconstructed, and five rammed-earth bungalows. The buildings are dotted around terraced paddy, and all have amazing views — so long as it’s not foggy, which does happen.
Guest accommodation is in either the bungalows or the H’mong house, which contains two bedrooms and a living area. The bungalows are about as basic as it gets in terms of furnishings, containing a mattress with bedding, a mosquito net, a heater, a lamp and a small table. But put aside any visions of budget beach huts or $4 a night shacks — one in Don Dhet springs to mind — because these are as classy as a rammed earth bungalow can be: the bedding is excellent quality cotton, with thick duvets perfect for chilly Sapa nights, towels are white and fluffy, a tastefully designed lamp sits in the corner and fruit and bottled water are supplied. There’s even a knife to cut the fruit with, although I wondered momentarily whether it was for attacking any creepy crawlies that wandered in. Note: the mosquito net is a good idea, even in winter.
The highlight of the rooms are the terraces, which extend out over the rice fields providing near uninterrupted views of the valley below. You’ll have to sit on the floor, as no seating is provided, but you’ll soon forget about that as you enjoy the scenery with a cold can of beer.
The H’mong House is a good alternative for groups or families. Constructed from a mixture of clay walls, palm leaf thatching and palm tree wood flooring, it houses up to four people in two bedrooms. The rooms are bigger than the bungalows but otherwise the same style. It doesn’t feel quite as adventurous as the bungalows but still has great views.
One important thing to note is that neither the bungalows nor the H’mong House have en suite bathrooms. The two modern bathrooms are located in the main stilt house, thereby necessitating a few minutes’ walk along a narrow stoney path between rice fields from your room. Not such an issue during the day when it’s dry, but not the most pleasant experience on a rainy night. Fortunately, lamps are provided.
Meals are taken in the main stilt house, which is also a great place to chill out with a book or play cards — either on the ground floor, with better views, or the upper floor. The furnishings are stunning, created from local materials and designed by co-owner Dinh Khac Tiep, and for chilly days and nights a large coal fire can be lit. Cookery classes are held in the main house — I’ve taken a few cookery classes around Asia and this has to have the best view and the food’s great too (ed’s note: I’ll put it up at number one with Bali Asli in Bali then!).
Dinner is a set vegetarian menu, which may not be to everyone’s taste and although plentiful and warming doesn’t quite hit the spot after a day of trekking. It also adds another US$15 per person to the bill, including a drink, but it’s tasty and there’s not a lot of choice unless you want to trek back into Sapa. Additional drinks are available at reasonable prices.
I may have referenced $4 huts earlier, but it’s not only the quality of the bungalows that bear no resemblance — the prices don’t either. At US$59 per night for a bungalow, including breakfast, this is not budget. You are, however, getting not just a room but an experience as well.
H’mong Mountain Retreat is part of the Tet Lifestyle Collection, a company that takes its responsibility to the local communities in which it operates seriously, with all of its staff either underprivileged youth or ethnic minorities. It also works closely with the local communities to promote the increase of ethnic minority living standards in education and basic health care and a percentage of profits go towards the Mac Ha School.
Treks and other activities can be organised or you can set out yourself from the retreat for a walk down into the valley. Transfers from Sapa town are provided but if you want to travel back and forth you’ll either need to rent a bike or pay extra.
H’mong Mountain Retreat will suit those looking to get away from it all and spend some quality time with friends or a good book in a unique location, or exploring the local area. It’s not ideal if you want to spend your evenings shopping or boozing in Sapa town, or place an en suite bathroom high on your list of requirements.H’mong Mountain Retreat
Km 6 Sapa-Ban Ho Road, Sapa, Lao Cai T: (020) 6505 228
Disclaimer: My company in Hanoi has been working with Tet Lifestyle Collection on design of its marketing collateral and I therefore am friends with the owner. However, as all Travelfish.org researchers do, we paid in full for our stay at H’mong Mountain Retreat.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.