After a restful night aboard the Victoria Express, we arrive at Lao Cai Station as night fades into day. We are welcomed by our driver and start the one-hour journey to Sapa as the sun comes up. Even though it’s early, it’s a lovely way to start a relaxing weekend getaway in this former hill station.
Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa was the first luxury hotel to open in Sapa. Built in 1998, the construction uses traditional materials from the region, local timber, stone and bamboo, to create a top-end property that pays homage to its surroundings. As we walk in, on this cold and foggy winter morning, we are welcomed with hot apple cider. The crackling of logs in the lobby’s fireplace makes the hotel feel warm.
The Victoria Sapa is set up on a hill; each room gets a view on the garden and the open-air corridors looks over the town softly cloaked in the morning fog. Our room is spacious and comfortable with a large balcony that the sun piercing through the clouds fills with light. It is decorated with touches of traditional handicrafts and fabric. Outside on the balcony I breathe in the fresh air, a much-needed change after the pollution of Hanoi. I already feel better.
After a copious buffet breakfast, we embark for a day out at Fansipan mountain courtesy of the cable car. We return later in the afternoon, a bit cold from the foggy weather and tired from altitude sickness. While I wait for my spa appointment, we curl up on one of the Ta Fin Bar’s sofas next to the fireplace and drink hot coffee.
The spa is pretty big as it also houses an indoor heated swimming pool. They offer traditional spa treatments like body scrubs, facials, body wraps and the piece de resistance, some wonderful massages costing between VND499,000 and VND959,000 for a Traditional Thai Massage. Today I am solo so I choose the divine Warm Healing Stone Massage for VND1,250,000 combined with a Red Dao Herbal Bath for VND 550,000. The Victoria Spa is famous for their traditional, authentic Red Dao Herbal Bath.
Created by the Red Dao minority, the bath is made from various kinds of fresh and dried herbs as well as bark from the mountains; it is highly recommended for your health, especially if you have a cold. The fragrant steaming bath is a dark red brown with flower petals floating on the water’s surface. I feel very relaxed.
We decide to stay in and treat ourselves with a diner at Ta Van, the in-house restaurant. Since December 2016 there has been a new chef in town — Ioannis Tsiapas. A Greek native, he is inspired by his years spent in Australia and has brought some casual notes to the menu, like the Aussie burger with beetroot, an Australian lamb dish and a tenderloin BBQ. I got to taste the pork ribs with honey BBQ sauce served up with tamarind and sesame rice balls and carrot mash.
On our last day we head out to wander around Sapa town, but since the weather isn’t playing on our side, we retreat back to the hotel, and spend the rest of the day indoors. The reception has kindly allowed us a late check out, meaning we’ve got access to our rooms until we depart for Lao Cai. — Julie Vola