Hotel Reviews

Ohhh do I love a good hotel! Nice hotels that also cater to the inner athlete are some of my favorite gems to find. I love a sweet hotel with lots of charm and personality and make it my mission to seek these places out when we travel.

Hotel Review: Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

Hotel Review: Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

This trip was preplanned with friends and it fell directly between IM Taiwan 70.3 and the United Guam Marathon. So for me, it was only important that I found time to get some milage in on this holiday. Keeping my legs fresh and in shape was the only real goal. I had illusions of running outside in the Vietnamese country side but while researching the trip it became clear that wasn’t an option. So started my research into the Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa…

If you haven’t been to Vietnam the streets there are chaos with motorbikes and cars going in every direction. There are sidewalks, however, they are crammed full of parked bicycles, motorbikes, and bar stools for drinking beer and coffee. The mountain town of Sapa was the last stop on our Vietnamese journey. Having already spent a day in Hanoi, 3 days cruising Ha Long Bay, and taken the sleeper train overnight to Sapa we were ready to get checked in and explore the area.

Location

Sapa is located around 236 miles northwest of Hanoi near the Chinese boarder. Originally a French hill station that was established in 1922 for wealthy French colonists to escape the oppressive heat of Hanoi. The air and climate was thought to have health benefits. Sure enough, it was significantly cooler when we got off the train. After arriving at the train station we were picked up by a shuttle which took us up a winding mountainous road to the Victoria Sapa Hotel & Spa.

The Staff

They were wonderful. The check in process was super easy and efficient. We were worried they wouldn’t have a room ready for us since our train got in at 6:30 am. However, we only had a short wait and they were able to get us into our rooms. We had plenty of time to drop our bags and take a quick cruise around town before our afternoon spa appointments. My husband and I quickly found a large pond to run around and stretch our legs after the travel. This region of Vietnam has cool weather usually in the upper 50’s – low 60’s F. It is also usually overcast with some drizzle which is why it is a popular rice growing region. Our first day however we got lucky and there was some lovely sunshine to warm things up. As a side note: there are many groups of gypsies around Sapa waiting to swindle or pit pocket unsuspecting tourists. Keep an eye on your belongings and pockets at all times and only carry what you really need.

The Room

The rooms here were beautiful. Candidly, we didn’t spend much time in the room as we tried to do many day trips, runs, and spa time! Complete with a very comfortable king bed with a small loveseat and coffee table, the room was nice for kicking back at the end of the day before dinner. Very importantly, the room had aircon and heat which helped us keep the room comfortable. I loved our room location for the views! Our balcony looked out over the courtyard and the valley. In the mornings, a beautiful and magical fog was always settled in the valley and brought with it this sense of calm.

Hotel Amentities

The Victoria Sapa is set up as a true resort & spa. The Ta Fin bar is complimented by a few crackling fireplaces that are the perfect place to warm up and relax after a mountain hike. The concierge will organize any day trips you need to the surrounding rice villages or for a hike up Mt. Fansipan. The gym is located in the same side building as the spa. It consists of a small pool – you *could do laps here but it’d be pretty short. The photos on-line make it look more lap capable than it really is, as you’ll read later on. The gym however is well working. It has cardio and free-weight equipment but it is the view that really sets it apart.  The spa is complete with facials, massages, and a Vietnamese herbal bath. Perfect for unwinding after a long chilly hike in the mountains!

The Restaurant

Ta Van, the hotel’s restaurant, offers the full chalet style dining experience from the high vaulted ceilings, to the vintage lighting, to the crackling fireplace. The views of Mount Fansipan don’t disappoint either (if it is visible!). It operates from 6:30 am to 10pm and on Saturday nights offers traditional dancing from 8-9 pm. The breakfast buffet was the best part of the day – everything you could dream of! You could get everything from omelets and pancakes to hot ramen. The warm room, delicious food, and hot drinks were particular highlights.

The Spa

Our group thoroughly enjoyed and used the spa. From head & neck massages, to herbal baths, to facials and full body massages, to a foot massage after a day of hiking in the hills we sampled it all!

Spa & Gym Building

The spa and gym are located just up the hill about a 100m walk. It can be a little tricky to find in the haze but the yellow building is hard to miss. My husband got a head and neck massage the second night we were there around 9pm simply because he could and it was so affordable ($20 for 30 min)! The spa is open for services until 10pm and seemed to have a pretty flexible schedule while we were there. He had nothing but great things to say. Our real half-day spa time we had scheduled for the first afternoon we were there. After arriving at the spa complex we checked in, changed into our robes, and sipped some tea while we got ready to get our zen on.

 

 

First up was our dip in the traditional Vietnamese herbal bath. Girls and boys went to their separate sides to soak together. First off, the water, it’s HOT. They’re not joking. The Red Dao bath is a mix of medicinal herbs and bark from the surrounding mountains. It smells like you’re sitting in a nice cup of tea. The ladies lasted longer in the hot bath than the boys but we reconvened afterwards for some ice water. We once again went out separate ways for the massages. They were amazing, the Vietnamese ladies were truly gifted in finding the creaks and bumps (this athlete has a LOT) and working them out!

The Gym & Pool

I was deceived by the photos online and thought I’d be able to swim some laps in the hotel pool. However its pretty short. Probably, around 10 meters by 10 meters. Definitely comfortable for splashing around but for putting in time for a swim work out not so much. Since I had already done a couple swim workouts in the chilly waters of Ha Long Bay I felt okay skipping out here.

Instead, I put time in on the ol’ dreadmill. Luckily, my view was top notch. The beautiful trees and mountain hills with the rolling mist was like running amongst the clouds. The gym was all glass windows so you could appreciate the vistas from all sides. So, depending on our agenda for the day I would sneak up the hill and run for 3-5 miles on the treadmill just to keep me legs in shape. I considered doing another run in town but between the vespas, cars, and gypsies I just didn’t feel safe out there by myself. The gym is open from 7am to 10pm so there are no excuses for no time!

A particularly foggy morning

General Hotel Information

Price Point: $$

Check In: Upon Arrival (usually around 7 am if you arrive on the 6:30 train)

Check Out: 12:00 pm

Free wifi in room, lobby, common areas, and gym

Business center and concierge services for arranging tours

 

Hotel Review: Sheraton Taitung

On this trip since I was unfamiliar with the area and didn’t speak the language I opted to stay at the official race hotel: the Sheraton Taitung. Definitely on the pricier side of race travel it was well worth the money for this athlete. The added novelty of being around so many other athletes from other countries was pretty cool as well. Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore, and Australia were all represented well.

Location

The Sheraton, previously named the Queena Plaza Hotel, was located less than a mile away from the race site in Taitung Forest Park. Located only a 15 minute drive from the Taitung Airport it was very easy to get a cab over from the airport. Less easy was fitting three bikes, five people and luggage into two cabs. English was spoken minimally at the airport.  However, we were able to pull up Apple Maps which showed the hotel in its Chinese characters. The hotel normally offers free pick up and drop off but with the volume it was unavailable this trip. A novel feature of this location was the Taitung Night Market was located on the street in front of the hotel. A great place to try out some Taiwanese street meats, but maybe not the night before race morning!

The Staff

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The staff was fantastic – they were everything a 5 star hotel should be. They removed the bike bags quickly from the cabs and whisked them up the stairs into the lobby. Then added them to the 20 other bikes waiting while their owners got checked in. The lobby is a beautiful open atrium style with gorgeous bookshelves across from the front desk. Check in was incredibly easy and the staff were efficient even with the language barrier. They even accommodated my request to have a bucket of ice sent to my room every evening to help me keep inflammation down.

The Room

My king bed room far exceeded expectations. It was very open with a large flat screen TV (that I never turned on) and an open plan bathroom. The bed was enormous and much bigger than a king. It was very comfortable with really plush pillows and the comforter was the perfect weight. The in room amenities included two free bottles of water a day (important for athlete’s traveling South East Asia) as well as the usual toothbrush, razor, loofah, and robe. I really enjoyed that the room was quiet and you could not hear your neighbors or people in the hallway at all.

Hotel Amenities

This hotel had everything an athlete could hope for both for training and recovery. Since I was staying for a race I tried to do my workouts on the course. However, if your travel buddy wanted to check out the gym they had a great little open fitness center. Just past that was the sauna(s) / spa. The mini spa, no treatments were offered, was set up as a traditional onsen. Onsen being the Japans word for hot tub. Normally an onsen is a hot spring but this was just a very, very, hot tub sitting at around 100 F.

The custom is to take off all of your clothes and then take a mini shower to prep. You will see mini cubicles to your left where you rinse. There is no body modesty in Asia and you will like see two women just chatting and showering next to each other. While you could wear your bathing suit to the baths you will be the exception not the rule. This soak felt great on my legs the day before the race. I also used the dry sauna each night because I LOVE sitting in the sauna. It has so many health benefits from sweating out toxins, to increasing circulation and improving cardiac health.

There is also a nice outdoor pool that could be seen from the check in desk. About 5ft deep and around 25 meters long. Definitely not full lap pool material but it could do in a pinch. I checked it out as soon as I checked in and you could already see athletes doing lengths loosening up. The pool was clean and warm with a covering that kept direct sunlight off of swimmers. Other useful amenities include a laundry service, helpful for traveling athletes, a business center and theater space for meetings (where our race brief was held).

Restaurants

I tried to eat outside of the hotel to save money, those places will be covered in another post, but if you did not want to leave there are a few options within the Sheraton. HoYea is a Chinese restautant open for dinner from 5:30 to 9:00 pm.  ALiHi is located on the ground floor behind the elevators and is the main restaurant open for all day dining. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet here each morning as it was included with our rooms.

Asian breakfast tends towards bowls of noodles, fish, kimchee and rice. Foods often associated with asian lunches and dinners! Luckily, there was some yogurt, breakfast breads, and hardboiled eggs for me to throw together. While not my perfect breakfast at some point calories are calories! There was also a fantastic coffee station which always had a long queue infant of it so most people would get two cups at a time.

General Hotel Information

Price point: $$$

Check In: 3:00 pm (However they were very understanding for the athletes)

Check Out: 12:00 pm

Free wifi in room, lobby and common areas

Business center and ATM in lobby