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

 

Sprinting it out on Guam

For an island that is only 30 miles long and 8 miles wide, Guam has a thriving triathlon community. Being a tropical paradise lends itself well to year long training as long as you avoid the typhoons! Guam’s triathlon club called Guam Triathlon Federation or GTF offers a number of sprint series throughout the year. Most of these races are no frills, less serious, fun races in the community. However, you shouldn’t leave your A game at home as the competition is no less fierce out there! This offers competitive triathletes an easy opportunity to get in the right headspace and practice their transitions. As well as offering a safe and feasible distance for newbies to try out triathlon.

Sprint When?

Typically, the GTF coordinates with the GCF and the GRC so the races compliment each other. G2G? GCF, or Guam Cycling Federation, and GRC, the Guam Running Club, hold their own events respectively but the three organizations try to space out the big ones. The sprint series are typically held in January/February and June. These series are usually a 2 or 3 race series and include a t-shirt and a medal. The distances are usually the same per race with the swim being around 400 meters, the bike is 6 miles, and the run is usually around 2 miles.

Sprint Where?

GTF does a great job of holding the races in a location that is super safe and secluded making it welcoming for first timers. It is held in Piti across from the Guam Power Authority power plant. The swim is protected from currents and swells. Then both the bike and run take place on a road with minimal traffic that services the ports. It is easy to find and there is plenty of parking along the road and outside of the little park where transition gets set up.

The Swim

The waters on Guam are perfect for swimming and perfect for triathlon. The sprint course is typically set up as a very small triangle. The swimmers will swim straight out for about 150 meters, make a left hand turn for another 100 meters or so, and then swim back to the start for a total of approximately 400 meters. The water on Guam usually sits around 87 F on the surface. There are usually a couple of kayak volunteers floating about on the surface to help nervous swimmers. Plenty of fish are visible below in the clear blue water to ease nerves from below. The GTF also always have a carpet to prevent people from slipping while getting out of the water. All the while, Dave Torre, Guam’s resident Mike Reilly will MC the day and announce people as he catches them coming out of the water.

The Bike

The bike course for the sprints is so awesome. It’s perfectly flat with an insane tailwind going out… and then a strong headwind on the way back. Some days its worse than others but usually it’s perfectly challenging and rewarding. The course is a scenic 2 loop course that is along the port access road. The bike part seems to go by in the blink of an eye. It is not uncommon to see people on a full range of bikes from expensive flashy TT bikes to old rusty bikes with kickstands. Children from ages 10 and up are out there cycling their speed and trying their best.

The Run

Running on Guam around 9 or 10 am is pretty miserable. These sprints usually start promptly at 7am so depending on how long these take you, you’re hitting the run right as the day is heating up. Again, same as the bike portion, the run is very flat and enjoyable. There is always a little aide station at the turn around point with some water and gatorade. It is an out and back (my favorite!) roughly 2 mile course. 

 

All in all, the Guam Triathlon Federation sprints are a super fun race with the local community. There are always a fair number of fans, I mean spouses and spectators, to cheer everyone along. It is a great way to dip your toes into triathlon and meet new people in the community. If you are an existing triathlete this is the perfect way to meet training buddies and other people of your brand of crazy. The sprint turn out is usually around 100 people from ages 10 to … experienced 🙂 If you’re moving to Guam, passing through, or a long time resident first time tri-er check out the GTF facebook page for the next race!

Stomp The Pedal Review #stompthestyle

There’s not a cyclist out there who doesn’t feel giddy when a new kit arrives in the mail! I am no exception to that rule. I was so excited when a new package arrived with some goodies from a new company called Stomp The Pedal. My IG friend Natarsha Tremayne, of @irontarsh and irontarshweekendwarrior.com ,  followed her dream and stepped into the competitive world of cycling apparel. And, she’s killing it.

Stomp The Pedal \ Options

Image courtesy of stompthepedal.co

Right now, STP has four main design options available. The ‘Flor Flor’ is a bright yellow, pink, and blue kit that has some flowery and plant inspiration. The ‘Signature Logo’ is covered in their bike wheel logo (and one of my favorites!) and comes in a couple different bright highly visible colors. In addition to plain black for girls like me who consider black THE only color.  The newest is the Spring/Summer Botanicals collection. This has a beautiful fern & flower print designed by a university student in UK. It comes in two color options – red and a mint/pink. Finally, there is the Gatsby collection which is the one that made me stop in my tracks and buy immediately. ‘Tallulah’ which is a pale pink base with 1920’s inspired geometric print in navy and gold is what I bought. The other two options are the ‘Greta’ which is the inverse of this – navy base with pale pink and gold pattern. Lastly, the ‘Evelyn’ which is pale pink with a gold outline of the geometric pattern. Honestly, they’re all gorgeous and it is hard for me to pick a favorite.

The Gatsby Collection: Tallulah

Stomp The Pedal \ Fabric

I have heard the term buttery soft a few times before but didn’t really get it. Then I felt this kit and the sleeves are buttery soft. The sleeves are so delicate and comfortable I could walk around in it all day. The cut of this kit is super flattering with a slightly longer back and taper in the front. The jersey is primarily made out of bi-elastic polyester and polyester fibre with yarn finess of 50. Candidly this means little to me but what I do know is this jersey is so comfy to ride in.

Stomp The Pedal \ Fun Features

This jersey looks so classy on and one of the reasons it does is its invisible zipper. The camlock concealing zipper means the front of this jersey looks super streamlined.  There are three back pockets for snacks, phones, or small water bottles. One of my favorite features is the small zip pocket on the side for valuables like keys or cash.

  

 

Overall I love this jersey! I was super impressed and this kit definitely exceeded my expectations.  I rode in it through Park City, Utah with my friend Matt and definitely worked up a sweat with the climbs. Never did I feel sweaty or too hot/cold. The breathability and comfort of this jersey meant I felt great both during our ride and during our coffee stop. I can not wait to order more jerseys from Stomp The Pedal and the matching cycling bibs! Stay tuned to find out how the bibs match the top in comfort and design!

Coco’s Crossing 5K OWS

Guam’s Crossing

How I came to this race is a story of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I had found a group of military spouses that did ocean swims together 3x a week on base. Thanks to the power of Facebook & social media I was able to connect with these ladies. When I joined the group just making it a mile was a challenge. These ladies were swimming anywhere from 2-3 miles. They were training for Coco’s. A quick side note about this impressive group: The group has always been so welcoming to any swimmer of any ability. No one gets left behind or alone in the ocean. There is always someone of your ability that you can pair up with. Within not too long these fearless ladies had convinced me that I could do an open water swim race too!

Training for the Crossing

The Coco’s Crossing as it was pitched to me was an open ocean swim from the small islet of Coco’s back to the main island of Guam. They offer three different distances a 3k,

Gab Gab’s ocean 71 meter pool offers beginning swimmers a taste of swimming in the ocean while being protected and easy to get out of if needed

5k, and a 10k for the especially brave. After convincing some of my collegiate swimmer friends to sign up for the 5k with I decided I’d need to start getting in some longer distance swims. Luckily for us on Guam we have to much protected reef in the harbor that you can literally swim as far as you want. So, 3 times a week I would swim anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 miles with my Gab Gab ladies (Gab Gab being the name of the beach). I quickly found my place in the pack. If I wanted to swim and no one was available I would head to Gab Gab’s pool to be in the ocean but also visible if something should happen (like a cramp or sea sickness).

I used to have complaints about the ocean, yet the more I swam the more accustomed I became. The saltiness. The waves. Fear of sharks. The first two I just got used to – however, the later took some work. As well as some rationalizing that there really aren’t any sharks that will get you here. At the very end of one of our swim routes you can occasionally see our resident Black Tip Reef Shark, Rita. When this happens, we simply turn around and leave her to her business.

Ready to Cross… or not

We all got to the race site early on the morning of the race. I felt excited and amped up by the fun atmosphere. It was at the point I was looking for when the ferry times were that I realized I’d made a tactical error. Thinking I’d signed up for the swim from Coco’s and back (a crossing, if you will) I was expecting to have to take a ferry over to the island to start. As it turns out the 3k is the race that crosses the lagoon. The 5k and 10k are a true ocean swim in a triangle course. Disappointed though I was, I focused my energies on understanding the new course I had to swim.

All oiled up pre race (to protect from Jelly Fish!) with the 1st & 2nd place male finishers for their Age Group

All the swimmers applied Vasoline all over their skin to protect against Jelly Fish. Last year, 2017, we were really luck as there really weren’t any. However, in previous years it has been really bad I was told. This was my first athletic event on Guam and I wasn’t prepared for the differences. For example, they only had three large triangle markers out on the course. Meaning you really couldn’t see your turn buoy when you were in the water until you were quite close. We were told that if we needed help to stop and put your swim cap in the air. Yet, the small number of kayakers meant that no one could get to you fast. If they could see you at all.

The Race

The 5k and 10k races started together in a mass start. We had to do 2 laps while the 10k folks had 4 laps. The gun went off and the washing machine started. Bodies flailing everywhere trying jockey for space. Not too long after the start it began to rain. This made visibility pretty poor. The water was super warm, around 86/88 F and visibility to the bottom was probably 40 feet the conditions couldn’t have been better. My first lap went well; I could see people, didn’t feel alone, and felt like I was doing okay. It was lap two that really hurt. I was pretty fatigued, cramping in my legs, and becoming increasingly stressed. A couple times I wanted to stop for a minute but couldn’t see any help around. The pack had thinned out and I felt alone. I couldn’t make it. I wasn’t going to make it. The next turn buoy was not in site and I didn’t know mow much longer I could go.

The very last leg of the race had some moderate swell to it. Conditions that now a year later wouldn’t phase me. Back then however, it had me stressed and crying into my goggles. I just wanted to be done.  I  persevered and struggled through and finally got out of the water 2 hours and 2 minutes later. As soon as I was done I walked straight back. Not stopping for my husband or friends who had finished long before. I knew the water works were coming and didn’t want to bring the day down. Tears of frustration and disappointment are a funny thing. They’re not easy to explain and they definitely aren’t stoppable.

Post Crossing Party

The Coco’s Crossing was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It was challenging, scary, fun, beautiful, and 100% worth it. After the race and the awards ceremony we hung out a bit and enjoyed Merizo. Ate some hafaloah (flavored shaved ice) and rehydrated then went home for a good nap.

We were planning to race again this year but our move date got moved up so we will be unable to. I am so sure this years race will be even better than the last. The people behind this event care so much about making it fun and safe. It was a tough race for me and my own expectations for myself were not met but I would recommend this race in a heartbeat. If you are new to Guam or just love open water swimming this is a must do event.

For more event info click here: Coco’s Crossing Series

Registration Closes: Friday May 18th, 2018 at Midnight

No Day Of Registration (trust us, my friend tried this last year)

Show Time: 6:00 AM   Go Time : 7:00 AM

FAQ and information on the course and rules click here

United Guam Marathon 2018

my first marathon

The week after the marathon it was all anyone asked me about. I was excited to share, but it didn’t feel real. People talk about out-of-body experiences and I think United Guam Marathon was that. It feels like it didn’t happen to me or that I dreamt it. If it weren’t for the fact that I couldn’t sit for days after I would think I made it up in my head.

Originally I had no interest in ever running a marathon. It just sounded too painful. However, as my triathlon dreams have grown and evolved I’ve been thinking more and more about 140.6. With that, comes the inevitable marathon at the end of a full Ironman. For that, I needed to know that I could complete a marathon before that day. That I’d already done it once. So here we are.

under training & the Expo

I made a couple critical errors before the marathon. First mistake was signing up for it when it was only two weeks after Ironman Taiwan 70.3. The second was that we went on holiday to Vietnam with friends the week before the race – so not much training was done there. More importantly, I should have respected a little more of a mental break between events. I wasn’t excited or motivated going into the race. I felt burnt out and tired.

Going from racing, to vacation, to hosting a visitor and then to have the marathon was just a LOT. I hadn’t run at all the week prior to the marathon. Realizing too late that the MapMyRun plan I had been following was off and not setting me up for success did nothing for my confidence. I hadn’t even completed any runs over 15 miles prior to the race. Not ideal. Luckily, I went to the Expo anyway to pick up my packet and that put a little pep in my step.

Hafa Adai is Chamorran for ‘Hello’ and is used much like ‘aloha’ in Hawaii. A true island style welcome to the Expo!

The course map had little images of what was at each aide station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After registration, we walked through and saw all the different booths of local gym and fitness companies. They also had island dancers and fire throwers on the stage. There’s nothing to make you psyched to race like mingling with other athletes all chatting about the race.

Marathon Morning

1:30 am is when my alarm went off. Two and half hours of sleep. Why, do I do this to myself. My sleep brain considered just skipping the race.. I mean why not.. It is just money? But I got out of bed and got my gear together. I decided to run with a 2L Camelback full of plain water, 3-4 packs of Honey Stinger chews, and my newly acquired Base Salts tube. The weather that day was set to be overcast and raining. It always says it is going to rain so I always take those predictions with a grain of salt.

Conditions

This morning the temperature was 79 F at 3:00 am and would rise up to 86 F over the day. The humidity was 98% – no joke! We would be lucky to have the cloud cover. Parking was a little confusing at the race and it turns out I could not park at the Hilton as I had planned. So I lost 15 minutes having to go back and find a new place to park and then walk/job to the park where the race start was.

the start

Confessional: I missed the start of the race. 🙂 The gun went off at 3:00 am and I saw the pack go out right as I was dropping my gear at bag drop! Key difference between my triathlons and running races haha I care too much about my tris to be late, and then there’s the whole ‘transition closes’ factor. The runs are just for fun! But it took me not even .3 mi to catch the back of the pack. Since this race started with a large hill climb it was easy for me to catch the group.

running in the dark 

It was a strange race because you ran nearly the entire thing in the pitch black. I ran with a headlight for some of it but the road was lit well enough that I ended up taking it off. I loved being able to run it with headphones and I listen to two hour long podcasts while I ran! Listening to the ladies of Bitch Sesh rehash the previous weeks Real Housewives episodes really took my mind off how long I’d been going. We ran from ‘town’ all the way to the Naval Base.. and back again. The only spectators were the people at the aide stations, which I am told were themed but since I didn’t stop at any of them I didn’t notice. They did have a live band and some people cheering at the gate to the base which was a nice pick me up at the turn around point.

a little help from my friends 

Around mile 20 my dear friend Amanda, of Pineapple Yoga, left me a little encouragement and my favorite blue gatorade outside her house. I ditched my, now empty, Camelback over her gate and carried on feeling the love. About 5 miles out from the finish, I fell in step with a longer military looking guy. It was pouring rain now but it was starting to get light out. This man and I didn’t say anything to each other but kept pushing forward.

Our pace was aggressive for 21 miles in closer to 8:00 min/mi than I thought I could do. I didn’t want to get dropped so I turned up the tunes and kept gritting it out. It was also at this stage that I increased my Base Salts from 1 lick per mile to 2 licks per mile. A little side note here: I think the Base Salts single handedly saved me from cramping. I had not used them before this race and I am SOLD. They were amazing and I only had mild pain in my hamstrings and quads those last few miles thanks the product. 

a private victory

I crossed the finish line in a comfortable 4 hr and 33 min. No one was there for me, no one to hang out with after I was done, except me. A massage and a banana completed my mini recovery at the post race party. I walked around the post race party for a little bit and enjoyed the beach before heading home. All before 9am!

I really try to remember and enjoy the positives of this race and not the things I “didn’t accomplish”. I did it for me. To prove to myself that I could and I would. The pace I had hoped for didn’t happen but I ran the whole time and I finished. Moreover, I had fun. I really enjoyed this race on this island I’ve called home for the last year. It was a special race to have as my first. And let’s be honest, probably not my last.