ESL Life in Lao Cai – An interview with teachers Kaitlyn and Kyle.
Lào Cai is a province in the northwest of Vietnam. It’s known for its mountains, rivers, waterfalls and ethnic hill tribes. The province’s towering peaks include Fansipan and dragon-jaw-shaped Hàm Rồng Mountain, which offers panoramic views and gardens with hundreds of orchids. The town of Sa Pa, in the Hoàng Liên Son mountains, overlooks the terraced rice fields and ancient stone engravings of the Muong Hoa Valley. ESL life in Lao Cai is an amazing adventure, read all about it here….
What’s your favorite thing about ESL life in Lao Cai?
We would say community. All of the staff at the center have been extremely welcoming since we have moved up here, willing to assist us in any way. Whether it’s a restaurant recommendation or a place to go on vacation, it’s all been a big help. Additionally, the community of our town itself is really great. It’s impossible for us to go anywhere without greeting someone on the street. This immediate inclusion makes being away from home that much easier, and has had a really positive effect on us.
We also enjoy the natural beauty of Lao Cai. In almost any direction you look, lush green mountains can be seen in the distance.
A few minute motorbike outside the city and we’re in a maze of mountains. Also, the air is pretty clean here relative to other major cities across SEA.
How busy is the city and how the quality of life?
In Hanoi, our days were largely influenced by motorcycle traffic, air quality, and we often felt “Hanoi-locked” to a loop between work, cafes and our house. Additionally, while Hanoi certainly provides more access to Western comforts, frequenting tourist and expat neighborhoods make saving money more complicated.
Living in Lao Cai is extremely relaxed. Traffic is non-existent, and our toughest decisions on a daily basis involve which cafe we are going to visit. There are a couple of gyms close by, as well as a few yoga classes. We’re also still able to find cheese, so that’s a bonus!
Where is good to eat and drink?
Our experience being vegetarian up here means it gets a bit more complicated finding restaurants. That being said, there are a few places with English menus in town.
- Terminus Restaurant: This place is right next to the Lao Cai/ Sapa bus station. They make an
excellent vegetable pho/ spring rolls. They also do have breakfast options.
- Pineapple: Serves pasta, breakfast, and they do also make a vegetarian curry. Once again,
they are located quite close to the bus station coming into town.
- Nha Hang Thit Nuong Korea:
We used to live in Korea, and we’ll say this place does quite well to the standard of pajeon and
kimchi jjigae. They also carry makkeoli, which is a big bonus for us.
Any nice cafes around? What’s the nightlife like?
It seems as though every day there is another cafe opening along the river. Of these cafes, Memory Cafe is one of our favorites. This outdoor haven is a tropical paradise! A small stream runs through the cafe with little bridges as crossovers. The trees and birds that surround the bamboo tiki huts are transcending. In the night they play soft jazz and have a wide array of cocktails to choose from.
On the cooler days, Time Coffee, which looks like it came out straight of a Pinterest post, is also a nice option. Ultimately, there is no lack of cafe selection here.
We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the nights can actually be quite lively. A local bar/cafe names 1985 has become a favorite of ours. Here, one can enjoy some shisha, a pizza and a couple of cocktails all for under 10 dollars.
Wednesday’s at 1985 draw in a crowd with open mic. Music seems to be
the central theme of 1985.
What do you like to do and where do you go in your free time?
Our free time is spent in one of two ways: either a day spent relaxing at a cafe or off on a motorbike adventure!
Are there any places that is a must see, any major tourist attractions?
Sapa, which is famous for its soaring mountains and cultural hikes, is one of northern Vietnam’s biggest tourist hot spots. Being a mere 1.5 hour motorbike ride away, Sapa is a nice place to visit on days off. Sapa City is absolutely charming and is a wonderful place to go and wind down. The views from almost any hotel are breathtaking. But what we find most gorgeous about this area is the valley. The valley is home to several ethnic minorities. The woman of these ethnic minorities are artists and sell their hand woven crafts along the streets.
Where is the center located in the city?
Our center is located along Hoang Lien Road. It’s very easy to get to. There is a gym in the same building, which makes keeping in shape extremely convenient. About a five minute walk from the center is the river with an abundance of amazing cafes, a Japanese restaurant, and riverside farming areas. There is a large park less than a three minute drive away. The whole area is really quite nice, and the center is in a really great spot to access anything.
What is it like driving in your town / city?
Painless, and infrequent. With everything being extremely close, we rarely use our bikes unless it’s to get out of town for a drive off to somewhere exciting. This is when driving changes to exciting. We’ve both often found ourselves driving along back roads for afternoons, stopping to take in a place we’re very fortunate to live in.
What’s your center like?
Although we feel like we’re running out of superlatives, we have had a really great experience up here. Our schedules are changed extremely rarely, which gives us a great opportunity to work with our kids and build really great relationships. We also find there’s a very collaborative atmosphere with us and our coworkers, and that our voices are heard and respected.
We’ve also had the ability to create our own ideas and put them to work here. We recently held a winter open house where our whole center pitched together and hosted new and prospective students.
The idea blossomed after a meeting where we pitched the idea, and grew into a large event that made us all proud.
What’s the Vietnamese population like; do you have any Vietnamese friends, ever hang
out with them or socialize?
The CMs from our center have really become our friends. We make time to go out for dinner or lunch. Our Teacher’s Day celebrations were very special, as we all went out for lunch and an afternoon karaoke. It was also recently Kaitlyn’s birthday, and we had the opportunity to go out for hot pot with much of our staff. We also made friends with Peter, the manager of the hotel we stayed at when we first came to town. We visit his restaurant on almost a daily basis to receive from of his wife’s cooking, and we now also teach his daughter!
Tell us anything you like about life in the small town.
Living in a hotel.