Instagramable Vietnam part 1 – Quang Phu Cau

Quang Phu Cau – a hidden gem!

If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and wondering what the hidden gems and photogenic, must-see spots are, look no further. PIN this post, SUBSCRIBE and read on for a series based off my recent 21-day trip traveling through the country.  I’ll be sharing insider tips, recommended photographers, and tons of photo inspo! The mesmerizing incense village called Quang Phu Cau for instance, needs to be on your must-see hidden gems list.  Quang Phu Cau is a village nestled in the heart of the countryside on the outskirts of Hanoi with such rich heritage.  And it promises to provide a unique, culturally immersive experience for those looking for photogenic spots off the touristy track.

YES! This is an incense farm that you’re looking at (not a garden).  (Incense is popular in Vietnam because of their religious practices and the practice of lighting them at their ancestors’ altars). We were there at peak incense production time right before the Lunar new year celebrations making it the perfect time to go.  They say about 50,000 incense sticks are made per day during this time. And this traditional craft is passed on from family to family, artisan to artisan. 70% of this village in fact, is involved in making incense sticks!  When they say it takes a village, I’m pretty sure they were referring to this place!!  There are such intricate steps to the process such as stripping and chopping bamboo bark to sorting, bundling, dyeing and drying; it’s really a fascinating art form


Of course, there are several English speaking tours available for those interested in seeing and learning all the production details. But given I had already read all about it, was limited on time and was mostly interested in getting those coveted Instagram-worthy shots, I opted to arrive early with my photographer ready to capture all the angles (making sure to arrive early also allowed me to shoot before the tour groups got there).  And as you can see, I basically had the whole place to myself.

Book my photographer

So I decided to hire a local photographer who was recommended through the last photographer I worked with in Sapa, Vietnam. (As you can see from these photos it was totally worth it)!  For 3million dong (roughly equivalent to 118$ I got the photographer (and his private car + driver to helpfully pick me up from my hotel (and drop me off), and shoot with his stylist / assistant + the nominal $5 admission for each of us. The stylist brought traditional Vietnamese clothes to shoot with, helped with hair and helped with  translations. I had an entire team to myself for 4-5 hours. What a dream, right? Tiem Anh Nguyen (you can contact him through FB HERE).  I could never afford a package like this in the states. Tell me in the comments how much you would have paid in the states for : a private driver, photographer, 200+ digital images + 30 edited images, a stylist and rented clothes and 5 hours of everyone’s time.

While the venue did have a small selection of rentable Vietnamese clothes (and thankfully, dressing areas on site), I did not have to pay extra for mine or worry about the ones on site fitting. My stylist took my size needs and prepared a suitcase full of Vietnamese dresses shoes and accessories to perfectly suit me! She even brought her hair kit and changed up my hairstyle for one of the shoots!! I was not expecting this!!  And it was so fun to shoot in the authentic Vietnamese clothing and accessories.

I also highly recommend hiring a professional photographer because this is one of these unique spots that you’ll basically have one chance in your lifetime to ever shoot. Moreover, it is really a challenging shoot to get right. The photographer has to be comfortable shooting from the top of ladders, be willing to climb onto the terraced areas and then know how to compose the shot all while directing you from above. Let’s just say, I was thankful I was there with the professional and not my insta-husband!

The angles have to be just perfect. And yes, an amateur can stay for double the time to figure out through trial and error how to shoot from above , utilize the staircases the professional photographers are using, all while trying to shoot without other people in the background. But the Instagram husband or even average social media friend won’t have the experience and skill to properly account for the varying walls of incense, lighting challenges or be able to speak to the farmers in their language to adjust placement of incense etc.  Plus that person’s patience is likely to run out fast given the weather in Vietnam is often blazing hot and not ideal.  

Normally, I’m sweating and busy running back and forth to my tripod or insta husband framing and composing shots and then hoping my tripod doesn’t fall over or praying my husband doesn’t move out of frame and ruin my perfectly pre-composed shot. Being photographer and subject would have been impossible here. You can’t be running back and forth: through the narrow pathways, up the ladders and traversing through the overhead walkways. Besides, the subject really needs to concentrate on getting the pose and his/her angles right while sitting in the hot sun here.

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My photographer seemed to have known everyone there and was even able to arrange for the farmers to be a part of certain overhead pictures. I love how he captured the tops of their Vietnamese hats which made for an interesting graphic against all the floral-like mounds of incense. And despite not knowing English well, he did a great job communicating his vision, new pose ideas and moving me to where he needed me to be -all with a gentle smile. He is quite affordable and great to work with. I highly recommend him!

What To expect:

The great thing about this incense farm is that they readily welcome visitors. You don’t feel like an intrusion into their work day. They seem pretty happy to see you, and will even help move incense around for you, as they continue on with their work day. They even have an entire wall posted with inspirational photos. I always research the hashtags of the places I plan to visit and basically :have screenshotted or saved certain angles, locations and poses I want to remember to find and try. But this wall provided reference photos already.  Note it’s not a large space.  So while the photos may have you believing these incense rows go on forever, they do not and there are trusses, ladders, other unphotogenic areas usually cut out of most photos.  Here is an example of an uncropped photo that shows some of the metal framing around the area.

Overall tips for when you go:

Getting There:

Quang phu cau is a little over an hour away from the main city of Hanoi (in the Ung Hoa district). And while it is accessible by car, motorbike or bus, it is still a challenge for tourists to find their way out there, deal with the notorious Hanoi lawless traffic and navigate their way over then find this specific spot on their own.
The easiest way to reach this picturesque village is by hiring a taxi / photographer package like I did. If you’re more adventurous and comfortable navigating the crazy chaotic streets of Hanoi, then a cheaper option would be to rent a motorbike or car through the trusted Grab app. Travel along National Road 21B then onto Provincial Road 429. You can supposedly easily navigate the detailed route from Hanoi to Quang Phu Cau on Google Maps.  Good luck if you go that route!  Please come back and let me know in the comments how that went for you!

Ticketing and Open Hours:

Avoid rainy days as the incense cannot be displayed in the rain and will be pulled back in.  Expect to pay around $4 USD depending on the exchange rate. Opens 7am-4pm

Avoid the weekend and mid day periods. You don’t want crowds interfering with your picture. And the place is not so big so you’ll need to go in the morning right at opening or at least plan to be finished by 11-12 when the tour guides tend to start rolling in with their groups. This will help you avoid photo bombers.


Bring your own water, and a change of clothes, and have FUN! Enjoy the moment and relish the gorgeous surroundings!

I was so grateful to be able to experience and photograph this amazing place. It really is a photographer’s dream and being immersed in such vibrant color just made me so happy.

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