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Vietnam

Vietnam Rice Fields
The Ninh Binh (pronounced Neeng Beeng) region is an area of Vietnam famous for it’s cascading limestone cliffs, with bright green rice fields winding in between the peaks. Often affectionately referred to as the “Halong Bay on land,” Ninh Binh is a very popular day trip from Hanoi. After seeing photos and hearing about the region from other travellers, I knew the region deserved more of my time than just a quick day trip. So, in the interest of my 2020 goal to travel slower and really immerse myself in local culture, we chose our home base in the middle of a Tam Coc rice field and began planning our 3 days in Ninh Binh itinerary.
Scenic views in Ninh Binh

planning to spend 3 days in ninh binh?
keep reading for all the details In this Ninh Binh itinerary...

but first, let's answer a couple important questions:

Where is ninh binh?

Ninh Binh is a city located roughly 1.5-2 hours south of Hanoi by car (depending on traffic, of course). In this article, you’ll hear me talk a lot about different spots in the “Ninh Binh region.” However, we didn’t actually spend any time in the city of Ninh Binh, itself. In fact, I’ve heard there isn’t much to see in the city from other travellers.

Most of our time in this region was spent in the towns of Tam Coc, Trang An, and in the rural rice fields and narrow roads zig-zagging throughout the area.

How to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh? You can get to Ninh Binh by train, bus, or private car. Rome2rio is always a great resource to discover the different ways to get from one city to the next in Vietnam. We hired a private car to get from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and back because we were visiting during Tet (Chinese New Year) holiday, and transportation was limited during the holiday. However, this option was not cheap. We paid roughly 60-75 USD each way to get a private car from Hanoi to Ninh Binh, and back. Taking a train or bus would take a bit more time, but it would be significantly cheaper.

If you’re looking to book a group shuttle to Ninh Binh that can pick you up at your hotel instead of going from the Hanoi bus station, our hotel recommended this bus transfer company, Ninh Binh Excursion.

Coming from Hanoi? Check out my Hanoi City Guide.

Where to Stay in ninh Binh?

Ok, now that you know that you shouldn’t stay in Ninh Binh city, where should you stay? 

Ninh Binh or Tam Coc? In my opinion, the best – and most popular spot – to stay in the Ninh Binh region is Tam Coc. Tam Coc is full of restaurants and shops, and is a short bike ride or motorbike ride away from all the main attractions you’ll want to see. In Tam Coc, you’ll find a few hotels lining the main street, but I would suggest wandering off the main strip and staying in a traditional bungalow.

There are many of these bungalow properties scattered all over the region, and they are designed to mimic traditional homes of this region. Plus, they are often located with stunning views of the rice fields. We particularly liked our stay at Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow. The price was affordable (we paid around 40 USD per night) and included a wonderful breakfast, and hospitable hosts who went out of our way to make us feel so special. The location was perfect, right off the main street, and free bikes were included which we used to get to all the spots in this guide.

Ninh Binh hotel with pool
Tam Coc Wonderland Bungalow

How to get Around Ninh Binh

One of our favourite things about Ninh Binh: Getting lost in the rice fields by bike.

The Ninh Binh region is very bike friendly, and many hotels offer bikes for free. Although, admittedly, the quality of bikes we came across seemed to vary in quality from mediocre to barely functional… but I guess that was part of the charm! Almost everywhere we went was easy to get to by bike. With that being said, there are some areas that are a bit difficult to get to by bike. We learned this lesson the hard way as we biked alongside a high traffic road while Viatnamese teenagers on motorbikes laughed at us. Therefore, in some cases, it might be safer or easier to take a motorbike, or hire a driver. More details on this in the itinerary below!

A note about bike parking in Ninh Binh: We were surprised when we were given our bikes at the hotel and there was no bike lock. However, we quickly realized that everywhere you go, locals have set up “bike parking” where you charge you a small amount (normally 10,000-20,000 VND or less than 1 USD to guard your bike). Many of these were not “official” in any way, but it was a small amount to pay to leave the bike and have someone keep an eye on it. So, make sure you have some small bills for bike parking when you are using a bike (this goes for motorbikes too).

See Also: A complete guide to Hoi An including bike map.

Biking in Ninh Binh
Where to bike in Ninh Binh

The Itinerary: Things to Do in ninh Binh

1. visit bich dong pagoda

One of the best things to do in Ninh Binh for me was visiting Bich Dong Pagoda. This famous pagoda is tucked into the side of a cliff with the most beautiful limestone peaks in the background. This is a popular spot, so I would recommend getting there early before the day trip tour buses arrive from Hanoi. We rode our bikes here (about 20 minutes away) just before 8:00 am and had the entire place to ourselves.

This may be a popular spot to take photos, but make  sure you also go through the pagoda. If you go up the 40+ stone stairs that line the cliff side, you’ll be welcomed to another temple built right into the side of the limestone cliff. You can walk inside, and walk through the cave (although, admittedly, it was dark and this freaked me out a bit so we didn’t spend too much time in there).

Keep in mind that this is a religious landmark – make sure you are covering your shoulders and knees when visiting.

Bich Dong Pagoda Price: Free! And then we paid 10,000 VND per bike to park.

Bich Dong Pagoda
When to visit Bich Dong Pagoda

Dress shown in photos was made at Bebe Tailor in Hoi An.

2. climb the 500 step staircase to mua caves ninh binh

Mua Caves Ninh Binh is easily the most popular attraction in the Ninh Binh area. The over 500 uneven stone steps lead you to the top of a limestone peak, with the most beautiful panoramic views of Ninh Binh. It is breathtaking.

With that being said, I must warn you – Mua Caves is BUSY. And TOURISTY.

If I am being 100% transparent (and you know I always am), it was one of the most annoyingly busy and commercialized travel spots I’ve ever come across (dare I say comparable to Santorini at sunset). And while I feel like this was mostly just bad luck, because it was during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday week, a time when many Vietnamese families travel, it meant it was extra busy during the January off-season – even at 8:00 am.

Even though I was mildly annoyed as I elbowed my way to the top, the chaos did not take away from how spectacular the views were at the top. There was a reason why so many people were there. I get it. And despite the craziness, I would go again (maybe just not during Tet). My biggest  Mua Cave tip is to go early. It opens for sunrise at 6:00 am, and my only regret is that we didn’t go then. However, if you aren’t a sunrise chaser, I have spoken to plenty of other travellers, and seen their photos at around 8:00 am and at sunset, and most people don’t seem to have the same experience as we did.

Mua Caves Price: Being a touristy attraction, the price of this is a bit expensive by Vietnam standards at 100,000 VND (or roughly 4.50 USD per person), plus 20,000 VND per bike to park.

3. go for a boat ride through the rice fields

Our Ninh Binh boat ride was one of my favourite experiences during our time in the region. There are two places to take a boat ride in Ninh Binh: Trang An and Tam Coc.

I have heard from many travellers that the Trang An Boat Tour is the better choice compared to the Tam Coc Boat Tour option. It is longer (3 hours total), a better value, goes through more caves, stops at temples and let’s you get off the boat to explore, and has more spectacular views. We intended to take this boat ride, however again because of the Tet holiday in Ninh Binh, it was so busy. In fact, we were told by another couple that they arrived at 8:00 am when it opened and they had already stopped accepting people in the queue because it was too long. When we rode our bikes by, the entire scene was chaos and so we decided to skip it. However, it is not like this all the time so don’t be deterred. But, given the circumstances, we opted for the Tam Coc Boat Tour, which was located right by our hotel in the centre of Tam Coc.

And you know what – I loved the Tam Coc Boat Tour! Maybe this is a case of “not knowing what I’m missing,” but I really liked the ride. The tour is intended to be about 2 hours… Unless you have a beast of a rower like us. She was rowing with her feet and passing everyone, so the journey took about 1.5 hours. And truthfully, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any longer because our butts got pretty darn sore sitting on the hard wooden benches.

We rowed through the bright green rice fields, where we saw locals tending to their fields. We went through caves, and took in the surreal views. It is simply put – BEAUTIFUL.

Tam Coc Boat Tour Price: We paid 360,000 VND total for the whole boat ride (about 15 USD).

A note about scams: I have heard stories of the rowers stopping mid-way through the journey, and demanding more money in order to keep rowing. However, this was not the case for us and I did not see anyone else doing this to other tourists (our guide was friendly and told us stories about the region). With that being said, also keep in mind that 15 USD is a very little amount of money for two hours of hard labor (especially when only a portion of that goes to the actual rower). So be kind and, if you’re able to, don’t forget to tip. There are so many rowers looking to work. This means that in many cases rowers will only get to take one journey every few days. And a little bit goes a long way.

Tam Coc Boat Tour
Tam Coc Boat Tour
Tam Coc Boat Tour
Tam Coc Boat Tour

4. go for a bike ride - with no plans

My absolute favourite memories from Ninh Binh were biking around, aimlessly, with no plans (we spent at least two full afternoons doing this). We drove through the rice fields with no final destination and no plans… and without any other tourists in sight. This is when we were able to experience the REAL Ninh Binh. I witnessed some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen in my life. And my eyes were opened to why this region is so darn special.
Tam Coc Rice Fields
Tam Coc Fields
Some things to keep an eye out for in the rice fields that are likely to result in some pretty surreal memories:
  • When biking you’re likely to come across the water buffalo that call these fields their home. In one case we passed by a group with a small baby, and it was making a noise that sounded just like a crying human baby. It was so cool to see.
  • You will likely also come across goats (I’ve heard that sometimes there are goats at Mua Caves, and can be aggressive so keep your distance). In one case we witnessed a local woman herding the goats alongside the road by throwing small pebbles at them. Also, while on the topic of roadside animals, it’s not unusual for goats or water buffalo to run into the street, so keep your eyes open while you’re biking and remember to respect them and their home.
  • Follow the dirt or gravel roads that lead to seemingly nowhere – you’ll never know what you might find. In one case, we stumbled upon a beautiful small lake, surrounded by limestone cliffs. There was a local family sitting along the shore with their wooden boat, singing karaoke and celebrating the new year. They called us over and insisted we go for a solo ride in their boat – and wouldn’t take any money when we offered. This is why I love to wander without a plan – because sometimes you happen along these little perfect moments. Moments that remind me of EXACTLY WHY I TRAVEL. These are the moments that are packaged into memories in my mind that I will never, ever forget.
  • Make sure to say “hello” to the local children! They love to say hi, and will often put their hand out to give you a “high five” as you ride by. 
  • If you find a cool middle-of-nowhere restaurant, stop in and have a beer with a view
Want to know where to bike in the rice fields?
i've mapped a few of my favourite spots on the map at the end of this post.

5. visit the hoa lu ancient capital

Located about 10 kilometres north of Tam Coc, you’ll find the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, an ancient former imperial capital that is positioned through some of the most beautiful limestone landscapes. It was previously the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. Here, you can visit the ancient temples that are scattered throughout the rice fields and picture what life used to look like in this historical spot. I would absolutely recommend taking a couple hours to visit.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital Price: 20,000 VND (or less than 1 USD) per person.

A note on how to get to Hoa Lu Ancient Capital: When we put Hoa Lu into Google Maps, we (naively) made the decision to bike there, as it was only 15 kilometres away from Tam Coc. Well we were, as a I said, very naive. The first half of the ride was a piece of cake – through rice fields, alongside quiet roads… Until we approached Trang An where we merged onto a higher speed, heavily trafficked BUSY road. Again, we naively thought this wouldn’t last long and kept pedaling while motor bikes zoomed past us. Spoiler Alert: It was this busy all the way to Hoa Lu. By the time we realized what was happening, we decided that we had already gone too far to turn around. But I wouldn’t recommend this biking route if you have a choice. We were wishing we had just hopped on a scooter instead.

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
But, there was a silver lining in all of this madness. By venturing by bike instead of hiring a driver, we were able to stumble across so many cool places along the way. My favourite, the Động chùa Bàn Long Buddist Temple Pagoda, a beautiful pastel coloured temple built into the side of a limestone cliff. We saw it in the distance and drove up. There wasn’t anyone in sight except for a older Vietnamese gentleman who kept trying to speak to me in French. While I could understand what he was saying, in the moment of panic, the only thing that came to mind from my high school French classes was “je parle un tout petit peu de français” (I speak a little bit of French). And then quickly said “merci, au revoir.”
Động chùa Bàn Long Buddist Temple Pagoda
Động chùa Bàn Long Buddist Temple Pagoda
Another one of these spots was this impressive stick bridge and wheel. I have been searching high and low for the exact coordinates and can’t find them. But, if you ride alongside the road from Trang An to Hoa Lu, it will be impossible to miss on the left side of the road (on the way to Hoa Lu).
Stick Bridge Ninh Binh

other things to do in 3 days in ninh binh

We had a few other things we wanted to do in Ninh Binh, but we were at the end of our trip and were moving a bit slow. Plus, the crowds at some of these attractions were really crazy because we were visiting Ninh Binh during the Tet holiday. Here’s a list of a few other things we really wish we would have done:

Bai Dinh Pagoda: The biggest Buddhist temple in Vietnam is high on the list for many visitors to Ninh Binh. We planned on going, but after hearing about the Lunar New Year crowds we opted to skip it.

Phat Diem Cathedral: This massive Catholic church is completely made of stone and mixed both Asian and European influences. I really regret not making our way to this spot, because I have heard it is beautiful.

Cuc Phuong National Park: I’ve heard amazing things about this national park, filled with beautiful greenery and – if you’re lucky – some really cool wildlife.

Sunset in Tam Coc

need help finding all my favourite spots in this ninh binh itinerary?
check out my ninh binh map below.

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Ninh Binh Itinerary
Ninh Binh and Tam Coc Things to Do
Ninh Binh and Tam Coc Itinerary
Things to do in Ninh Binh
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Halong Bay Doris Cruise Review

It should come as no surprise that Halong Bay is a little slice of heaven on earth. You’ve surely seen the photos of this popular spot, that draws as many as 8 million people to the region every single year. And it’s easy to see why – the region is natural spectacle (it’s even been considered on the 7 Natural Wonders of the World).

Due to this popularity, it should also come as no surprise that there are hundreds of cruise operators all claiming to be the “best Halong Bay cruise” and trying to convince you to book with them. They range in price from affordable to luxury, and each have their own marketing angles – traditional junk boats, small 10-room cruises, sustainability-minded cruises, and so on.

So how do you possibly pick the best Halong Bay cruise? It’s overwhelming, I know. And I’m hoping this article can bring you a bit of clarity. Because I am convinced that Doris Cruise really offers one of the best Halong Bay cruise experiences.

Visiting Halong Bay

want to know more about doris cruise: a halong bay luxury cruise
read on to find out more!

but first...
how to choose a halong bay cruise?

When choosing the right Halong Bay cruise, there are a few things to consider:

How many days in Halong Bay? We opted for a 3 day, 2 night cruise because we wanted to get the full Halong Bay experience. But I understand that seeing this landmark may not be your top priority, or your itinerary may not allow for three days allocated to Halong Bay. With that being said, I do recommend spending at least one night on Halong Bay. Halong Bay town isn’t that nice to stay overnight in, and getting from Hanoi to Halong Bay takes at least 3 hours each way (depending on traffic). If you only stay for one day, it would make for a very long and tiring day. Plus, day trips stay close to the harbor surrounded by hundreds of other ships. This makes it difficult to truly grasp the beauty of this region.

What is your Halong Bay budget? The cost of visiting Halong Bay can vary greatly, depending on the length of your stay and the type of ship. We opted for a luxury Halong Bay cruise, but I understand that this isn’t for everyone. Compared to everything else in Vietnam, the prices of visiting Halong Bay will seem inflated (even for the cheap options). Keep this in mind when booking. For myself, instead of comparing the price tag to hotel/food prices in Vietnam, I compared it to the prices of similar experiences at home and was easily able to justify this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you look at it from this perspective, any Halong Bay cruise would be considered a very good value.

How do you feel about crowds? This one is important. You’ll want to consider where your cruise is sailing to avoid being surrounded by hundreds of other boats (especially during peak season). Opt for cruises that visit Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay instead of just staying in Halong Bay. Coincidentally, these will have a higher price tag. But it will be worth it to be able to experience this beautiful region crowd-free. 

Visiting Halong Bay with DORIS CRUISE

Doris Cruise is part of a brand new family of luxury 5-star Halong Bay cruises that began sailing in late 2019. The cruise offers two itineraries to choose from (1 night or 2 nights) and takes you out to the serene Lan Ha Bay, off the coast of Cat Ba island. We loved sailing out to this part of the region because there are very few Lan Ha Bay cruise operators, which means we rarely saw any other boats!

on board amenities

Doris cruise was filled with all the amenities you’d expect from a luxury Halong Bay cruise line – and the best part was that the entire ship was BRAND NEW.

The rooms were immaculate and spacious with huge bathrooms and one of the comfiest beds I have ever slept on. They were stocked with premium towels and linens, coffee and water, and toiletries. Walk into the bathroom and you’ll be greeted by a bath tub with views of the surrounding Halong Bay. And when you’re done, you can throw on a robe and continue to take in the views from your own private balcony. 

If I can offer one piece of advice … If your budget allows for it, choose a Halong Bay cruise with a private balcony. This was a game changer!

The on-site Doris Cruise spa offers services that include nail care and massages. After a day of activities, I opted for an on-board pre-dinner massage and I can easily say it was one of the best massages I have ever had. 

Upstairs in the common areas you’ll find a massive sundeck on the roof, with chairs for lounging. An outdoor hot tub. A fully-stacked bar and dining area. And all kinds of other on board activities like fishing, cooking classes, and more.

Doris Cruise Hot Tub
Doris Cruise Sundeck

And above all else, what made the experience extra special was the staff, who were true professionals. They went above and beyond to make our stay perfect, were extremely engaging and helpful. It was a pleasure getting to know them during our time on board. A special shout out to our server, Hero, who went above and beyond to make sure Sebastian’s peanut and sesame allergies were minded.

doris cruise itinerary

As I mentioned before, you have two itinerary options on Doris Cruise. We opted for the two night option, but if you only choose the one night itinerary, you can remove the second day of activities. 

day 1

8:00-9:00 AM : Luxury Limousine Pickup and Transfer to Halong Bay

The transfer was on time, comfortable, and smooth, with in-car amenities including water and free wifi. We made a pit stop half way to Halong Bay for a bathroom break and snacks.

12:30 PM : Check In, Welcome Drink & Lunch

When you arrive to the port, you’ll board a boat that takes you out to the cruise ship, which is docked outside of the harbor. The staff was helpful in making what could have been a very chaotic situation go smoothly. Once you arrive, you are warmly greeted by the staff and offered a welcome drink. From there, you go through a safety demonstration, and are served your first lunch (a delicious five course meal, perfectly catered to all allergy and food preferences). From there, you head to your room to get unpacked.

Doris Cruise Food

Mid-Afternoon : Kayaking & Swimming

After lunch, head to the back of the boat for kayaking and swimming. It was a bit cold for swimming when we visited in January, but it would have been fantastic during the warmer months. The kayaking is a lot of fun and the views are surreal. You can kayak up to the small inlet beaches and take in the views of Ba Trai Dao Islet with very few other ships around.

Halong Bay Beach

5:00-7:00 PM : Sunset Party

The bar opens up and it’s time to mingle with other cruise guests before dinner. During this time, the ship also hosts a happy hour (buy 2, get 1 free) and around 6:00 they host a cooking demonstration and teach you how to make spring rolls.

7:00 PM : Dinner

Dinner begins and it is served buffet-style. The options were plentiful, with food options ranging from Vietnamese to Western. And lots of delicious dessert and fresh fruits. 

9:00 PM : Squid Fishing, Games, and more

Choose from a variety of games to play, or try your luck at squid fishing. Or, if you’re like us, take the party back to your private balcony and have a glass of wine together.

Tip: Drinks on board are not included, so I’d suggest packing some beers or a bottle of wine. But, if you forget to bring along something like us, keep an eye out for these ladies rowing alongside the boat selling beer, wine, and snacks. We took full advantage and bought a bottle of local wine, which was delivered to us by fishing net (the local hussle is reeeaal).

Wine Halong Bay Cruise

day 2

6:30 AM : Tai Chi on the Sundeck

If you’re an early riser, get up and get movin’. Tai Chi is a great way to wake up at sunrise and enjoy the beautiful Halong Bay surroundings. I mean, it really doesn’t get more peaceful than that.

7:00 AM : Early Breakfast

Even if you decided to “sleep in,” day two starts early (although this is ok if you’re like Sebastian and I who fell asleep at 9:00 pm with the lights on because the bed was SO comfy and the jet lag was REAL). Breakfast is buffet-style and has loads of options: pastries, fruit, eggs, noodle dishes, and more.

8:15 AM : Head Out for a Day Trip

Board a smaller boat and you’re off for the day. First stop: Viet Hai Village. This small local village lies on Cat Ba island. While many others visit the village by car, you’ll get the unique option of biking to the village – and taking in spectacular sights along the way. In the village we saw what day-to-day life was like for locals, tasted some local wines (with with 40% alcohol content so I’ll use the term “wine” loosely) and learned about the history of the Viet Hai community.

Next, we biked back to the harbor and boarded the boat where we enjoyed a massive (5-7 course??) meal.

Our final stop was a floating fish farm near Van Boi Beach where we got to see the locals fishing. These floating villages used to scatter Halong Bay, however many of them have since been given opportunities job on land by the government as tourism has grown in the region. This may seem a bit sad, that this tradition is being extinguished – however, guides said that the alternative jobs have provided a better quality of life for these locals, and that in many cases the change in welcome.

At the fishing village you’re also able to enjoy more swimming and kayaking. Afterwards, you’ll head back to Doris Cruise, arriving around 3-3:30 PM.

Here’s a few highlights from this awesome day:

Halong Bay Daytrip
Cat Ba Island Day Trip
Halong Bay Fishing Village
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba Island
Fisherman in Halong Bay village

5:00-9:00 PM : Sunset Party, Dinner & Activities

Evening activities are the same as they were on night one. You can reference the “Day 1” section for these details.

day 3

6:30-7:45 AM : Tai Chi & Early Breakfast

These activities will be the same as day two.

8:00 AM : Bamboo Boat Ride to Hang Sang & Toi

You’ll leave the boat and head out on your last excursion, where you’ll get on a bamboo boat and explore Hand Sang & Toi – which was used as a filming location for the most recent King Kong movie. The region was breathtaking and you could hear a pin drop… it was so serene and quiet. There wasn’t a single boat or tour group around. Locals rowed us around the inlets, as we were able to take in the beautiful surrounding area.

Bamboo Boat Ride Halong Bay
James Bond Island

9:30 AM : Checkout & Early Lunch

Head back to your room, finishing packing, and complete the check out process. From there, to you’ll head up to the dining room to enjoy one last early lunch, and take in the beautiful surrounding scenery one last time.

11:30 AM : Back to the Harbor

You’ll say your goodbyes, disembark Doris Cruise, and head back to the harbor by transfer boat. From here, you’ll be greeted by your luxury limousine driver and will make your way back to Hanoi (if applicable).

Halong Bay Cruise Luxury

Ready to Book?

I would highly recommend emailing them directly versus booking with a search engine. If you book directly, they are more likely to include added perks, such as a free shuttle to/from Hanoi.

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And don’t forget to check out my very detailed Hanoi Travel Guide (complete with map!) to use while you’re visiting Hanoi.

The Best Luxury Halong Bay Cruise
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Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

Travelling to Vietnam with food allergies can be hard. And it can often mean you have to succumb to “missing out” on cultural experiences, like popular cooking classes in Hoi An, because they aren’t able to cater to your allergies (and Sebastian has a whole laundry list of them: peanuts, sesame seeds, beans, peas, other nuts…). 

Before we were headed to Hoi An, I researched a lot of Hoi An cooking classes. And trust me, there is a lot to choose. In fact, picking the best Hoi An cooking class can feel completely overwhelming.

But, with keeping in mind that we were travelling in Vietnam with a peanut allergy, I emailed A LOT of cooking classes to see if any of them were able to accommodate our allergies… and I received many non-responses and apologies. Then, I received a response from owner Mr. Kien at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, who was happy to accommodate, confirmed a customized menu, and invited us to cook with him!

In ways, I looked for a Hoi An cooking class willing to settle on “whatever I could get.” Never did I expect to have such a truly wonderful, personal, hands-on, and authentic Vietnamese cooking experience. And I’m left with such wonderful memories and skills I can bring home to my own kitchen. I am so thrilled that Hoi An Eco Cooking Class invited us to spend this wonderful day with them.

See also: The perfect Hoi An City Guide for spending 5 days in Hoi An.

Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

hoi an eco cooking class is the best hoi an cooking class.
read on to learn more!

Full Disclosure: I was invited to join this experience as a guest of Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

ABOUT HOI AN ECO COOKING CLASS

Hoi An Eco Cooking Class is a locally-owned family business that offers an immersive, hands-on cooking experience. Located in Cam Thanh Village, they operate the most beautiful, clean, and – most importantly – fun Vietnamese cooking experience. The husband and wife owners, and their team, are eager to engage and teach attendees their craft. The goal: To make us feel confident in returning home to make these wonderful traditional Vietnamese dishes for our family and friends.

Hoi An Eco Cooking Class : The Tour Details

an early morning start

Get an early start on your day with an 8:00 am pickup. The Hoi An Eco Cooking Class team will arrange an early morning hotel pickup, and you’ll be on your way. Be prepared to be gone for between 4.5 and 5 hours.

TIP: You may feel like skipping breakfast beforehand, since you’re heading to a cooking class. But don’t. You should have a small breakfast before you leave because you won’t be eating the food you cook until about four hours later.

First Stop: A Market Tour

On your way to the cooking school, you’ll make a stop at a local market. This spot feels much more authentic than the central market in Hoi An and you’ll be able to see the morning shopping routine of Hoi An’s locals. It’s a space that’s guaranteed to give you sensory overload, buzzing with people, sounds, and smells. And I loved getting to experience this.

While at the local markets, be smart and watch your bags (this was instructed by our guide). Also, if you’re tall like Sebastian, be prepared to duck the entire time because the ceiling is VERY low.

Market in Hoi An

A quick pit stop: basket boat rides

One of the great things about this tour is that it offers a cooking class and bamboo boat ride. Visiting a local village and riding in the famous Hoi An bamboo basket boats is something that is on many cooking class itineraries in Hoi An. Here, you’ll hop in a large woven bamboo basket and a local paddles you through the coconut forest outside Hoi An. The views were beautiful and it was a cool experience getting to see how the locals fish.

Bamboo Basket Boat Ride Hoi An

onto the (most) fun stuff: cookin' up a storm

OKAY, this is where this tour gets reaaaal goodIt’s time to do some cooking!

The entire cooking experience was hands-on and immersive, with Mr. Kien, his wife, and his staff guiding us every step of the way. When you arrive they have all the ingredients laid out, and instruct you on how to prepare the dishes.

One of my favourite parts was that we all cooked our own individual meals. This meant, we were enjoying the direct result of our hard work (and didn’t have other cooking class strangers preparing parts of our meal – which made everything feel very allergy safe and clean). 

The menu includes seven unique dishes (which is more than most Hoi An cooking classes). 

My favourite: bánh xèo (sizzling pancakes) and fresh spring rolls (paired with the best homemade fish sauce I have ever tasted)! Other dishes included: a fresh aubergine and tomato dish, pho, and banana leaf salad. All the ingredients were extra fresh, which made the dishes so insanely tasty.

Cooking at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class
Pho at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

The class has an immersive teaching component is extra fun, too. I love learning about other cultures, and their traditions, and Mr. Kien and his team were eager to teach us about the historic food traditions of Hoi An locals.

I particularly loved making our own rice paper over a hot fire (I have to admit, it’s easier than it looks). And learning how the locals have historically made their own rice milk.

Below, you’ll see us peeling rice, making rice paper, and manually churning rice milk.

Rice at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class
Making rice paper at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class
Making rice paper at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class
Making rice milk at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

After three hours of cooking, it is time to indulge. And I have to admit – I was impressed with myself. I mean, look at this spread. (Note that this is my dish which is why you see peanuts… Sebastian received a customized menu).

Food at Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

Ready to go? Here's How To Book!

Unfortunately, with such stiff cooking class competition, Mr. Kien and his team have faced some challenges with other cooking classes mimicking his business and tricking customers into booking with them (by using very similar business names). One of these is Hoi An Eco Cooking Tour. This is a common practice with many businesses in Vietnam, and something you should always be aware of when booking excursions. 

In the case of Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, these other “imitation” classes have also placed pamphlets in many hotels (we saw them in ours) and are giving commissions to hotels for referrals. For this reason, do not book a cooking class through your hotel.

To book with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, send a message directly to Mr. Kien through his website link below (feel free to let him know I sent you!). Cost is 32 USD per person … and worth every single penny.

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And don’t forget to check out my other Vietnam content here, including my Hoi An Travel Guide.

The Best Hoi An Cooking Class
The Best Cooking Class in Hoi An
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Early morning in Hoi An Old Town

Hoi An is a place that has be high on my list for a long time. I dreamed of seeing the iconic yellow-painted walls with bright pink bougainvillea hanging over them, the famous lanterns that are strung through the city, and the river filled with small wooden boats that cuts through the old town. That’s why I knew that this stop needed to be my longest in Vietnam – And so, I began planning my itinerary to spend five days in Hoi An.

When I began planning I realized there are endless things to do in Hoi An that you could spend weeks there. But since our itinerary allowed for five days in Hoi An, I was determined to make the most of it. And I came up with this comprehensive guide of all the things to do in Hoi An (and eat!).

See Also: A Complete City Guide to Hanoi.

how should you spend your five days in hoi an? read on to find out!

but first...
where is hoi an located?

Hoi An is in central Vietnam, about 45 minutes outside of Da Nang, along Vietnam’s eastern coast. Located close to the coast, it is also surrounded by mountainous terrain and you can easily see the mountains in the distance. This make for some seriously beautiful views.

how to get to hoi an?

Most people arrive in Hoi An via Da Nang. Depending where you are coming from, there are many ways to get to Hoi An. Here are some tips on how to get to Hoi An from some of Vietnam’s largest hubs:

How to get to Hoi An from Hanoi: We arrived to Hoi An from Hanoi by plane (via Da Nang). Because we only had two and a half weeks in Vietnam, we opted to fly because it was the most efficient way to get from Hanoi to Hoi An. We arranged for a driver to pick us up at Da Nang airport and drive us to our hotel in Hoi An for roughly 275,000 VND or 12 USD. Hotels are often eager and willing to help arrange these services, so reach out to your hotel to arrange it prior to arriving in Da Nang. Alternatively, you can take the bus or the train from Hanoi (it takes about 12-14 hours, so many people opt to take this journey overnight and sleep on the way – and you save on accommodations for a night!).

How to get to Hoi An from Ho Chi Minh City: You can arrive from Ho Chi Minh City the same way as Hanoi – by plane to Da Nang, bus, or train.

Between these major hubs, you can also hop on buses or trains (and in some places, planes). Generally speaking, with transportation in Vietnam, I have found that it is always best to consult your hotel or hostel to help you make these arrangements and to make sure you don’t get scammed when booking private cars, buses, or trains.

A note on taxi scams: I would advise against using taxis in Vietnam, especially with airport pickups, because they have been known to scam tourists. If you’re looking for a safe taxi service, download the Grab app (Vietnam’s version of Lyft or Uber). You can confirm your ride through the app to ensure you are getting a fair price for the service.

things to do in hoi an

wander through the old town

Let’s start with the most obvious one because reality is, you’ll likely spend tons of time in the Hoi An Old Town. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the epicenter of Hoi An is straight out of a Vietnam postcard. Wander around the yellow-walled streets, down the alleyways… and just get lost. Stumble upon temples and browse the shops. My favourite shop is Sunday, where they have the most perfect handmade goods (and very Instagram-friendly walls, shown below). If you’re interested in shopping, I also love Mui the Label. Make sure you stop to grab a Vietnamese coffee at one of the charming cafes, and just people watch. Hoi An Old Town is the perfect place to do it.

Where is the From Hoi An with Love Wall
Hoi An Vibes Only Wall

Price to Visit Hoi An Old Town: 120,000 VND or 5 USD per person. At the entrances to the Old Town, you’ll notice ticket booths. While they don’t enforce ticket sales, they will check that you have a ticket if you want to visit the temples scattered throughout the Old Town. Even if you don’t intend to visit temples, be a responsible traveller and buy a ticket. It is a very small price to pay that goes back into the preservation of the Old Town so others can enjoy it for years to come.

Yellow Walls in Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An Old Town
Boats along river in Hoi An
Bougainvillea in Hoi An Old Town

gets clothes tailored

My custom tailoring experience was one of my favourite memories in Hoi An. Because we were visiting during the Lunar New Year, many tailors were closed, and our options are limited. I decided to connect with Bebe Tailor, the most famous tailor in Hoi An. I was a bit skeptical to work with Bebe Tailor because they have been known to be a bit expensive versus other tailors. But, I decided to try it out and got two dresses made.

In the end, I am so happy I chose Bebe. They were true professionals and their attention to detail and level of craftsmanship was first class. They were able to create both dresses in 24 hours (with two fittings in between), using premium materials, they turned out perfect. Never have I ever had such perfectly fitting clothing before and they truly understood my vision.

The price tag wasn’t “cheap” at 200 USD for both dresses (Sebastian also got a custom shirt made for 40 USD). But compared to the cost of a custom service at home, this was still very reasonable. And the experience itself was so special. I’ve never loved a vacation souvenir more!

If you’re looking for cheaper options, here’s a few that others recommended to me: Yaly Couture, Ca Li Tailor, and IZI Wear.

Wandering Around Hoi An Old Town
Dress from Bebe Tailor
Shown: The two dresses I got made at Bebe Tailor (note the photo on the right was taken in Tam Coc, not in Hoi An)

visit the best hoi an temples

There are loads of beautiful temples scattered throughout the centre of Hoi An. They weren’t particularly busy while we were there in January (with the exception of the Japanese Bridge), but I have been told they can get really crowded during peak season… So make sure to head there early. Here’s a few of my favourites:

  • Cantonese Assembly Hall
  • Phuc Kien Assembly
  • The Japanese Bridge
  • Pháp Bảo Temple
  • Chùa Long Tuyền

Don’t forget that these are places of worship and please dress appropriately (that means covering your shoulders and knees).

Price to Visit Hoi An Temples: You will need to buy a ticket at the entrance to the Old Town for 120,000 VND or 5 USD per person. With this, you can visit five attractions.

Japanese Bridge in Hoi An

bike around the hoi an rice fields

Biking around the Hoi An rice fields was so fun – in fact, we did it twice. The rice fields outside of Hoi An are beautiful, with paths zig-zagging throughout them so you can easy navigate your way through. We spent so much time biking through the lush green fields, stopping frequently to admire the horses, water buffalo and locals working in the fields – while rarely ever running into anyone else. It amazed me that this seemingly hidden gem, where locals lived their very normal lives tending to their rice farms, existed only a short bike ride from the busy city centre.

Take a look at this map below for suggested where to bike in the Hoi An rice fields, as well as marked locations of some of my favourite spots to capture photos. Note: If you put directions in Google Maps, they will lead you down the busy Ha Bai Trung street. Avoid this street and cut up through the rice fields through the entrances marked.

Biking Hoi An Rice Fields
Cow in Hoi An Rice Fields

visit the best beach in hoi an

On the other side of the Hoi An rice fields, you’ll find the best beach in Hoi An: An Bang Beach. By bike, you can easily reach the beach, where you’ll be able to rent a chair. We opted both times to rent our beach chairs at Seaside (we paid 60,000 VND, or less than 3.00 USD, and the spot also offered full-service beach side drinks and food, wifi, and a bathroom). 

An Bang Beach swing
An Bang Beach

While you’re at An Bang Beach, make sure you check out Sound of Silence Coffee Shop. I had heard a lot about this spot prior to visiting An Bang Beach, and this cutesy little coffee shop was a fantastic beach side escape for iced coffees. If you’re looking for a good photo spot on An Bang Beach, you can find the swing shown above outside the Sound of Silence beach entrance.

Note: I wasn’t able to locate Seaside on Google Maps, but I have pinned the location of it in the map at the end of this article. However, the easiest way to get there is to head to Sound of Silence Coffee Shop, and head down the pathway to the right side of the shop toward the beach.

Sound of Silence Coffee Shop

visit the hoi an night market

The Night Market in Hoi An is where the city comes alive. Here you’ll find stalls lit up with the famous Hoi An lanterns lining the side of the street. There are tons of vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs and many street food joints, too.

We bought a few souvenirs for friends and family here (make sure to haggle – we were typically able to knock 30-40% off the starting price). My only real regret is that I couldn’t fit a lantern in my backpack to bring home with me (if you’re travelling with a suitcase, buy one – they are beautiful).

While you’re visiting the Hoi An Night market, you can take a ride on the river in one of the beautifully decorated boats. I was skeptical to do this, because it looked very touristy. But then on our very last night this Vietnamese women followed us around for fifteen minutes trying to convince us to get into her boat. We were so impressed by her hustle game that we gave in and went for a ride (for roughly 100,000 VND or just over 4 USD). Seeing the river lit up at night was beautiful, but I honestly wouldn’t be quick to do it again. It was just as pretty looking at it from the shoreline.

take a class at the best cooking class in hoi an

One of my absolute favourite mornings in Hanoi was spending a morning with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. The experience was hands-on and immersive. And I am still dreaming about the food! We’ve tried to recreate it at home… but it just isn’t the same (guess that means I need to book a flight back to Hoi An).

But seriously, I couldn’t imagine a more fun morning and it was an easy highlight. We made our own rice paper over a burning hot fire, rolled fresh spring rolls, fried sizzling pancakes, and just had so much fun. This was also an allergy-friendly cooking class in Hoi An for anyone travelling with nut allergies in Vietnam. If you have any allergies reach out and ask if they can accommodate. I was so impressed by their hospitality.

Important Tip: Use the correct link to book the class (there are some imitations out there that hotels will point you toward because they earn commissions). Make sure you FOLLOW THIS LINK to book directly with Hoi An Eco Cooking Class on their website (feel free to tell them that I sent you).

Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

get lost in the hoi an central market

We loved Hoi An Central Market. It was chaotic and fun and full of so many delicious smells. Walk up to any stall, ask them to cut open a piece of fruit for you, and just wander around admiring the sights, sounds, and smells. It’s a serious sensory overload.

If it were up to me, I would have made a pit stop for fresh dragon fruit and mangoes here every single day. Unfortunately, we were travelling in Hoi An around the beginning of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, and World Health Organization was strongly urging travellers in Asia to avoid visiting open markets. So, after the first day we listened to WHO’s orders and (albeit reluctantly) stayed away.

Fruit in Hoi An

get a taste of local life at tra que vegetable village

Right outside of central Hoi An lies Tra Que Vegetable Village where locals tend to their immaculate gardens. These farming village was so cool to see, with locals using traditional Vietnamese practices to harvest the land. We only had time to ride our bikes around the village and admired daily life. But, if I were to do it again, I would have opted for a more immersive experience at the farm by taking a tour.

If you’re interested in getting a full hands-on agricultural experience with the best Tra Que Vegetable Village tour, I’ve heard awesome things about this tour with Backstreet Academy where you get to be a farmer for a few hours. You even get to eat a meal made from the locally grown organic ingredients.

Tra Que Vegetable Village

visit the my son sanctuary

We loved the My Son Sanctuary, which is located roughly an hour from Hoi An. The ruins were spectacular. And while many have been kept in good condition, evidence of the Vietnam War was apparent in damage. In fact, there were craters surrounding the ruins from bombings. It is UNESCO famed cultural landmark in Vietnam that, in my opinion, should not be missed.

What is the best time of day to visit My Son Sanctuary? Most tours leave Hoi An or Da Nang around 8:00 in the morning, which often means that My Son Sanctuary is very crowded by 9:00 am. We originally planned to visit when it opened for sunrise, at 6:00 am, but I had heard that it has begun to get busier in the morning as a few tour providers have begun to offer sunrise tours. Based on this, we opted to visit in the mid-afternoon, before closing. We arrived at My Son Sanctuary at around 2:00 pm and it was not busy at all. JACKPOT. The only downside to this plan is that it is very hot at My Son Sanctuary. While the heat was tolerable for us in January, I am not sure I would feel the same way during the warmer months. If I were to return to Vietnam in the spring or summer, I would opt to visit My Son Sanctuary at sunrise.

How to get to My Son Sanctuary? We opted to pay for a private driver drive us to/from My Son Sanctuary because we weren’t interested in having a tour guide and wanted to explore at our own pace. This service cost us about 35 USD. Alternatively, you can book a group tour (this is by far the cheapest option). I wouldn’t recommend taking the morning tours that leave around 8:00 because the sanctuary will likely be very busy. In my opinion, sunrise is your best option for a tour. If you’re interested in a sunrise tour, check this one out. Alternatively, there are many people who ride scooters out to the sanctuary. After passing by many amazing local villages and wishing I could make a pit stop, I was envious of the people brave enough to make this journey by bike. But, we weren’t feeling personally confident enough to make this trek by scooter (maybe next time?).

Visiting My Son Sanctuary

hop around to the best coffee shops in hoi an

It’s no secret that my coffee obsession is REAL. And Vietnamese coffee sits at the top of my list for some of my favourite coffee ever. That’s why I was so excited to visit Hoi An, which is really a coffee-shop-lovers paradise. Take some time to slow down and enjoy the best coffee shops in Hoi An. Here’s a few of my favourites:

  • 92 Station: For the best views of the city, 92 Station is your spot. Head up to the patio on the third floor and be welcomed by the best rooftop views paired with a Vietnamese coffee or fresh juice (or both!).
  • Faifo Coffee: Faifo is a very popular spot in Hoi An for rooftop views, but if you ask me, my previous recommendation (92 Station) is better. Not only did 92 Station have better coffee, but it is a lot less busy than Faifo, which has been known to have people literally lining up to take photos on the roof. Even still, the rooftop patio here is great if you can manage to stop when it isn’t busy like we did.
  • Sound of Silence Coffee Shop: Located along An Bang beach, you can enjoy coffee next to beach at this cutesy spot. I highly recommend the mango-infused cold brew for a unique and refreshing coffee flavour.
  • Mot Hoi An: Not coffee, but Mot is home to Hoi An’s most popular iced herbal teas. Seriously – this iced tea is the real deal. You’ll probably notice groups of people lined up to grab a famous tea for only 10,000 VND (less than .50 USD), beautifully garnished with a leaf, rose petal, and bamboo straw.
  • Wake Up Coffee: Another great little coffee shop with big open windows, perfect for people watching alongside the busy Hoi An streets.
  • The Espresso Station: MY FAVOURITE COFFEE SHOP IN HOI AN. This spot is a bit hidden down an alleyway, and offers such a cool patio ambiance and really unique coffee and drinks that are seriously works of art. We spent a couple hours on the patio sharing four drinks between the two of us (because we couldn’t make our mind up about what we wanted). My favourite drink was ice cubes made of frozen coffee topped with cacao powder, and served with hot creamy milk that you pour overtop.
  • Reaching Out Teahouse: Also not a typical coffee spot, but I love Reaching Out Teahouse so much we went here twice. This traditional teahouse is operated by deaf workers and all communication is done through writing and the use of small blocks with words like “thank you” written onto them. The ambiance of this place is beautiful, and the tea is fantastic (and served with delicious homemade cookies and biscuits). I also loved the fresh juices here – you must try the lime juice and add a bit of liquid ginger to it.
Faifo Hoi An
92 Station Hoi An
Reaching Out Teahouse Hoi An
Shown here (clockwise from top left): Faifo Coffee rooftop; Reaching Out Teahouse; Views from 92 Station Rooftop; Espresso Station

take a trip to the Tam Thanh Mural Village

Full disclosure: We didn’t go here. But I really wanted to after hearing so many wonderful things about it. Since were in Hoi An during the Lunar New Year (Tet), it meant that many drivers and tour operators were taking time off with their families. So when we tried to arrange time to visit this village, it became too complicated to fit it into the schedule.

But, based on what I’ve heard, I would highly recommend visiting this spot. The local town is covered in murals and I’ve also heard the nearby beach is beautiful and not touristy. Located roughly an hour away, you can arrange a driver through your hotel, ride a scooter, or take a tour. Here’s a link to a tour that will take you out to the village (cost is only about 16 USD per person for a five hour excursion).

The Best Hotel in Hoi An

Maichi villa

Looking for the best hotel in Hoi An? How about a hotel in Hoi An with a pool? Or a hotel in Hoi An with free breakfast?

Well, I’ve got the perfect spot. MaiChi Villa was easily our favourite hotel (errr, should I say homestay?) we stayed at in Vietnam for so many reasons. It had a beautiful pool, massive rooms, and a huge breakfast all included in the price. The hotel only opened a few months ago, and it was brand new in every way. The facilities were beautiful, and the host family could not have been more sweet and helpful.

Finally, MaiChi Villa is also so optimally located, a quick 8-10 minute walk from the Old Town. And they provide free bikes so you can easily bike everywhere else you need to go. I seriously cannot recommend this hotel enough.

MaiChi Villa Hoi An Review
The Best Hotel in Hoi An: MaiChi Villa

Where to Eat in Hoi An

Hoi An is quite literally full of hidden gem restaurants and has so many must-local dishes that I couldn’t get enough of. Here’s a few of my favourites (and things you should try at each).

Mot Hoi An: famous for the herbal tea described above, but we loved the food here too!
Madam Khanh - The Banh Mi Queen: get the classic banh mi with pate - yum!
Banh Mi Phuong: anthony bourdain said this was the best manh mi in the world
LeFe dining place: mid-range but so good with accommodating sebastian's nut allergy that we went twice; try the "shrimp lettuce wraps" and fresh spring rolls, shown below
ganesh: if you're looking for something different, they have some of the best indian food ever
ben bi bubble tea: didn't eat here, but loved the matcha bubble tea
sea crab: looking for a lunch spot near an bang beach? this is a good spot for cao lau
Com Ga Ba Minh: a local favourite for the popular hoi an chicken and rice dish
white rose restaurant: for famous white rose dumplings
dingo deli: all day brunch and western food (like pizza)
rosie's cafe: very popular/trendy brunch spot searching mostly western brunch options

LeFe Dining Place Hoi An

find all my favourite spots for the perfect five days in hoi an.
check out the map below.

pro Tip: Google Maps does not pin locations in Vietnam with 100% accuracy.
Therefore, you should note the exact address of the location. Use Google Maps to Help you find the street, and then follow the street numbers until you find the exact address. also, google maps will often "auto-correct" the street name and lead you in the wrong direction. before you start walking, make sure you double check that you have the right street name (or else you might end up 15 minutes late for a food tour like us, lol).
Boats in Hoi An

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5 Days in Hoi An City Guide
Tips for visiting My Son Sanctuary
Things to Do in Hoi An Itinerary
The Best Beach in Hoi An
The Best Restaurants in Hoi An
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. As a reminder, I only recommend products and companies that I stand behind 100%. Thanks for supporting Madeline Rae Away.
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Bowl of Pho at Khoi in Hanoi

Navigating the street food scene in Hanoi can be very overwhelming for tourists. In fact, we talked to MANY tourists who mentioned they didn’t even try it because it was too intimidating. Many people referenced the fact that many of these spots look like a food poisoning incident waiting to happen.

When we showed up, we didn’t even know where to begin looking and were totally intimidated by every sidewalk restaurant we passed. That’s why, on our first full day in Hanoi, we decided to book a street food tour to help ease us into the street food scene. We had heard from many people that it was some of the best food they had ever had, and we were determined to give it a try.

Not to mention, it is CHEAP. A typical meal, including beers, would cost us around 100,000 VND (just over $4 USD) and the portions are typically huge.

After our tour with With Locals, we felt confident to eat street food in Hanoi on our own and I have come up with a list of some of the best street food restaurants in Hanoi that you MUST TRY. The reason the street food is so good in Hanoi is because many of these spots only make one or two things. This means that they are making it fresh everyday and have perfected the recipes.

In this list, I have also included are some street food in Hanoi restaurants that we didn’t have time to make it to, but came highly recommended to us by a Hanoi local. So think of this as your very own, super-comprehensive guide to everything street food in Hanoi.

CLICK HERE to receive 15 euros off on your first With Locals booking (valid in every city they operate in worldwide).

Street food in Hanoi
Street food in Hanoi

ready to eat the best street food in hanoi?
read on for more info on where to find it!

Phở Sướng

What to Eat: Phở bò (beef noodle soup)
Location: 24B Ngõ Trung Yên
Why We Loved It: The beef pho here was really good! It’s also tucked down a really cool, private alley right in the centre of the Old Quarter. Just make sure you go easy on the hot peppers, they are spicy (Sebastian learned this the hard way, lol).

Pho Suong in Hanoi

Quán Phở Bò Khôi Hói

What to Eat: Phở bò (beef noodle soup)
Location: 50 Hàng Vải
Why We Loved It: The beef pho here was also amazing! This is a more authentic street food experience versus Pho Suong, where you sit on tiny little stools on the side of the street. On the tables, you’ll see jars of garlic vinegar. Add a small spoonful into the bowl of pho – it it is a game changer!

Nhà Hàng Thanh Hop

What to Eat: Bún chả (fatty pork with noodles and dipping sauce)
Location: 12 Đinh Liệt
Why We Loved It: I really loved the bún chả at this spot. It is also located on a great, moderately busy street in the Old Quarter, perfect for people-watching. And if you’re tall like us, you don’t have to worry about sitting virtually on the ground… the stools are a bit taller here 🙂

Bun cha in Hanoi

my hai

What to Eat: Fried spring rolls
Location: 63 Lò Sũ
Why We Loved It: My favourite fried spring rolls we had in Vietnam (and we had a lot of them). We sat here one night for a couple hours, ate over 20 spring rolls between the two of us (they were small…) and drank cheap beers.

"unknown" street food restaurant

What to Eat: Bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls filled with pork)
Location: 91 Hàng Điếu
Why We Loved It: This is one of my favourite dishes I had in all of Vietnam. Order to the bánh cuốn, and dip it in the fish sauce they provide you and top it with a bit of lime. 
(I’ve searched high and low and cannot figure out the name of this spot but follow the address and you won’t be disappointed!)

Banh Cuon in Hanoi

Bún riêu cua Hàng Bạc

What to Eat: Bún riêu cua (vermicelli soup topped with fresh crab)
Location: 11 Hàng Bạc
Why We Loved It: This spot felt like a “true” street food experience because it was quite literally a hole in the wall with a small bar with two stool, and a couple tables on the sidewalk. The bún riêu cua (make sure you get the “cua”/crab version) was so incredibly delicious. 

Chè Dung

What to Eat: Coconut ice cream with fresh mango
Location: 95 Hàng Bạc
Why We Loved It: This is a dessert spot, so naturally it was one of my favourites. The mangos in Vietnam are next level. In fact, I don’t think I can ever eat mangos again at home. Pair that with coconut ice cream and fresh coconut, and this is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had (this coming from a girl who LOVES sweets).

Bún riêu cua in Hanoi

Left: Bún riêu cua (crab soup); Right: Coconut ice cream with fresh mango

Street Food in Hanoi: The Places We Didn't Try...
...But Wish We did!

Here’s a list of places that came HIGHLY recommended by another tour guide we had in Hanoi (who has lived in Hanoi his whole life). I wish we had more time to try to some of these spots, but because we were travelling close to the Vietnamese New Year, many spots were intermittently closed holiday. I hope you take some of these recommendations and enjoy them for me!

MUST TRY dishes IN HANOI (and where to find them):

Bún Thang (5 Hàng Trống)
Bánh Cuốn (14 Phố Báo Khánh)
Cháo sườn (1 Ngõ Huyện)
Nem Nướng (10 Ấu Triệu)
phở bò (34 Ấu Triệu)
coconut coffee (any Cộng Cafe location)
egg coffee (Cafe Giang or Cafe dinh)
Iced lime tea with sunflower seeds (Cafe Tra Chanh on nha tho)

Other restaurants in Hanoi
(That aren't traditional street food)

We didn’t eat JUST street food in Hanoi. Here’s a list of a few other non-street food spots that you need to check out.

best brunch in hanoi: the Hanoi social club (6 Ngõ Hội Vũ)
great lunch or dinner spot: Noodle & Roll (39C Lý Quốc Sư)
eat like anthony bourdain: Bún chả Hương Liên (24 Lê Văn Hưu)
for great vietnamese food: Luk Lak Vietnamese Restaurant (4A Lê Thánh Tông)
amazing bao can be found here: bao wow (No. 31a Alley 12 Đặng Thai Mai)

Shown here: The Hanoi Social Club

Need help finding the best street food in hanoi?
check out the map below.

pro Tip: Google Maps does not pin locations in Vietnam with 100% accuracy.
Therefore, you should note the exact address of the location. Use Google Maps to Help you find the street, and then follow the street numbers until you find the exact address. also, google maps will often "auto-correct" the street name and lead you in the wrong direction. before you start walking, make sure you double check that you have the right street name (or else you might end up 15 minutes late for a food tour like us, lol).

interested in taking a street food tour?

Make sure you use THIS LINK to get 15 euros off on your first With Locals booking (it can be used in any city worldwide).

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The best street food in Hanoi
The best restaurants in Hanoi
Where to eat street food in Hanoi
Where to find the best restaurants in Hanoi
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. As a reminder, I only recommend products and companies that I stand behind 100%. Thanks for supporting Madeline Rae Away.
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Busy Hanoi Street

Before we went to Vietnam, Hanoi was arguably the place I was least excited about on our itinerary. I’m not totally sure why… Maybe because it was the place I knew the least about. Or maybe it was the fact that I thought Hanoi was just a big, overwhelming city.

And I wasn’t wrong about that. Hanoi is a VERY big, VERY overwhelming city. But what surprised me most was that it was arguably my favourite stop on our Vietnam trip.

Why? Well, that’s a loaded question. And one that a blog post like this one could never totally answer. It’s a place you have to experience to understand. And should be treated as much more than an entry or exit point to Vietnam. In my opinion, you should spend at least three days in Hanoi (but if you ask me, the more the better). 

okay, now that i have your attention...
read about how to spend three days in hanoi with this itinerary.

THINGS TO DO IN HANOI

visit the temple of literature

I absolutely loved The Temple of Literature. The sprawling grounds are scattered with beautiful gardens, lakes and pagodas. The temple was built in 1070 and was home to Vietnam’s first national university. We visited before Tet (The Vietnamese Lunar New Year) and it was so cool to see the holiday decorations and preparations being made for the biggest Vietnamese holiday of the year.

Ticket price: 30,000 VND or just over $1 USD a person.

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi

walk around hoan kiam lake

Hoan Kiem is a cultural landmark of Hanoi and a major city attraction. The best time to visit Hoan Kiam Lake in the early morning before fellow tourists are out, and you can observe the locals enjoying the scenery and partaking in their morning exercise routines. We loved witnessing how the locals treasured this lake.

If you’re visiting early, pay a visit to Ngoc Son Temple, located across the bright red bridge in the centre of the lake. When we were there during midday, we didn’t dare to visit because the red bridge was piled with tourists. However, during our 8am lake walk one morning, we noticed it was quiet and decided to visit. The ticket price was cheap (30,000 VND or just over $1 USD a person). And we felt like we had the whole little island to ourselves.

Ngoc Son Temple Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple Hanoi

wander around hanoi old quarter

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is buzzing with people – and scooters. People are everywhere, and the sidewalks are covered with scooters and makeshift street food joints, so you can forget walking on the sidewalk. It is easy to get lost for hours in the streets of the Old Quarter… and it was absolutely a highlight of my time in Hanoi.

Fun Fact: There are 79 streets in the Old Quarter and each corresponds with a specific type of merchandize or service, and most shops on the street correspond. For example, you can find the shoe street, the textiles street, the silver street, the coffee street, or an entire street dedicated to fixing scooters.

We loved wandering around the Old Quarter and eating ALL the Hanoi street food. We found some of the best food we had in Hanoi here. Many tourists are too afraid to eat the Hanoi street food, and too be honest, I don’t blame them – it looks like a food poisoning disaster waiting to happen. If you’re too scared to dabble in the street food scene, or don’t know where to start, check out my next suggestion…

Hanoi Old Quarter at Night
Old Quarter Hanoi
Woman bike with fruit Hanoi Old Quarter
Visiting Hanoi Old Quarter
On the note of scooters, you've probably heard about the madness of trying to cross the street in Hanoi. I was nervous too. I even googled "how to cross the street in Hanoi" before I arrived. But I promise, it isn't as scary as it seems to cross. Just walk across the street at a steady pace. Don't increase or decrease speed, and definitely don't stop. The scooters will gauge your pace and go around you. However, this is not the case for cars and buses. So, if you see a car or bus, stop on the side of the street and wait to cross.

take a food tour

I am a huge fan of the company With Locals that pairs you with a local who guides you on a private tour throughout the city. You can take one of their standard tours, or request a custom tour (which we did because Sebastian is allergic to nuts). On our first day in Vietnam, we took a tour with Hoa from With Locals who navigated us through Hanoi’s street food scene. We tried all kinds of local foods (often while sitting on tiny step stools on the side of the street). I couldn’t recommend this tour enough! It is and easy and fun way to find all the best street food in Hanoi. You can a Street Food tour with With Locals here (look for Hoa N).

As a side note, did you know that that the reason everyone sit street-side on buckets and step stools in Vietnam eating street food is because eating on the street is technically illegal? So, locals buy cheap “chairs and tables” and scatter the streets with them. If the authorities come and take them away, it’s a minor loss (although it doesn’t seem like this happens very often). Also, these tiny pieces of furniture are easy to gather and quickly bring inside if authorities are close by.

Vegan or Vegetarian? Backstreet Academy offers a great Vegan/Vegetarian food tour that you can check out here. 

enjoy the vietnamese coffee scene

Hanoi has one of my favourite coffee scenes of any city I have ever been to. I loved it so much that I wrote a detailed post about all my favourite coffee shops in Hanoi, and what you need to try at each.

If you’re a coffee lover like me, I highly recommend Backstreet Academy’s “Coffee Lovers Walking Tour.” We did this tour in Hanoi and it was an easy highlight of my time there. You can find out more or book the tour here.

visit hanoi's famous train street

Okay, I know what you’re thinking… Is the Hanoi train street still open? Both yes and no. The “street” is closed but the restaurants that line the tracks are still open. Here’s a bit of backstory if you haven’t heard about this popular Hanoi landmark.

Hanoi’s train street is a set of tracks that goes right through central Hanoi. Over the years, many coffee shops and restaurants have opened up shops along the tracks, serving mainly tourists. Visitors would walk up and down the tracks and visit the restaurants. The catch – the train is still operating. So, as this tourist spot became more and more popular, it became a safety concern with thousands of tourists standing alongside the tight tracks as the train passed by. So, the government of Hanoi stepped in and has barricaded entrances to the tracks, closing it to tourists. 

While this is a necessary move for safety reasons, many local businesses have been massively affected since last October by this closure. Therefore, the owners often stand along the entrance to the tracks and ask you to come to their restaurant. If you go with a restaurant owner, with the purpose of buying something from the restaurant, the guards will let you in. This initiative has cut back on crowds in a massive way. When we visited the landmark, there were very few others there.

We unfortunately were not able to visit when the train went by because we were only in Hanoi on weekdays (the train only operates in the evening on weekdays and it was too dark by then during the winter months… so if you’re spending three days in Hanoi in the winter, try to make sure one of the days you visit is a Saturday or Sunday). 

Here’s the Hanoi Train Street Schedule. However, like many things in Vietnam, it is subject to change. The restaurants lining the tracks will be able to provide you with a schedule in case there is a change, but this is the Hanoi train schedule currently:

  • Monday to Friday: 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, 10 pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 6 am, 9 am, 11:20 am, 3:20 pm, 5:30 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, 9 pm, 11 pm

If you’re looking for the best location to enter the train street, I have marked it on the map below.

Hanoi Train Street
Hanoi Train Street

visit a spa

There are spas on every corner in Hanoi, but many of them are not paying fair wages and may be using unethical practices, so do your research before blindly wandering into one. If it is insanely cheap, it is probably a red flag. While moderate in price, the best spa in Hanoi that I found was at La ÉnMay Spa in the La Sinfonia Del Rey Hotel and Spa. And if you book between 10-12 am, you receive 30% off services. You can find out more here. 

La ÉnMay Spa Hanoi

see a water puppet show

I’ll admit, I was skeptical to visit this. I questioned if the famous Hanoi water puppet show was worth it or a gimmick. I thought it would be touristy and just not my thing. But, I went because everyone says it is something you’re “supposed” to do in Hanoi. And I am so glad I went.

The show was beautiful and so impressive. The whole play is done in Vietnamese, but it doesn’t matter. Can you pretty easily follow along with the simple storyline. And even without understanding every detail it is such a cool cultural experience.

I recommend visiting the most popular water puppet show in Hanoi at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. If you’re interested in skip the line tickets, you can find them here. Alternatively, you can visit the onsite kiosk to grab tickets, but I have been told that during peak season, tickets can sell out well in advance, so this is an easy online way to secure your seats.

Tickets start as low as 100,000 VND per person (or about $4.30 USD) and the price increases depending on how close to the stage you are. We opted for the tickets priced at 150,000 VND and found it was close enough to the stage, but it might be difficult to see the details of the show if you were seated near the back.

take a cooking class

I didn’t personally have time to take a cooking class during my three days in Hanoi, but I am really disappointed I didn’t. We did a cooking class in Hoi An and it was a highlight of our time in Vietnam. If I could go back, I would have made it a priority.

If you’re interested in cooking, this is a must do. I’ve heard VERY GOOD things about this particular cooking class where you get a hands-on cooking experience in the home of a local!

have more than three days in hanoi? here's some other things you can do.

visit the west lake (the biggest lake in hanoi)
visit hoa lo prison (this is another thing I really wish we made time for)
walk across long bien bridge
visit the museum of ethnology
visit the ho chi minh mausoleum (best to visit at end of day before it closes to avoid morning crowds)

Where to stay in Hanoi

luxury: la sinfonia del rey hotel & spa

Because we were in-and-out of Hanoi as a “home base” for our trip, we decided to “splurge” one night at La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa. A big splurge at this hotel will set you back about 1,700,000 VND or $75 USD per night, and I can confirm that this brand new hotel was easily one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. The entire hotel was covered in black marble, the rooms were premium comfort, the bathrooms luxurious, and the breakfast was just WOW. Not to mention the location could not be better, located right across the street from Hoan Kiem Lake.

La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa
La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa Hanoi

Mid-range: centraltique downtown

Looking for a mid-range hotel Old Quarter Hanoi hotel? Centraltique was beautiful. It is located in a historic French Colonial building in the middle of the hustle-and-bustle. The rooms were large and clean, and we had a front street-facing balcony with great views. Keep in mind, it is located in the middle of all the chaos and therefore can be loud all hours of the night. For me, this was part of the charm. But if you’re looking for a quiet nights sleep during your three days in Hanoi, I would look outside of the Old Quarter.

Centraltique Hotel Hanoi

Where to Eat in Hanoi

Where do I even start? Hanoi was home to easily the best food I had in Vietnam, and has officially positioned itself as one of my top favourite food cities in the world. I ate at so many places I loved, including some amazing street food gems. And I wrote a Hanoi food guide all about my favourite spots!

MUST TRY dishes IN HANOI:

Bún Thang (local vietnamese noodle soup)
Bún chả (grilled fatty pork and noodles + dipping dauce)
Bánh Cuốn (vietnamese steamed rice rolls with pork)
Cháo sườn (porridge with pork ribs that is said to cure you if you have a cold)
Nem Nướng (grilled pork sausage)
phở bò (beef noodle soup)
coffee: traditional vietnamese drip coffee, coconut coffee, egg coffee
Iced lime tea with sunflower seeds

Hanoi Vietnam flowers

find all my favourite spots for the perfect three days in hanoi.
check out the map below.

pro Tip: Google Maps does not pin locations in Vietnam with 100% accuracy.
Therefore, you should note the exact address of the location. Use Google Maps to Help you find the street, and then follow the street numbers until you find the exact address. also, google maps will often "auto-correct" the street name and lead you in the wrong direction. before you start walking, make sure you double check that you have the right street name (or else you might end up 15 minutes late for a food tour like us, lol).

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Things to Do in Hanoi
Three days in Hanoi City Guide
Three days in Hanoi Itinerary
The Best Hotel in Hanoi
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