How to have a perfect day in Hanoi

How to have a perfect day in Hanoi

Five locals share their favorite ways to enjoy the Vietnamese capital -- drinks and eats included

In most cases, tourist hot spots are worth checking out.

But it's nice to get away from the crowds and explore sites that haven't been sprayed across the pages of every major guidebook and travel site in the world. 

We asked five Hanoi locals to share, in their own words, the best ways to mix it up and have the perfect day in the Vietnamese capital.  

Ha Anh Vu: Model, singer, TV personality

Don't be afraid to hit the streets and eat like the locals, says Ha Anh Vu, a Hanoi-based TV personality. I think it’s important that you explore the city at your own pace. You should wander down small alleys, sit in charming little cafes and don’t be afraid to try the food on the street, such as corn on the cob, juicy mango or young rice wrapped in lotus leaf -– simple things you can enjoy at very little cost. 

Hanoians don’t mind traveling to one specific alley for one dish. As a Hanoian, I love pho, of course, which was founded in Hanoi, and bun rieu, which is crab soup.

Mien luon, eel noodles and bun cha, pork patties with vermicelli and fried spring rolls, can be found everywhere in the city.

I love the fresh green bean and young rice ice cream on a stick from Kem Trang Tien, located on the street leading to the Opera House. But you have to eat it on the spot before it melts!

In the evening, people in Hanoi enjoy dressing up and getting together for a long dinner at a nice restaurant.

At sundown I like to go to the Sunset Bar that is right on the water at the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake.

It’s a unique space that you don’t usually see in the big city. I also like the five-star eateries at the historical Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel and around Tay Ho there is Restaurant Bobby Chinn and El Gaucho steakhouse.

El Gaucho Steakhouse, 99 Xuan Dieu St., Tay Ho; +84 (0)4 3718 6991

Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake, 1A Nghi Tam, Tay Ho; +84 (0)4 6270 8888 

Kem Trang Tien, 35 Trang Tien, +84 (0)4 3824 0294

Restaurant Bobby Chinn, 77 Xuan Dieu St., Tay Ho District, +84 4 3 719 2460

Lilian Tran: Make-up and special effects artist

Young girls wear traditional conical hats and "ao dai" dresses in honor of a celebration at Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular hangout for locals. Summer is too hot, spring too rainy and winter is bitter and cold, but an autumn day in Hanoi is great.

The temperature is 18 to 25 degrees (65-77 F), cool with a light breeze and you can start your day by walking along old streets such as Phan Dinh Phung where the aroma of hoa sữa -- Alstonia flowers -- hangs thick in the air and shafts of sunlight filtering through the leaves cast dancing figures on the street.

Visit the quiet peaceful old citadel of Hanoi, right in the center of the city but far from the noisy over-crowded traffic and hurried life outside. It was only opened to the public after the excavation to renovate the National Assembly a few years ago.

Here you can relax or read a book while sipping a cup of coffee at Highlands Café, a famous local Vietnamese brand, right under the thousand-year-old flag tower.  

Visitors should try the famous Hanoi specialty cha ca -- fried fish with turmeric and dill and vermicelli noodles -- at Cha Ca Thang Long. It's a good local spot and much better than the Cha Ca La Vong listed in all the guidebooks.

At night time, start at Hoan Kiem Lake and wander the night market to find some cheap souvenirs and gifts; visit one of the dozens of small bars in Ta Hien or check out a local night club.

Taboo, a floating discotheque, is always packed.

Cha Ca Thang Long, 19-21-31 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem; +84 (0)4 3824 5115

Highlands Café, 28A Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh; +84 (0)4 3823 3339

Taboo, 4 Thuy Khue St., Tay Ho; +84 (0)4 3728 2996

More on CNN: 40 delicious Vietnamese dishes

Benjamin Rascalou: Founder, Le Badiane and Linh & Ben

One of chef Benjamin Rascalou's favorite Hanoi restaurants is Quan An Ngon, which means “delicious food restaurant." We're sold. At 5 a.m. life starts in the center of Hanoi. On Hoan Kiem Lake many Vietnamese are already up to exercise so I recommend joining them.

Then I would find a nice place for a breakfast bowl of pho ga, chicken noodle soup, or pho bo, beef noodle soup. Pho 24 by the lake is a good bet for both.

In the afternoon, enjoy a romantic moment on Tay Ho, then visit nearby Phu Tay Ho pagoda just as the sun goes down.

For dinner, come to La Badiane for French fusion and International dishes like grilled aubergine with goat cheese mousse and parma ham or beef carpaccio with wasabi and sesame.

Or for delicious Vietnamese food I like Quan An Ngon, which literally means “delicious food restaurant." 

I like to order the banh hoi nem nuong, grilled pork meatballs, because you can’t find it in many places and I love the way you roll them yourself.

In the evening, explore the Old Quarter and enjoy the twinkling lights and atmosphere of Hanoi, and stop at Ta Hien street to enjoy a cold bia hoi, or fresh beer, with a mixed crowd of local Vietnamese and tourists.

La Badiane, 10 Nam Ngu; +84 (0)4 3942 4509

Pho 24, 31 Hang Khay, Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem; +84 (0)4 3938 1812

Quan An Ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau; +84 (0)4 3942 8162/63

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Betty Pallard: Business/media consultant

Business consultant Betty Pallard recommends the Hanoi Club for an afternoon spa treatment followed by a good meal. The more I live in Hanoi, the more I like the city.

The people keep Hanoi green: the city has 83,000 trees, 80% of which are older than 200 years, all financed by anonymous sponsors.

Hanoians also enjoy walking and bicycling more than other places in Vietnam: on Saturdays and Sundays from 3-8 p.m. the area around the lake is closed to traffic so people can walk and run there.

I live in the West Lake area and there are lots of little places to have coffee where people observe a certain decorum and responsibility to the area: you cannot drink alcohol, you have to behave.

Here you can enjoy a coffee for $1 -- it's not as commercialized as Ho Chi Minh City.

At the Hanoi Club at West Lake, the food is good, you can enjoy the spa and even non-members can rent 100 balls for just $22 at the driving range.  

In the evening, join the city’s F&B directors and visit Le Paul Conti. Vietnamese sommelier Mr. Hai Ha studied in France for five years with Paul Conti before opening this wine bar just over one year ago.

All the food is great and the café gourmand with glass of Ricard and hot chocolate is the best in Hanoi.

Hanoi Club, 76 Yen Phu, Tay Ho; +84 (0)4 3823 8115

Le Paul Conti, 59A Nam Ngu; +84 (0)4 3941 1959 

More on CNN: 25 essential Hanoi travel tips

Nguyen Minh Quan: Travel assistant, United States Embassy in Hanoi 

Hanoi resident Nguyen Minh Quan suggests visiting Hanoi Studio or Apricot Gallery for local artists' work. I live with my parents near the Opera House in the French quarter and I love Hanoi’s beautiful French colonial houses and many lakes. 

First-time visitors should visit Hoan Kiem Lake and check out the 36 streets of the Old Quarter where people have kept their houses the same for centuries. 

Then, try to see some art galleries, such as Hanoi Studio or Apricot Gallery for more famous Vietnamese artists.

Le Thanh Son is one of my favorite well-established artists and I also like some young artists, like Ly Tran Quynh Trang. Her work is quite abstract and very emotional. She knows how to describe a strong character.

For a traditional Vietnamese experience, visit the water puppet theaters at Hoan Kiem Lake, or do some shopping along Hang Gai street.

For silver, visit Huong jewelry shop along Hang Ngan street. For dinner, Wild Lotus is a good high-end Vietnamese restaurant. I particularly like the green mango salad with shrimp and peanuts there.

Club Opera Nouvelle, set within a former hand-embroidered linen shop house, is another good upscale option for things like soft-shell crab and duck salad.

If Nguyen Minh Quan were a tourist, he'd head straight for the Old Quarter. And for drinks, Rooftop on the 19th floor at Pacific Place has nightly DJs and great views over the Hanoi flag tower, Ho Chi Minh museum and the rest of Hanoi.

Apricot Gallery, 40B Hang Bong; +84 (0)4 3828 8965

Hanoi Studio, 13 Trang Tien; +84 (0)4 3934 4433

Huong jewellery, 62 Hang Ngan; +84 (0)4 3828 1046 

Ho Chi Minh Museum, 7 Le Loi, Ba Dinh; +84 (0)4 3846 3757

Club Opera Nouvelle, 17 Trang Tien; +84 (0)4 3972 8001 

Rooftop, 19/F Pacific Place, 83B Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem; +84 (0)4 3946 1901

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem; +84 (0)4 3824 9494  

Wild Lotus, 55A Nguyen Du; +84 (0)4 3943 9342 

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