Hoan Kiem Lake means "Lake of the Restored Sword" --in the 15th century, legend has it that a young fisherman named Le Loi found a magic sword caught in his net. For 10 years (1407-1417) he used the magic sword to win victory over Chinese invaders. He crowned himself King Ly Thai To, and one day he was boating on Luc Thuy (Green Lake) near the capital Thang Long (later known as Hanoi), and a golden tortoise snatched the sword from the king's hand, returning it to the murky deapths.
Over 500 years later, a lone giant tortoise inhabits Hoan Kiem lake. Sometimes it can be seen peeking out of the water on still, misty days.
I've seen him 6 times in the last year, one time snorting water out his nose, another time swimming most of the way from Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) at the south end of the lake to Ngoc Son Temple at the north end. In Ngoc Son Temple is another tortise, found 30 years ago in the lake.
This unusual circular French built water tower is located at a busy road junction, to the north of the Old Quarter and to the northeast of the Citadel. It was the first to supply water for the city but hasn't been used in the last few decades.
on the corner of Hang Dau, Quan Thanh and Hang Thang
One way to beat the heat is to visit the astounding Vietnam Museum of Art, which houses some suprisingly beautiful, if not well-known, paintings. I was the only person really interested in art in my group, most of whom just wanted to get out of the heat, but the others got enjoyment out of the war-era paintings, including one entiltled "Off to Battle the American Aggressors". If you like scultpture, there's plenty of excellent pieces in that genre, too. It is easy to see the French influence in the Vietnamese artists, who seemed to really take to the colorful nature of Impressionism, but it's also interesting that the paintings are distinctly Vietnamese.
The unassuming Truc Buc Lake is separated from Hanoi's vast West lake by a causeway carrying an important road. It is surrounded by newly build homes and has a small island in the middle of it that seems overgrown with vegetation. It is calm and pretty and attracts a peek as you whiz by it in traffic. There is nothing, not even a historical marker, indicating thatthis is wherethe plane of John McCain landed as he flew a mission over Hanoi in 1968. At the Hoa La Prison, you can see pictures of him being pulled from this lake, legs broken. The word "rescued" is used often and may actually be true -- he possibly could have died. But then he was imprisoned for five years -- not much of a rescue.
Of course, given that i was there as the 2008n US Presidential election was heating up, Mccain's tie to Vietnam was on everyone's lips. Almost everyone I passed near the lake made sure they told me the story. No doubt, most Vietnamese would vote for John McCain if they could. This is just another sign that the emotions of the war are now in the past. Well, I suppose that's true unless I would have indicated a preference for Obama!
The General Post Office (Bua Dien) of Hanoi is a huge building located along Dinh Tien Hoang Road at the south-eastern side of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. Next to this post office building is the Indira Gandhi Park (see my Indira Gandhi Park tip at this VT page).
When you are walking along the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake, you will come across this monument called Hoa Phuong Tower on the south-eastern side of the lake near to the General Post Office. During night time, there will be spotlights shining on it.
If you are interested in the military history of Vietnam and happens to be at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square area, there is a Vietnam Military History Museum located at Dien Bien Phu Road which is worth visiting. This museum is located at the side of a huge rectangular citadel which is a military area with restricted access (but the museum is opened to the public). Also, outside of this museum, you will see the tall and huge Cot Co Flag tower with the Vietnamese flag flying on top of it (see photo).
If you are at the Old Quarter area, one of the interesting places you can visit is the Hang Be Market (Cho Hang Be) which is located at Ngo Cau Go Street. You will find many local people here buying various foodstuff, even at night time. Be careful of your belongings and the floor can be slippery.
South of the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square area lies a small park just next to the Vietnam Military History Museum with a huge statue of Lenin as well as flowers arrangement forming the word "Hanoi" (see photos). On closer look, these flowers are actually fake flowers! Anyway, this is a good place to sit and relax, especially if you are exploring this area of Hanoi.
The 19-12 Market (Cho 19-12) is one of Hanoi's oldest and most interesting market. It is located just next to Melia Hotel along Ly Thong Kiet Street at one end and Hai Ba Trung Street at the other end (at the French Quarter area south of Hoan Kiem Lake). This market is made of two covered lanes of stalls crammed with fresh and live produce, dry goods, foos stores, kitchenware, clothes, sourvenirs etc.
The Dong Xuan Market (Chu Dong Xuan) is a huge market located at the northern end of the Old Quarter area along Dong Xuan Street. This market is very popular among the locals and worth a visit when you are at the Old Quarter area. During the weekend nights, the night bazaar of Hanoi extends all the way to this market. Next to the market is a row of food shops selling local food and drinks.
Indra Gandhi Park is a small park located across Dinh Tien Hoang Road on the eastern bank of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's city centre. This park was popular with the French for its outdoor concerns, and was renamed as Indira Gandhi Park in 1984 following the assassination of this India's Prime Minister because she was a huge supporter of Vietnam. A massive bronze statue of Ly Thai To (founder and first king of the Ly Dynasty) dominates this park.
There is a huge and impressive culture palace in Hanoi located along Tran Hung Dao Street at the French Quarter area, somewhere near to another famous landmark, Quan Su Pagoda. I did not have time to explore the culture palace due to time constraint but managed to take some photos of the exterior.
Hanoi is full of places of interest for tourists, yet I believe that one of the best things you can do there is looking further than at the standard sights. For instance, driving along some streets will give you an insight into daily Hanoian life with all its facets. A particularly interesting street to drive along (by bike or motorbike) is La Thanh Street. Starting from near the junction of Dai Co Viet Road and Le Duan Road, it leads 5kms through several less known parts of the city all of which are really great to see Vietnamese daily life. There are the obvious fruit vendors next to houses in which metals are processed. There are outdoor food stalls almost on the street that make it smell of fried spring rolls. There are tiny kiosks next to carpenters. Actually, a long part of the street is dedicated only to wood processing, making the air smell of freshly cut wood. La Thanh Street's only disadvantage is its role as one of Hanoi's main road links. Although a rather narrow street, it always seems to be full of traffic. If you go there remember to be careful as the traffic is not easy to survive unharmed?
In Dong Xuan market, you can find many cheap stuff. This market is more frequently patronised by the locals and some of the stuff are quite unique. But be prepared for its "cleaniness" and heat as you can get really sweaty and stuffy there.