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.
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