Set on an islet at the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Tortoise Tower, inspired by the myth behind Hoan Kiem Lake (see tip above on Hoan Kiem Lake).
But are there real tortoises in the lake? The surprising answer is yes - and some are HUGE ones, like the one which was retrieved in 1968 that weighed 250 kilos and was 2.1 meters long. I would have loved to see one, even a teeny weeny bit one, but luck was not on my side.
How they got there. or whether they are indeed descendants of Le Thai To's golden tortoise remains a mystery.
Near the main gate of Ngoc Son Temple is a nondescript monument that looks like a miniature pagoda. This piece of concrete is the Martyr's Temple, which was built to honor the men and women who died for Vietnam's independence. Foreign tourists may overlook it, but its historical significance is apparent from the number of local tourists stopping by for some picture taking opportunities.
Set on an island at the northern corner of Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple is perhaps Hanoi's most visited temple by tourists - partly because it's right smack in the center of the old city, and partly because of its importance. The temple was built in the 1800s in honor of not just one but three great Vietnamese: the scholar Van Xuong; a 13th century local hero General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols; and the patron saint of physicians, La To.
The temple may be one of Hanoi's most important and most popular, but it is the iconic red bridge that connects the temple to the main land - The Huc (The Rising Sun) - that gets the top spot in terms of the most photographed. There is something striking with the image of a red bridge across a man-made lake in the middle city that makes it a favorite subject of shutter-happy tourists.
If there is one thing you can't escape when visiting Hanoi, that would probably be Ho Kiem Lake. It is a man-made lake - one of many built around the city. Clearly, it is the focal point of social and civic life in Hanoi.
According to legend, a 15th century emperor received a magical sword from heaven to drive away the Chinese. After emerging victorious from the war (why do you think Vietnam is not a province of China?), the emperor saw a giant golden tortoise which snatched the magical sword from the emperor, and then disappeared into the lake. Hence, the name, Ho Hoan Kiem - in English, Lake of the Restored Sword.
This delightful tower stands on its own little island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. It was erected in 1886 on Turtle islet, the former fishing site under King Le Thanh Tong. Before it was built, the Restored Le Dynasty (17th and 18th centuries), known as the Trinh Lords, had Ta Vong Temple built on the islet, but this left no trace into the Nguyen Dynasty.
At the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, just down the street from the Water Puppet Theatre, sits Ngoc Son Pagoda, or Pagoda of the Jade Mountain. It's on an islet accessed via an old red wooden bridge, the Bridge of the Rising Sun.
The site has been used as a temple since ancient times, but most of the current structures were built during the 19th century. It offers an eclectic variety of forefathers for Vietnamese to pay homage to: the pagoda honours Confucian and Taoist notables, as well as Van Xuong, the spirit of the intellectuals, and national hero Tran Hung Dao, among others. At the entrance to the bridge are two monuments constructed in 1864, one representing an ink brush (a tall tower) and the other an inkwell (a hollow rock held by three frogs). It’s a big tourist attraction due to its location but is also well used by locals who come here to light incense and offer prayers.
Admission: 3,000 VND.
Hoan Kiem Lake, (meaning “Lake of the Restored Sword”), is located just to the south of the Old Quarter and forms the centrepiece of Hanoi. The name of the lake comes from a legend in which Emperor Le Loi, worried about advancing Chinese, was boating on the lake when a giant tortoise rose from the murky waters. The tortoise presented him with a magical sword with which he could strike down all foes. The tortoise made Le Loi promise to bring back the sword upon the defeat of the Chinese. True to his word, the tortoise rose again to take back the sword following the success of Le Loi's campaign, and since then the lake has been known as the Lake of the Restored Sword. A solitary pagoda, known as the Tortoise Tower, on an islet to the west side of the lake, has been built in the tortoise's honour. At the northern end of the lake sits Ngoc Son Pagoda, which sits on another island known as Jade Island and is connected to the bank of the lake by a red bridge known as Huc Bridge (meaning “Bridge of the Rising Sun”).
In the morning the lake area is crowded with folks out for their morning exercise - running or walking in a circle around the lake or joining in with the many tai chi, martial arts, calisthenics, aerobics, and even ballroom dancing groups that meet in the open areas at water's edge. It also hosts the Tet (Vietnamese lunar New Year) celebrations where fireworks are set off and people let off paper lanterns into the nights sky.
We started our stay in Hanoi with a walk to the lake. It is a great point of reference...nothing is very far from it. Whenever we got lost we would just head back there and start fresh. Ho Hoan Kiem (lake of the returned sword) has its name from a legend about a 15th century general (Le Loi) who was given a magic sword by a golden turtle to help him chase off the Chinese. It worked and general Le Loi became Emperor Le Thai To. Sadly...we will never see this magical sword as Mr Turtle came and took it back into the lake. Bugger!
Anyway...Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) was built in the 19th century as a reminder of the mystical happenings.
It is a pretty place to escape (some) of the noise that is Hanoi. People come there early in the morning to excersise...I prefer to sit, drink coffee, and watch. Too much excercise can't be good for you...at least not in all that smog!
Hoan Kiem Lake, "Lake of the Returned Sword" or "Lake of the Restored Sword", is a lake in the historical center of Hanoi. The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.
According to the legend, emperor Le Loi handed a magic sword called Heaven's Will which brought him victory in his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty back to the Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) in the lake and hence gave it its present name (the lake was formerly known as "Luc Thuy" meaning "Green Water"). The Tortoise Tower (Thap Rua) standing on a small island near the center of lake is linked to the legend.
Large soft-shell turtles, either of the species Rafetus swinhoei or a separate species named Rafetus leloii in honor of the emperor, have been sighted in the lake. The species is critically endangered and the number of individuals in the lake is unclear.
Also known as Ho Guom, or "Lake of the Restored Sword", This pretty little lake sits on the southern edge of the Old Quarter. A lot of everyday life scenes happen around the lake. If you take an early morning stroll, you will see locals of all ages jogging and practising tai chi. Later in the day, you will find grandparents wheeling kiddies in strollers, and young couples strolling around holding hands.
Legend has it that in the 15th century, following a momentous victory against invading Ming Chinese, Emperor Le Loi was sailing on the lake when a golden turtle appeared from the depths to take back the charmed sword which had secured the victory, to restore it to the Lake from where it came. The Tortoise Tower, on an islet at the southern end of the lake, commemorates the event. The Lake still contains some large turtles. This story is portrayed in water puppet theatres across the country.
On an island at the northern end of the Lake, is the Ngoc Son Temple, dedicated to Van Xuong, the God of Literature. It is reached by crossing a red arched wooden bridge, the Huc (Sunbeam) Bridge. You can cross the bridge & see the temple for 3,000 dong.
Situated in the middle of the city, this lake is near the 36 Streets. It is a favorite haunt for locals to jog or date. Legend has it that King Le Thai To returned a magic sword to a divine tortoise residing in the lake after the end of a war. It was his wish then that by doing so there will be no more bloodshed.
In the middle of the lake stands an old tower called Thap Rua (Tortoise tower) where the tortoise is said to reside!
In the middle of beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake is Ngoc Son Temple, which has to be reached by crossing the brightly painted Sunbeam Bridge. Both are woth a visit. Once inside the temple, you'll get to wander through the nooks and crannies of eastern religiousity, not much of which I understand. On the other hand, I did understand the embalmed giant tortoise that was supposedly pulled from the lake in 1968. It is the same tortoise that porportedly provide the famous sword used to fend off Chinese invaders. The tortoise was big and very embalmed -- treated with a reverence second only to that of HoChi Minh (also embalmed inthe city).
A great way to see Hanoi as it relaxes is to take and afternoon stroll and circumambulate Hoan Kiem Lake, which is in the center of the old city. On one island sits an old temple from the 13th century, housing an embalmed tortoise from the lake, while on another small island across the lake is a pagoda erected to the famous tortoise who gave an emporor the sword necessary to beat off the Ming invasion of the 17th century. Then the tortoise reappeared after the battle and took the sword back -- legend says it still remains on the lake bottom.
After the walk around the lake, we wandered through some of the nearby shopping streets. In typical Asian fashion, some streets are all shoes while others are all handbags and others all electronics. Because I'm not much of a shopper, I prefer just to breeze through these places. That's what we did, deciding instead to order a beer at a lakeside cafe and watch the light crepusculate as the evening headed towards night.
Ho Hoan Kiem means "lake of the returned sword". The story behind the name is a legend. In 1418, the Vietnamese emperor Le Loi fought a war against the Chinese. It wasn't going too well for him so when he walked by the lake one day, he saw a giant tortoise coming out of the water with a magic sword in its mouth. He took the sword and eventually defeated the Chinese army with it. When he was having his victory parade at the shores of Ho Hoan Kiem, the tortoise appeared again and demanded the sword back. Before he could do anything, the sword flew away from his hands to the tortoise's mouth. It disappeared in the water. The emperor had a temple built which can still be seen today.
Now, here's the curious thing: In 1968, a giant tortoise was discovered dead in the lake. Scientists estimate that it's at least 200 years old. It is exhibited in the temple (Jade Hill Temple, located on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake) and it is really huge: I would guess that it is about 1.5 metres long and weighs probably some 200 kilos or so.
Apart from all that historic stuff (that, btw, can be seen in the water puppet shows in the Water Puppet Theater next to the lake), Ho Hoan Kiem is a wonderful place to relax and watch the wind rippling the water. In the early morning and the evening, hundreds of Hanoians gather at the lakeshore to play badminton or do tai chi. Moreover, when you visit the lake at darkness, the lights of thousands motobikes passing by are beautifully reflected in the water.
Obviously i'd read about Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) before i came to Hanoi, but i definitely wasn't prepared for how much i would like it. 'The Rough Guide to Vietnam' describes it as 'not particularly spectacular'. I have to totally disagree with these thoughts/feelings, i personally think the writer has got it completely wrong.
This lake to me is more than spectacular. To capture the essence of the lake i think you have to do what i did, which was to visit it on different days (and at night) and for more than just a half hour to truly understand it. I just found myself drawn to it time and time again.
It's wonderful to sit on one of the many benches beside the lake to relax, read a book or watch people go about their everyday lives. It's also a great place to meet people, i had numerous people approach me just to talk or in a couple of cases for me to help them pronounce their English language skills!! Throughout the day and particularly at night couples would sit or snuggle up on the benches or on the banks beside the lake enjoying one anothers company. I have to say i think it's quite a romantic place at night.
If you're in Hanoi you have to go visit Hoan Kiem Lake. (Not that you can miss it!).