Just in the center of Hanoi, this lake contains two islands: one with the Ngoc Son Temple, another one (no access) with Tortoise Tower. The legend about a sword and a turtle, that gives the name to the lake, is found in every guidebook, and I will not repeat it here. The lake is fun to walk around: with the exception of the North end, the shore is very quiet and is a good contrast to downtown Hanoi. The Tortoise Tower is lighted nicely in the evening.
There is a lake in the center of hanoi and its bustling with life in the early morning. Around 5 plus in the morning to 7 am, you can see lots of people jogging in the park, practising tai chi and doing mass aerobics. Its interesting to just walk around and take a look.
Ho Hoan Kiem (or Lake of the Restored Sword) was once part of the Red river (song Hong). Throughout thousands of years of geographical changes, the lake moved eastward to its present position kilometers from the river. Before the famous historical legend of King Le Loi here, Hoan Kiem Lake used to be called Luc Thuy Lake (or Green Water Lake) since the water was green all the year round. In 15th century, it was named Hoan Kiem Lake after the legend of Emperor Le Thai To, which is somehow similar to the story of King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake's. . During the wedding season, I'd seen professional photographers snap shots of brides and grooms on the green lawns beside the water. Traditionally, at midnight on the first night of the Tet New Year celebration, the most significant moment in Vietnam's year, the smoke cloud of a millioin exploding firecrackers covered the lake like a blanket on a newborn. Hanoians didn't even call Hoan Kiem Lake by its popular name, but used a shorthand term of endearment, bo ho, "the shore of the lake." No one had to ask, which shore? which lake? Bo ho wasn't merely the heart of the city, but its lungs, and mind, and soul as well. The ‘tortoises’ of Hoan Kiem Lake are actually rare Asian soft-shelled freshwater giant turtles (the word ‘rua’ in Vietnamese covers both species). An unknown number still inhabit the murky water –occasionally a head pops up, a powerful omen of good luck for anyone fortunate to witness the event.
Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi. The lake is always busy with people sitting around, walking, exercising, or selling crap to tourists.
On the south side of the lake is a three-tiered pavilion on a tiny island in the lake. This is known as Tortoise Tower. Legend has it that a giant golden tortoise reclaimed a magical sword lent to King Le Loi by the king of sea. According to the legend the sword is still in the lake is a reminder of their history in repelling foreign invaders. Giant tortoises have occasionally been spotted in the lake and they say that it is good luck to spot one.
The north side of the lake has and island where you cross an arched red Hun Bridge to get to Den Ngoc Son (Temple of the Jade Mound). There is a $1 toll to get there.
The Huc Bridge, a very scenic red lacquered timber bridge, is situated at the north-eastern corner of Hoan Kiem Lake – a tranquil setting in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The “Flood of Morning Sunlight” provides views towards Turtle Island and access to the Ngoc Son Temple.
Should be high up on any Hanoi itinerary, particularly for romantic types or photographic buffs.
The legend of the Hoan Kiem turtle has great significance for Vietnamese people, dating back to the 15th century. It is believed that while cruising the lake, a turtle surfaced and demanded from king Le Loi that he return to the lake a sacred sword used in defeating the Ming.
The turtle either grabbed the sword or Le Loi unsheathed and gave it to the turtle, renaming it Hoan Kiem “Lake of Returned Sword”. It is still hotly debated whether the lake contains a single turtle, which reputedly lives up to 700 years, or whether there are five turtles that surface to mark important national events. Apparently, three Hoan Kiem turtles are held in captivity, two in Chinese zoos.
Turtle Tower is built on a small island on the southern side of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The Ngoc Son Temple is dedicated to national hero Tran Hung Dao who defeated an alleged force of 30,000 Mongol warriors dispatched by Kublai Khan to extend his empire. In a separate room to the side of the main altar is a preserved giant turtle, which sadly died from injuries suffered after the Ha Noi Food Company caught it in 1967. Weighing about 200kgs, the company intended selling the meat when the Ha Noi People’s Committee intervened and prevented the sale.
However, don’t rush inside – first view the architectural adornments on the outside of the temple…
Ho Kiem lake is a must-see place in Hanoi, within walking distance from Old Quarters. In the evening, this lake is filled with locals taking strolls or tourists shooting photographs of the famous red bridge, or little pagoda in the middle of the lake.
This beautiful lake is located in the heart of Hanoi. In the middle of the lake one can see the Thap Rua tower, sometimes used as the symbol of Hanoi. Also you can see the Ngoc Son temple with beautifu statues, is dedicated to Van Xuong, Tran Hung Dao and to the saint of the doctors La To. You can reach the temple through the beautiful The Huc bridge constructed in 1885.
If you are an early bird, just take your running or walking shoes, cloth yourself comfortable and take a couple of round around Hoan Kiem Lake. You meet a lot co-runners, people having early one practising gymnastic, meditating people, groups having some fun and you really get an power kick for your day. Don't mind the weather, if there is rain you wet in and outside that is the only difference.
No scooters, no noise, no smog, just the Lake (and the hidden turtles there) and you.
Entrance bridge to the little island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Island where the most famous temple of Vietnam is situated.
It's a wonder I could take this picture... without people on it. Normally it's very crowded.
I had to push 25 Vietnamese and 37 Japanese in the Lake to take this picture
The tiny pagoda in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake is the symbol of Hanoi.
You find it in every brochure and it's probably the most photographed temple in Viietnam.
It's very photographic but there's absolutely nothing to see and the toilet stinks like hell.
The sidewalk around the lake is full of rather agressive vendors who constantly try to sell you whatever they have.
You can't even sit on a bench alone - after two minutes to come to sit next to you.
Can't say I love it