Vietnam Hanoi: Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake

Travel Period: 21 Sep – 28 Sep 2014

{PREVIOUS: Vietnam Hanoi: Confucius Temple of Literature}

Hanoi Day 3 Itinerary –

History

Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the “Lake of the Returned Sword”, has a legend that a Golden Turtle God appeared before emperor Lê Lợi when he was boating on the lake, asking for his magic sword which he had found earlier. He did as requested as he believed that the Dragon King had come to reclaim the sword. Since then, the lake was named as such till today.

Besides its beauty, the lake is also known for the numerous large tortoise that could be found here. Along with the dragon, phoenix and unicorn (as depicted during the Water Puppet Show we watched), the tortoise is also considered a sacred animal in Vietnam’s culture. That is why the lake has also become a holy place to nurture tortoises.

Sights

To the Vietnamese, Hoan Kiem Lake(还剑湖) is considered the center of Hanoi, not only physically but also symbolically. Situated just south of Old Quarter, this is the place where the locals gather and engage in activities such as strolling, jogging and fishing.

Unlike other parts of Hanoi where motorcycles are commonplace even on pavements, there were less such errant motorcyclists (or none!) along the lake’s footpaths, very likely due to the patrols overseeing the area. So for once, we felt safe letting our guard down a little (especially worried for Dar) while enjoying our stroll. That was also no peddlers hawking their goods there.

1. Ngoc Son Temple & Huc Bridge

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Posing at the main entrance of Ngoc Son Temple – Tiger Son and Dragon Dad!

We started our walk near the northern side of the lake, where the Ngoc Son Temple (“Temple of the Jade Mountain”) stands. The Jade Island which the temple is situated at, is connected to the shore via a red wooden bridge known as the Huc Bridge.

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Exploring the second gate and the bridge

Many locals and tourists were either walking or resting on the bridge, busying themselves taking photos of the scenery or entering into the temple.

A sign across the bridge showed that entrance fee was needed to enter the temple. Since our intentions were to admire the scenery of the lake, we decided to skip the temple tour and enjoy ourselves around the vicinity.

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Entrance into the pagoda and temple which required entrance fee

We did not regret our decision as we might have missed out the calm and scenic views of the lake as the sun started to set. Although the bridge was quite crowded, there wasn’t much difficulty finding good photography spots of the area.

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Calm lake…
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The Turtle Tower is visible from the bridge from afar
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View on the other side of the bridge

2. Sunset Walk Around the Lake

“The sun is setting.” Cat reminded. “Let’s take a walk around the lake.”

We left the bridge and started our relaxing walk around the perimeter of the lake, allowing the orange warm rays of the setting sun to shine onto our faces.

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A nice shot as we began our walk (noticed Dar’s new pet in his hands? ^^)

As we walked on, the temple was further from us and from that distance, we could turn back and catch a glimpse of it as the sun rays shone on it.

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I love the picturesque reflections of the trees by the lake!
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This is how simple happiness can be… By spending quality time together as a family

3. Scenic Stroll

As we walked on, we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the place, especially as the trees along the lake had their branches and leaves dangling above and reaching towards the lake.

In fact, this place is so popular for its beauty that we came across several brides and grooms-to-be getting their wedding photos taken here.

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4. Tháp Rùa (Turtle Tower)

As we reached the southern-most point of the lake, we took a short break while Cat took out her notebook and started sketching the Turtle Tower (Vietnamese: Tháp Rùa), a lone small tower standing upright on the island in the middle of the lake.

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“What is mummy doing?” Our ever-curious Dar asked, after which he quickly popped over to peek at her notebook when I answered him.

Dar loves drawing too and it’s obvious where he had inherited that from! ^^

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Mother and son sharing their common hobby!

As I sat on a bench watching them, I noticed we had actually fit in well with the local community, since nobody appeared to notice our presence despite us being tourists. As Asians, we don’t look too different from them, especially with us in our casual clothing.

Thanks to this, we could thus comfortably enjoy the ambiance without worrying that we would stand out from the crowd.

As I waited, I looked across the road and saw a bustling park called ‘Vườn hoa Lý Thái Tổ’ in Vietnamese, where many locals were hanging out at. Standing in the middle was a statue of ‘Lý Thái Tổ‘, a Đại Việt Emperor and the founder of the Later Lý Dynasty.

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“Okay, let’s go.” Cat said after she had completed her artist’s impression of the lake. We thus continued on with our full-circle walk of the lake.

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What Cat drew and wrote at Hoan Kiem Lake that day

Just shortly after, the last light from the sun disappeared from the horizon and lights on the Turtle Tower came on!

“Wow…” We breathed as we admired the lighted tower with its reflection as the night fell.

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With that, we completed our one-round walk around the lake, reaching our starting point and set off for dinner.

The walk at Hoan Kiem Lake was certainly an enjoyable one, and a good break from the busy traffic in and around the Old Quarter. It’s no wonder locals find solace coming to this park to enjoy the calmness and greenery.

{NEXT: Vietnam Hanoi: Cafe Nola}