Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
- on Sep 19, 2020       By: BN
Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart and soul of Hanoi and also a historic site of prime importance. A true oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the bustling Vietnamese capital and its typical old quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake is a pleasant and relaxing place to stroll and is as much appreciated by Hanoi people as by travellers. It’s a must see destination during your stay in Hanoi!
The legend of Hoan Kiem Lake
According to legend, Emperor Le Loi, emperor of Dai Viet (1428–1433), founder of the later Le dynasty (1428–1524) and Vietnamese national hero, received a magic sword from a fisherman, fished from the lake, which he would have used to drive out the last Chinese Ming invaders. Ten years later, while the emperor was crossing the same lake, a golden turtle approached him and asked him to return the sword in the name of the Dragon King, a mythical ancestor of the Vietnamese people. Realising that the sword was a mandate from Heaven to drive the Chinese out of the country, the emperor handed the sword to the turtle. The lake was then baptized Hoan Kiem or "lake of the restored sword". This myth of the sacred turtle is also reinforced by the existence of a species of turtle that is believed to be able to live for several centuries. Until 2016, the giant turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake, one of the last specimens of its species, became extinct and caused a stir among the people from Hanoi who were very attached to it. You can see his remains at the Vietnam National Museum of Nature.
The Turtle Tower, icon of Hanoi
In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake is an islet that houses the square-shaped Turtle Tower which pays homage to the sacred animal, the turtle, associated with the legend of the restored sword. Its construction was initiated in 1886 by Nguyen Ngoc Kim, a Vietnamese mandarin in the pay of the French. This small, square-shaped pagoda, consisting of two floors, harmoniously combines French Gothic architecture and that of Vietnam with its curved roof. The Turtle Tower is an iconic image of Hanoi, a famous historical relic of the Vietnamese capital that must be seen.
Ngoc Son temple
North of Hoan Kiem Lake, strolling around the lake, you will find Ngoc Son temple or "Jade Mountain temple". This temple built in the 15th century and located on a green islet of the lake is dedicated to Confucian and Taoist geniuses, as well as to the national hero Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese general famous for having succeeded in pushing back three times (in 1257, 1284 and 1288) the Sino-Mongol armies that threatened to invade the country. You access Ngoc Son temple via a Japanese-style arched lacquered red wooden walkway called "Cau The Huc" or "bridge of the light of the rising sun". It’s a true Asian fairy tale bridge, completed with dragons and faithful knights with extraordinary powers which are also another emblem of Hanoi.
Once you have passed the footbridge built in 1875, you pass the door of the temple on the pediment of which is inscribed: "For those who know by study the origins and know the reasons for ancient things, the splendour of these places is immortal and infinite, like air and light." To the left of the door, you can observe the Brush Tower rising up on a stone mound. The Brush tower bears three Chinese characters meaning "To write on the azure of the sky". Ngoc Son temple is in fact made up of several pavilions, one of which houses the mummified shell of a giant turtle dating from the 15th century, which lived in the waters of Hoan Kiem Lake and which would have dragged the famous sword which delivered the country. At the rear of this pavilion are altars dedicated to Confucian and Taoist geniuses. Another room houses the statue of the master of literature as well as a magnificent wooden horse on wheels painted in red.
Open hour of Ngoc Son temple: every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Entrance fee: 30,000 VND
Remember to wear an appropriately modest outfit.
Hoan Kiem Lake, a privileged place to walk
Hoan Kiem Lake is one of Hanoi's most popular walking spots. The locals meet there at dawn to play sports. All day long the shores of the lake are occupied by Hanoi people who like to come and seek relaxation and freshness. Seniors like to meet there to chat or play mah-jong. Couples like to meet there in the evening and find there a romantic setting. Hoan Kiem Lake is the backdrop to the lives of many Hanoi people. This is where the newlyweds often come to take their wedding photos. Pedestrianised every weekend, families like to come for a walk to the delight of their children. The lake is surrounded by several species of trees, some of which are centuries old. In autumn, the trees take on a beautiful fall colour, like the leaves of red country almonds or Barringtonia. With the mild temperatures, fall is certainly the best time to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.
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