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Hoan Kiem Lake: From a Legend to a Modern Attraction

Hoan Kiem Lake nowadays is one of the main attractions in the capital city of Vietnam. Travelers can choose to wander around the lake or get on a cyclo to marvel at its grandeur. Surprisingly, Hoan Kiem Lake’s modern look keeps the legend behind the meaning of its name.  

Hanoi is a special capital city that remains both modernity and traditional values at the same time. Among cutting edge buildings, the city still boasts historical sites, religious monuments and meeting places; and Hoan Kiem Lake shines in its own way. What makes the lake stand out from the rest in Northern Vietnam is the spectacular landscape and a legend connected to it.

Legend of Hoan Kiem Lake

Credit to: vietnamtourism.info

As legend has it that Hoan Kiem Lake was where Emperor Le Loi returned his mystical sword to the Golden Turtle so that he could bring it back to the Dragon King. The story began when a fisherman named Le Than caught a sword blade in his fishing net, he then joined the army led by Le Loi, who later found a shining sword hilt that matched the blade perfectly. With the help of the mystical sword, Le Loi grew stronger and continuously gained victory from his enemy and finally became a king. 

Then, on a beautiful day, while he leisurely relaxed on a boat trip to the lake, there was a giant turtle surfaced and said that he was sent by his master, the Dragon King to retrieve the sword from Le Loi. He returned the sword and then the turtle swam to the jade water and disappeared. Since then, the lake was called  Hoan Kiem Lake meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” to commemorate the event. 

Things to see at Hoan Kiem Lake

Its location in the capital center with a peacefully picturesque setting attracts flocks of visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many photo opportunities with the emerald green water in the background and significant sites.

Ngoc Son Temple

Ngoc Son Temple means the temple of theJade Mountain. It’s located in the northern part of the lake, which can be seen from any side of the lake. The temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese national hero; La To, patron saint of physicians and the scholar Van Xuong. To enter the temple, visitors must cross the wooden bridge painted in red called The Huc Bridge.

The Huc Bridge

The Huc Bridge meaning the Bridge of the Rising Sun looks very striking on the emerald green water of Hoan Kiem Lake. The bridge was constructed mostly by fine wood and has an elegant beauty and sophisticated architectural features. It’s a symbol of Hanoi and plays an important role in connecting daily life with the spiritual life of the locals.

Turtle Tower

In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a tiny island holding a tower called Turtle Tower. It was constructed to commemorate the local folk hero, Le Loi as mentioned in the legend above, who had driven the Chinese forces out of Vietnam back in 1425. The three-story tower has a unique combination of Vietnamese and French colonial architecture with gothic arches at its first two storeys combined with the hip roof of Vietnam architecture.

Besides these main structures, you can catch the view of Pen Tower, Ly Thai To Statue, Ba Kieu Temple, Ba Da Tower, etc. in the surrounding.

Things to do at Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular destination for both tourists and local people thanks to its green setting and spacious area for a short break or outdoor activities.

Wandering around

The lake is definitely a meeting point for outdoor activities lovers. If you want to have a break from a busy list of things to do in Hanoi, just simply go for a walk around the lake. Getting up early to admire the sunrise or the sunset at the lake is also a wonderful experience. Otherwise, renting a bicycle, putting your earphones on, and riding around are also cool. On weekends, the surrounding road is blocked from traffic and becomes a walking street for pedestrians.

Observing local life

This is an ideal place for observing the local pace of life. Hanoi people, particularly the elderly usually gather here in the early morning or late afternoon to do exercise, practice Tai Chi or play chess. Young students also choose this lake to relax and hang out with their friends. If you are energetic, you can join in their fun activities.

Making friends with the locals

Credit to: Vnexpress

Local young people who are passionate about learning English usually come here to have an opportunity to talk to foreigners. If some students approach you and say “Hello!”, just smile and talk to them. The more you interact with them, the better you know about Vietnamese culture and people. 

Eating Trang Tien Ice cream

Trang Tien Ice Cream has been a famous brand since 1958 in Hanoi. It is an indispensable treat to locals, especially in summer. You can taste various flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, cereal, coconut milk, taro, etc. and be melted away from its sweetness and soft texture.

Drinking Egg Coffee

Your walking tour to Hoan Kiem Lake will not be complete if you miss out on a cup of egg coffee, one of the best Vietnamese drinks and beverages. The coffee is a creative recipe of Mr. Giang, a bartender at the Sofitel Legend Metropole back in 1946. Now, people have fallen in love with the bittersweet creamy taste combined with coffee, whisked egg yolk, condensed milk and other secret ingredients. Meanwhile, there are many coffee shops where you can enjoy your drink and contemplate the lake view. If you visit the lake at night, you can admire the magnificent view of the lake with colorful lights on the surface. 

Water Puppet show

Water Puppet Show is a traditional art performance telling folklore stories with the puppets in a water stage and Vietnamese traditional music in the background. You can enjoy a 1-hour show taking place at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake. You will be curious about the secret of how puppeteers move the puppets flawlessly while watching the performance.

How to get there

Hoan Kiem Lake is centrally located; therefore, it’s easy to search and travel to. It is around a few minutes walking from Hanoi Old Quarter. If you travel from Noi Bai Airport, there are several means of transportation such as shuttle bus, public bus or taxi.

  • Shuttle bus: Regular shuttle buses leaving every 30-45 minutes outside the arrival terminal. Shuttle buses are more convenient and likely to drop you off within walking distance from your accommodation.
  • Public bus is a local way to travel around. You can find the buses on the right side of the terminal exit. It will reach the drop-off point in about an hour. From there you can take another bus or taxi to your destination.

Check the Hanoi Airport Bus information to choose the best one.

  • Taxi is a suitable option for travelers in a group with lots of luggage as you will save time and have a drop off door to door. There are many taxi lines outside the airport or you can book through apps like Grab.

Nearby Attractions

Hanoi is nothing short of fantastic things to do and places to visit. Here are some of the best attractions in Hanoi which are within a walking distance from Hoan Kiem Lake.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Credit to: Daniel Mennerich

Located on the west side of the lake is St. Joseph’s Cathedral, one of the biggest churches in Hanoi built in 1886. The church is a historical attraction in Hanoi constructed by French colonists during their expansion in Indochina.

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature; one of the oldest (built in 1070) and most important monuments in Hanoi. It hosts the Imperial Academy, the first university of Vietnam, and is dedicated to Chinese philosopher Confucius who famously said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”.

Hanoi Old Quarter

Surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake is Hanoi’s Old Quarter where you can walk through the narrow, winding streets that house this lively hub of shops and small businesses. There’s plenty of fantastic photo opportunities here and the chance to experience this unique, ‘travel back in time’ part of Hanoi.

Check out nearby famous restaurants to have lunch or dinner to make the most of your visit to the lake. Also, you can decide on many hotels and hostels located just a few minutes from here and have the lake view from your windows.

Tourists will never get bored with what Hanoi has to offer from unique culture, historic sites to the modern lifestyle. A trip to Hanoi or a multi-day journey to explore northern Vietnam will promise you a memorable experience.

© Maika Tours

Written by Tuyen Vo

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