Overview of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake is the center of the Hanoi. It is famous for the peaceful beauty, the cultural and the historical values. It is the must-visit site in your city tour itinerary. There are also many recommended sites around this central lake. Here is some useful information about the Lake & the surroundings when you plan a visit to Hanoi.
Table of Contents
- 1. History & Legend
- 2. Hoan Kiem Lake Over View
- 3. What to see around Hoan Kiem Lake
- 4. What to do around Hoan Kiem Lake
- 5. How to Get to Hoan Kiem Lake
1. History & Legend
Hoan Kiem Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”), also known as Sword Lake (Hồ Gươm), is a fresh water lake, measuring some 12 ha in the historical center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam.
In the past, the lake was variously named “Luc Thuy Lake” (Vietnamese: Hồ Lục Thủy, meaning “Green Water Lake” – aptly named for the water’s color) or “Thuy Quan Lake” (Vietnamese: Hồ Thủy Quân, meaning “Mariner’s Lake”) or “Ta Vong” (Vietnam: Tả Vọng) under the Le Mat Dynasty.
The tale goes that Le Loi King came across a shining metal bar when he visited his friend. It turned out that his friend caught the bar in one of his attempts for fish. The King asked for the bar, brought it home and moulded it into a sword. All of a sudden, there was two words printed on the sword “Thuan Thien” (harmonious with heaven).
Le Loi then understood that the sword was a gift from heaven. He used it for the battle against the Ming Chinese. At the beginning of 1428, when the King boating on the lake, the Golden Turtle God rose out of the water and asked for his magic sword. King Le Loi knew that it’s time to return the sword to the God, and then he raised the sword and brought it toward the Golden Turtle God. The Turtle immediately held the sword in its mouth and disappeared in the green water. To celebrate this event, the King Le Loi decided to change the name of the lake to Hoan Kiem Lake which means that “The Lake of Restored Sword”.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake Over View
In its original form, Hoan Kiem Lake was much larger than the lake of today. In the past, especially under the time of French Colony, many parts of this lake were filled to expand Hanoi City. The Lake now has the water area of around 120,000 m2. The maximum of its length 700 meters and the maximum width is 250 meters. The average depth of Hoan Kiem Lake is from 1 to 1.4 meters.
The lake is not only special in her history. The water color of Hoan Kiem Lake is not commonly found in other lakes elsewhere in the country: greenish, with dark or light shade depending on the reflection of the sky. The lake is also full of tortoise, which is second to none to be found among Vietnamese lakes. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of these giant animals rising out of water. And because tortoise is considered a sacred animal in Vietnam’s culture (along with dragon, phoenix and unicorn), Hoan Kiem Lake then become a holy place that nurtures tortoise.
In the center of the Hoan Kiem Lake standing a tower called Turtle Tower. Crossing the lake is vibrant red bridge, called “The Huc”. The lake also surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island. On the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, there are various flowers that are in full blossom all year around.
3. What to see around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake surroundings offer variety of activities which make it crowded and busy all day, especially during the weekends. Let’s find out what to see and where to visit around this popular lake.
3.1. Ngoc Son Temple
Situated in the northern shore of the lake, Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) stands on the Jade Island. Built in 18th century, it is dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a national hero who defeated Mongolian invaders 3 times. Inside, you can find the alters, some artifacts and a 250 kg preserved specimen of a giant turtle. The Jade Island is connected to the shore by The Huc Bridge.
3.2. The Huc Bridge
The Huc Bridge is poetically translated as “Perch of the Morning Sunlight”. It is a wooden made bridge painted by bright red color. The Huc Bridge represents for typical Buddhist architecture and becomes a favorite photo-taking spot. Visitors can feel its different elegant beauty in particular sunrise and sunset time.
3.3. Turtle Tower
Turtle Tower is definitely a significant landmark of the capital Hanoi. During the French occupation, the Vietnam’s revolutionary flag was hung on the top of the tower as a prove of Vietnamese hope for independence. Nowadays the tower is still the pride of Hanoians despite the fact that it’s not constructed in a typical Vietnamese style.
3.4. Thap But
Thap But (Pen Tower) is located in the entrance to Ngoc Son Temple. Built-in 1865 as the proposal of the scholar Nguyen Van Sieu, The tower is 28 meters high and features five floors. It was constructed with stones and was based on a four-meter high stone structure. At the tip of the tower resembles a writing brush which is 0.9 meters high. Imprinted on the tower are the words “Writing on the clear blue sky” which means “always be upright and truthful”. The Pen Tower is not only a principle of feng-shui but also a symbol glorifying the importance of literature. Besides, this tower demonstrates the power and martial art of the Trinh Lord.
4. What to do around Hoan Kiem Lake
4.1. Joining Taichi class and Dancing
Let’s visit Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning from 5am to 6am when the Lake is covered with frog and wonderful birdsongs. All the bustle and hustle of the city disappear and are replaced with extremely cool and peaceful air. It is ideal time for exercise and dancing while breathing in the fresh air. Every morning, flocks of local residents gather here for doing exercise including yoga, aerobic and tai-chi. Tourists are also welcomed to join these fun activities and communicate with the locals.
4.2. Water Puppet Show
Water puppet show is a legendary presenter of traditional Vietnamese art. Shows are played by a Vietnamese orchestra who accompanies stories, and musicians playing songs using wooden bells, drums, bamboo flutes, cymbals, and horns. There are two main puppet theaters sat on the lake including Bong Sen Puppet Theater and Thang Long Puppet Theater.
4.3. Experience walking streets & Hang Dao street night market at the weekend
During the weekend, nearby traffic is banned from 7Pm to 12PM, creating a public-square. The interesting thing about the Hanoi pedestrian street is that it displays mainly folk games and traditional music performances.
Hang Dao Night Market is celebrated from 18:00 to 23:00 every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The night market stretches from Hang Dao Street, over Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square to the gate of Dong Xuan Market. You can also buy variety kinds of local souvenirs and local snacks.
4.4. Discovering Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is located on the northeast of Hanoi, belonged to Hoan Kiem district. This used to be the residential, manufacturing and commercial center, where each street was specialized in one specific type of manufacturing or commerce.
Another common name referring to approximately the same area is the 36 streets (Vietnamese: Hà Nội 36 phố phường), after the 36 streets or guilds that used to make up the urban area of the city. Nowadays, these street names still reflect the specializations although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce.
Hopping on a cyclo, one of the most typical vehicles in Hanoi, a human-powered transport with a seat at the front for passengers and the driver at the back, will also a perfect chance for your photos and slow-moving sightseeing through bustling narrow streets and valleys in Hanoi Old Quarter.
4.5. Enjoying street foods & bistro cafes
Near Hoan Kiem Lake, don’t miss Trang Tien ice cream – Hanoi’s special gifts which has a variety of flavors for you to choose including chocolate, vanilla, young glutinous rice, green bean , and Indian Taro.
If you are high-end shopping lovers, Trang Tien Plaza Shopping Mall will be good choice for you, where is home to many famous international brands, such as Bvlgari, Dior, Cartier and Louis Vuitton. It was originally built in 1901 in the French colonial style design and was again renovated to its present appearance in 2013. This is one of the oldest shopping centres in Hanoi and is located on a corner next to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Tasting delicious Vietnamese foods with great view of Hoan Kiem Lake from Cau Go restaurant or enjoying drinks, café from Hàm Cá Mập – Shark Jaw building can be good your trial as well.
Street foods are also among the top of the list that you should try when you visit the area. Food choices in general are good and dishes come at cheap to affordable prices no matter where you prefer to dine. “Pho”, “Bun cha”, “Cha ca”, “Bun thang”, “Bun dau mam tom”…can be on your pocket list.
5. How to Get to Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is centrally located and minutes walking from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where most hotels located.
From Noi Bai Airport, it takes about 40 minutes to get here. If you stay in West Lake area, just take Yen Phu Road to reach the Old Quarter and head east to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Let’s plan your visit and make your memories about Vietnam.