Hoan Kiem lake is in the historical center of Hanoi and has been long considered to be one of the most prominent symbols of the capital city, a must-visit site for every tourist when they come to Hanoi.
The Legends of the name Hoan Kiem lake
According to legend, approximately six centuries ago, the emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake after his victory against the Ming China to liberate his country. A golden turtle god approached and asked him to return his magic sword, the God’s Will which was handed to him when he had started his revolution as help from Vietnamese ancient Father God, Lac Long Quan. The emperor returned the sword as per request and later named the lake Hoan Kiem （湖還劍） which means “Lake of the Returned Sword”. Before 2016, many had fortunate to witness an old turtle living in the lake and believed he was the golden turtle god in legend. Though scientists offered another view: he was the longest living of the four turtles in Hoan Kiem lake and he passed away despite of Hanoi healing efforts, many keep their faith in the legendary turtle.
Nowadays, Hoan Kiem lake has become a part in many Hanoi lovers’ hearts and a source of inspiration for arts.
If you can wake up early in the morning, at about 5 a.m., you will see lines and lines of oldies and teenagers doing anything from yoga to tai-chi to aerobics. It looks as if the whole city was up and running for morning exercise. They work out in group or by themselves, with or without equipment. In the course of one of the high profiled meetings in Hanoi, an Australian prime minister also joined the early jogging around the lake.
In the afternoon to the South end, you can see a matrix of motorbikes twisting along the lake. Blending in is a gang of “cyclo” – the famous three-wheeled carriers that take tourists with cameras handy around. To the North end where the old quarters lies, an influx of colourful clothes and shoes will dazzle you, together with the smell of trees and coffees.
When darkness takes over, you can see couples holding hands walking side by side along the lake, trying to breathe in the breeze of summer night or keep warmth against the winter cold. If you have time and really want to observe Hanoi’s life, sit down on one of the stone benches, enjoy the view and have a good talk with some local friends over an ice-cream cone.
How to get Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is centrally located and minutes walking from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where most hotels gather. 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.