If you are going to visit Hanoi for a few days of your Vietnam vacation, it is probably that you will stay somewhere near Hoan Kiem Lake. Located in the center of Hanoi, the lake is always busy with a number of locals and visitors for its diverse activities and sightseeing.
The Legend of Hoan Kiem Lake
Dating back to the 15th century, during the war against Chinese aggressors, King Le Thai To was gifted a precious sword by the God Turtle. After 10 years of continuously fighting, the King conquered the enemy and declared the nation’s independence. On a fine day, while the King was boating on Luc Thuy Lake, suddenly a big turtle emerged and immediately grabbed the sword. The King then realized that Heaven must have given the sword to him to fight against the enemy, and it was time returning it back. Thus, Luc Thuy Lake was renamed after the story into Hoan Kiem Lake or Lake of the Restored Sword.
Since the 16th century, each King had a great contribution to the construction of the lake. Khanh Thuy Shrine was built on Ngoc Island by Lord Trinh Giang. At the final days of the Le Dynasty, a philanthropist named Tin Trai was ordered to build Ngoc Son pagoda, which was changed into Ngoc Son Shrine under the rule of Thieu Tri III. The shrine not only functioned as a religious place but was also a place to worship General Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnamese National Hero. Nowadays, Hoan Kiem Lake is a natural and cultural complex of Pen Tower, The Huc Bridge, Ngoc Son Temple, and Turtle Tower. Each site has its own function and meaning:
The Complex of Hoan Kiem Lake
In Vietnamese, Pen Tower is translated as “Thap But”. The tower was built on a hill called Dao Tai. There were three words written on the tower: “Ta Thien Thanh” (means written on blue sky). Inside the gate, there is a small pool that looks like an inkwell. It is believed that at mid-day, the shadow of the Pen Tower will fall down to the ink pool.
The Huc Bridge
The Huc Bridge is the connection between the shrine in the middle of the lake and the entrance gate on the shore. It was painted red as believed that it’s “where the sunlight is absorbed”. Walking through the bridge could lead to Moon Light Tower (Dac Nguyet Lau) and Ngoc Son Shrine. From here, tourists could have an unbelievable great view to the four directions of the quarter or watch some old men playing chess on the foot of Moon Light Tower.
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple is one of the most visited sites locating on the small island in Hoan Kiem Lake. It means “Temple of the Jade Mountain”. The temple is a sacred place to dedicate General Tran Hung Dao who led the revolution against the Mongols in the 13th century, La To and scholar Van Xuong.
At the other end of the lake is Turtle Island in which situates a small building called Turtle Tower. In 1886, the three-tiered tower was constructed to remind the Turtle God for his great assistance in the war against the aggressors. It is probably the most photographed point in the lake. On the southern lakeshore is a number of food stalls and cafes which offer you a nice view of the building.
Top Travel Tips before Visiting Hoan Kiem Lake
- Address: Hoan Kiem Lake can be easily reached as it is located by the Old Quarter. The lake is close to Trang Tien Plaza, the Old Quarter, Hanoi Post Office and French Quarter.
- Price entrance fee: It is free if you just want to stand on the bridge and take photos. However, if you want to get into the temple, you need to pay 30,000VND for each.
- Opening hours: the temple will be opened from 8 am to 6 pm everyday.
- Eating and drinking: there are hundreds food stalls and restaurants by the lake serving both Vietnamese and international food. Many famous branches can be found here such as KFC, Popeyes, Highlands Coffee, Thai Express, Cong Coffee.
- ATMs: ATMs is available everywhere. You can find ANZ ATM near Hoan Kiem Lake or Vietcombank ATM.
- Shopping: There are thousands of shops near the lake. You can find clothes, handbags, jewelry, shoes everywhere.
- Tour: Booking a Hanoi tour to visit the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake would be fun and easy for you to have more understandings of Hanoi.