In Hanoi, there are so many beautiful places worth seeing. However, the "essence" of an ancient gentle Hanoi is most clearly shown in Hoan Kiem Lake. Here, tourists can walk around the lake to sightsee and visit the surrounding Old Quarter. You will have the opportunity to discover the unique features of Vietnamese architecture, cuisine, lifestyle and learn about the typical culture of Hanoi.
1. About Hoan Kiem Lake Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake is a natural freshwater lake in the heart of Hanoi. Previously, the lake was also known as Luc Thuy Lake (rough translation: Emerald Lake) because of its year-round green water or Thuy Quan Lake (rough translation: Naval Lake) because it was used in naval drills. Around the 15th century, it was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake) because it was associated with the legend of King Le Thai To (1385 – 1433) returning the magical sword to the turtle deity.
This lake is the intersection between many popular streets in the Old Quarter such as: Hang Dao, Luong Van Can, Hang Ngang, etc. Thanks to its prime location, this is a very convenient destination for tourists. You can walk around the lake, visit nearby famous landmarks as well as learn about the typical culture of the surrounding Old Quarter.
Address: Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake is about 12 hectares wide, with a length of 700 meters, a width of 200 meters and an average depth of 1 - 1.4 meters.
There are many ways to get to Hoan Kiem Lake, including taxi, motorbike and public transport. In Hanoi, there are many bus routes with stops near the lake, therefore this is considered the most economical means for those who are far from the city center. You can also rent a bike from your hotel or other rental businesses to go around by yourself. Note that you should ask the price and check the vehicle carefully beforehand.
In 1884, when the French colonialists invaded Vietnam, they rebuilt and substantially changed the scenery around the lake, including the Old Quarter. Although the war has ended, Vietnam still keeps the wonders of French architectural works. This place represents a tragic and monumental historical period of the country.
Today, there is still one old turtle living in the lake. It is estimated to have lived for several hundred years. Is this the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle in the legend or just a normal old turtle? This question remains a mystery, and that is also why this lake has a certain attraction to international tourists.
In particular, Hoan Kiem Lake is associated with the walking street of Hanoi. On weekend nights, this area is like a giant fair with all kinds of commodities and activities. In addition to shopping, you can dine at nearby restaurants. In a part of the street is a dedicated area for folk games. Everyone plays together so you can join if you want. Along the street, you can see buskers singing and playing music for free.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake legend: The story of a magical sword
Legend has it that in the 15th century, Vietnam had to struggle under the oppression and exploitation of the Northern invaders. Witnessing the predicament, the Sea God lent a magical sword to King Le to fight the enemy and successfully chase away the foreign invaders. After that, the country entered an era of peace.
One day when the King was boating on the lake, a turtle suddenly surfaced and demanded that he return the sword that the Sea God lent him. The king returned the sword to the turtle, and the turtle dived under and disappeared. Since then, Luc Thuy Lake has been renamed Hoan Kiem Lake. This legend along with the turtle living in the lake is still an unsolved mystery even to this day.
3. What to see in Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi?
At and around Hoan Kiem Lake, there are many famous landmarks attracting not only tourists but also locals. Some of which are:
3.1. Turtle Tower
Turtle Tower is a small tower located on a tiny isle of about 350 square meters in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Built during the French colonial period, Turtle Tower has the imprints of both French and Vietnamese architectural styles with the multi-story structure representing French architecture while the curved roof representing Vietnamese one. Turtle Tower has 3 storeys with each upper story smaller than the lower one.
In addition to the architecture, Turtle Tower is also special thanks to its location and significance. Although small, it has stood in the middle of the lake for hundreds of years. This brings a strange beauty to the tower as, to visitors, it seems so near and yet so far. There are no boats to Turtle Tower. You can only look at it from the banks around the lake, so it remains even more curious to the beholder.
3.2. Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple is located on an isle right in the heart of Hoan Kiem Lake. Built in the 19th century, this temple was originally dedicated to Guan Yu (a famous Chinese general) to suppress misfortune. Then it was turned into a pagoda to worship Buddha, and finally restored into the temple as it is today.
Going inside, you will see 2 main temple buildings. They feature the architectural style of temples in the Northern region of Vietnam. In the 2 temple buildings are 2 large statues. The statue of Tran Deity is placed on a stone pedestal of more than 1 meter high, and the statue of Van Xuong Deity holds a brush in his hand with a relaxed stance.
In addition to those two buildings, a highlight of this place that visitors should come to admire is the glass cabinet which holds a model of Hoan Kiem Lake’s turtle. The dignified turtle will surely make tourists awed in curiosity when they come here.
3.3. The Huc Red Bridge
To enter the above-mentioned Ngoc Son temple, you need to cross The Huc Bridge. Built in 1865, this red bridge made of wood connects the bank with Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The Huc Bridge has many ancient architectural features. It is modeled after a wooden house of the people of the Red River Delta. During its history, The Huc Bridge has seen many memorable stories. Legend has it that since The Huc Bridge was built, Huong test takers (a local academic test in the past) crowded Ngoc Son Temple to pray for good results. When the time of the test was near, the temple keeper would have to remind the test takers not to jostle so that the bridge would not collapse.
The bridge has undergone two restorations in 1897 and 1952, after a bridge span broke on the New Year's Eve due to visitor overcrowding at Ngoc Son Temple. The bridge was then rebuilt, this time with cement foundation instead of wood.
3.4. Temple of King Le
The Temple of King Le Thai To, located in an architectural complex at No. 16, Le Thai To street (Hang Trong ward, Hoan Kiem district), has one of the oldest monuments in Hanoi. The statue of King Le and the memorial architectural complex were constructed in 1894 to commemorate the king's merits for defeating the enemy and to mark the legend of returning the magical sword to the turtle deity at Hoan Kiem Lake.
The complex includes 3 main structures: the entrance, the communal house and the monument. The entrance was built with bricks in the style of three doors - four pillars and is close to the sidewalk. The communal house is open on four sides. The 1.2-meter-high bronze statue is placed on top of a stone pillar, holding a sword like he is about to return the sword to the lake.
4. Other touristy destinations near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
4.1. Hoan Kiem Lake walking street
Hoan Kiem Lake walking street area opens from 7 pm on Friday to 11:59 pm on Sunday every week. This area extends through most of the Old Quarter streets around the lake.
Although there are no modern games or services here, the walking street area attracts visitors with traditional activities that represent the national identity and cultural spirit of Vietnam. You will see groups of people playing Vietnamese mancala, tug of war, shuttlecock kicking, etc. The many community activities taking place here have gained the attention and participation of many young people.
Along the streets in the walking street area, you will easily come across groups of artists performing many genres of music with various styles, from the vibrant Latin American music to pop music, from group performance to traditional performance. In addition, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, while walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, visitors can also go shopping, take pictures, have dinner, etc.
4.2. Hanoi Opera House
Located at No. 1, Trang Tien street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi Opera House is an architectural work built by the French in the years 1901 - 1911 (during the colonial period in Vietnam). At that time, the opera house was a place specializing in performing luxurious classical art repertoires such as opera, chamber music, drama, etc. for French officials or elites and a few Vietnamese business people.
Outside the opera house, we can feel the "breath" of Europe through delicate decorations and classical patterns. Entering the main hall, visitors can't help but feel overwhelmed by the splendor of this place. The whole room is paved with white stones imported from Italy and covered with red carpets along the aisle which will make you feel as if you were in a British royal palace. The ceiling and walls are decorated with a system of small copper-plated or gold-plated chandeliers in a vintage style.
4.3. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Water puppetry is a traditional art form in Vietnam. Performers will use puppets to act on the water. While normal puppetry is available in many countries around the world, water puppetry can only be found in Vietnam. Established in 1969, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is a tourist attraction near Hoan Kiem Lake that has experienced many ups and downs. There were times when the theater faced difficulties that seemed insurmountable because water puppetry was getting less and less popular.
Thanks to the efforts of artisans who love this traditional art form, in 1990, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater made a big step forward when it decided to invest in restoring this art and performing for domestic and foreign tourists. Currently, most tours in Hanoi include visiting the theater and enjoying water puppetry shows. Therefore, the theater is open year-round and the shows are always available.
4.4. Vinpearl Aquarium
Located in Vincom Mega Mall Times City, Vinpearl Aquarium is a destination dedicated to families with kids. Here, children will have the opportunity to explore a colorful world of the ocean at one of the most modern aquarium systems in Vietnam.
Address: Vincom Mega Mall Times City, No. 458, Minh Khai street, Vinh Tuy ward, Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi
Vinpearl Aquarium has attracted a lot of locals and tourists coming to sightsee and explore with its series of records:
- The first tunnel aquarium in Hanoi
- The first aquarium in Vietnam to have species such as: penguin, giant spider crab, etc.
- The aquarium that set a Vietnamese record with the theme painting "Joining hands to protect rare animals" made from the most photos (more than 7,000 photos taken by visitors at the Aquarium)
- The birthplace of the first penguin in Vietnam
Vinpearl Aquarium has an area of nearly 4,000 square meters with a capacity of nearly 3 million liters of sea water and more than 30,000 creatures from around the world. This place is not only for entertainment purposes but it is also a tourist destination with great educational significance. Besides having a chance to admire a variety of strange and shimmering aquatic animals, visitors can also participate in many shows and tours designed to provide useful and interesting knowledge about the ocean world.
>>> Book tickets of Vinpearl Aquarium to explore a fascinating ocean world right in Hanoi!
4.5. VinKE Times City
Located in Vincom Mega Mall Times City, VinKE is another destination dedicated to families with kids. Here, children will have the opportunity to experience their dream career at VinKE and have fun at the modern game area.
Address: Vincom Mega Mall Times City, No. 458, Minh Khai street, Vinh Tuy ward, Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi
VINKE is designed with the aim of creating a "play and learn" space for children to experience their dream career, explore and gain knowledge about their favorite field and become more confident with the world around them. VinKE focuses on developing career-oriented games such as: Fire Department, Traffic Police, Special Forces, Hospital, Television Station, Fashion Star, Dance Club, Kid Chef, Agricultural Academy, Auto Repair Workshop, etc.
In addition, there is also an area for modern and physical games for kids and parents to "play hard". VinKE has a “Game World” with the most modern games. Your whole family will have a chance to immerse yourselves in the mysterious Mirror Maze with magic mirrors or the thrilling and engaging 5D cinema. Other fun games such as Bumper Car, Minicar, Royal Ferris Wheel, etc. will also provide visitors with interesting and unforgettable experiences.
>>> Book tickets of VinKE to have lots of fun with your family!
Though ever-changing, Hoan Kiem Lake is still a relic with great historical significance to the people of Hanoi in particular and Vietnamese people in general. The lake can always give visitors interesting experiences, make you curious about the mysterious legends of the country and leave a deep impression on everyone about a long-standing cultural identity. And don’t forget to book tickets of Vinpearl Aquarium and VinKE to make your trip to the capital of Vietnam complete!