Are you planning a trip to Hanoi? Amidst the cultural treasures awaiting exploration, the Hoan Kiem turtle emerges as a captivating symbol, intertwining tales of history and myth into the vibrant culture of this city. Read more in this guide to exploring its cultural significance and the unique charm it adds to the Hanoi travel experience.
1. Legend of Hoan Kiem turtle
In Vietnamese culture, turtles are considered sacred creatures that symbolize longevity, wisdom, and good fortune. This belief is heavily rooted in the legend of the Hoan Kiem turtle, which dates back to the 15th century.
According to the legend, Emperor Le Loi returned a magical sword after defeating China's Ming Dynasty. As he was boating on Hoan Kiem Lake, a golden turtle emerged and took the sword back to its divine owners.
This event was interpreted as an omen of peace and prosperity for Vietnam. Since then, turtles have been highly revered at Hoan Kiem Lake as protectors of the nation's sovereignty and symbols of good luck.
2. What kind of turtle is Hoan Kiem turtle?
Controversy still surrounds the turtle species found in Hoan Kiem Lake, even though it has been recognized by international organizations as the Rafetus Swinhoei turtle. This majestic soft-shelled turtle was initially described in 1873, yet research on this magnificent creature remains scarce.
The Hoan Kiem turtle possesses a soft shell, serving as a protective layer akin to its outer skin, without the presence of a hard outer shell. Notably, their front and hind legs bear only three claws.
In terms of physical dimensions, these turtles exhibit a body length ranging from 1,700 to 2,000 millimeters, with a corresponding body weight varying between 120 and 220 kilograms in individuals that have been hunted.
The sword lake turtle's head size is larger, and its snout is more protruding compared to Pelochelys Bibroni Rafetus Swinhoei. Additionally, the head is elongated on the neck and features a short, indistinct nose with wide nostrils. Typically, this turtle exhibits a relatively wide skull with blunt upper and lower jaw bones, in contrast to the pointed jaw bones described for R. Swinhoei.
The lifespan of the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake, estimated to be around 200 years old, remains an enigma. This majestic creature ranks among the world's longest-living species, boasting a remarkable length of 2.08 meters, a width of 1.08 meters, and a weight of 169 kilograms. These impressive numbers are truly a testament to its grandeur and longevity.
3. Are turtles in Hoan Kiem Lake still alive?
The last Hoan Kiem turtle sadly passed away in 2016. From 2005 to 2016, this remarkable creature surfaced over 136 times, captivating the hearts of many.
In 2011, the turtle was carefully brought ashore to receive treatment for its illness, undergoing a 100-day healing process. Tragically, on January 19, 2016, the turtle succumbed to old age and frailty, leaving behind a legacy of wonder and admiration.
Of all the turtles living across the globe, this is the rarest turtle ever recorded, with only three official instances. There is one of these amazing beings at Suzhou Zoo (China), another in Xuan Khanh Lake (Hanoi), and unfortunately, one just died out on Dong Mo Lake in April 2023. Authorities are yet to establish how old the Dong Mo Lake turtle is.
4. Where to see the embalmed body of the Hoan Kiem turtle?
In 1967, the first embalmed body of the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle was relocated to Ngoc Son Temple, and in 2018, the second body joined it, preserving the memory of this rare creature. These displays reflect the significance of the Sword Lake turtle in Vietnamese history and culture.
The two embalmed Hoan Kiem Lake turtles are currently arranged side by side in the Ngoc Son Temple and stored in tempered glass cases. In addition, their preservation conditions are frequently monitored and recorded. At present, most of the anatomical details of the turtles remain intact. The legs and claws, even the scars on their shell and legs before death, are kept in their original state.
The embalmed bodies of the Hoan Kiem turtles are a fascinating exhibit that tourists can visit at the Ngoc Son Temple. Situated on a small island on Hoan Kiem Lake, this sacred site is one of Hanoi’s most famous attractions.
To reach the temple, tourists will first pass Thu Huc Bridge, one of Hanoi’s symbols, whose vibrant red color perfectly complements the antique ambiance of Ngoc Son. Before accessing the main temple building on the islet, you will come across several impressive architectural works, including Nghi Mon Gate, Long Mon Ho Bang Gate, Dai Nghien Gate, Dac Nguyet Lau Gate, and Tran Ba Pavilion. The temple has diverse, distinct structures, each with different meanings in Ngoc Son’s history. This architectural complex as a whole was designed to harmoniously blend in with the surrounding landscape.
Hanoi also features other renowned locations and iconic sites, such as Turtle Tower, Hanoi Old Quarter, Long Bien Bridge, Phung Hung Mural Street, and Dong Xuan Market. These attractions showcase the diverse influences on Vietnamese culture. Therefore, Hoan Kiem Lake and its vicinity are definitely a jewel in cultural life that tourists should enjoy during their trip.
When planning a trip to Hanoi, make sure to visit the popular destinations of Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Ha Long, etc. From vibrant street markets and rich cultural heritage to breathtaking natural landscapes, each of these places promises a lasting impression on your journey through Vietnam.
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The Hoan Kiem turtle is perfect not only as a symbol of cultural identity but also as a living testament to the intertwined narratives of mythology and reality. With our guide, you now have an overview of this legendary creature and opportunities to share its compelling story with the world. Don't hesitate—book your tickets and explore cultural adventures like no other!