West Lake

What we say: 3.5 stars

Also known as Ho Tay, or Lake of Mist, West Lake covers a sizeable part of northwest Hanoi. In its heyday, the lake was lined by royal palaces, now mostly replaced by high-end housing and luxury hotels. If you have the time, it's a pleasant enough walk to the lake from the Old Quarter.

View of West Lake through the gardens

View of West Lake through the gardens

As well as escaping the busy streets of Hanoi, the lake provides an opportunity to watch fishermen at work, to see some very pretty temples — scattered liberally around the shore — and to enjoy a coffee or beer while enjoying the breeze that comes across the lake (not so good on a cold and windy day but lovely in summer). And the views across the lake on a sunny day are impressive. You can also cycle around the 17-kilometre shoreline.

Getting to the lake

If cycling from Old Quarter, head north past Dong Xuan market, wiggle your way around the rather strange junction — look out for the red brick tower — and go west along Pho Quan Thanh. I prefer to go clockwise around the lake, thus avoiding the need to cross over too many roads, so once you reach the junction with Duong Thanh Nien — the road that runs between Truc Bach Lake and West Lake — go straight across and then ride diagonally across the small park on the right. Basically you’re trying to get onto the lakeside road, so look out for a low wall that you need to hop across to reach that road — by the large boats. It sounds tricky but as long as you head for the lake and turn left you’ll be OK.

Fisherman at West Lake

Fisherman at West Lake

The southern stretch

The first part of this road is usually very quiet, although it gets busier further on; avoid at rush hour and keep your wits about you. Attractive gardens lie along one stretch of the road and offer perfect photo stop points and there are plenty of coffee shops and stalls. And you can’t miss the well-positioned bia hoi place; look out for the blue signs reading “Bia Cuong Hoi” and hosting a picture of what looks like a World Cup trophy.

Temples and water parks

At the end of this stretch of road turn right onto the main road for about 200m then right again, back onto the lake road. There’s a particularly attractive temple not far down and then, 5 minutes further on, Hanoi’s water park. Yes, Hanoi has a water park. Though since I’ve been riding round the lake it’s been closed for the winter. Cycle around the water park — watch out for the drain holes — and when you get to the T-junction turn right. It’s then easy to follow the quiet lake path most of the way along the western / northern shorelines.

If you’re there near sunset you will have to negotiate round the hordes of lovers sitting on bikes, smooching and looking out to the lake. Very sweet.

At one point you will come away from the edge of the lake a bit and will see a small lake on your left before you reach a crossroads. You will then have the option to do a small loop round to the right or to go straight ahead and re-join the lake road. It’s worth going right, especially if you’re peckish, as the restaurants along here specialise in banh tom — a shrimp cake type thing — which you’ll see piled up outside the restaurants. There’s also an important temple along this loop.

Joining the main road

Eventually you will pass a couple of Western restaurants — Don’s and Le Petit Bruxelles — and at this point turn right onto the path next to the lake (don’t take the main road) and then right again at the Sheraton. If you prefer you can go up onto Xuan Dieu at this point and cut off a corner but the lake path is quieter. This road loops round and brings you out by the Intercontinental. Follow it round, ride up the slope and immediately right onto Yen Phu then right into the hotel entrance and left onto the lake path again. Go past the Hanoi club and out onto Duong Thanh Nien.

Tran Quoc Pagoda on Duong Thanh Nien between the two lakes

Tran Quoc Pagoda on Duong Thanh Nien between the two lakes

You then have the choice of continuing around Truc Bach Lake — go across the main road to re-join the shoreline and follow it around — or cycling along Duong Thanh Nien and back to your start point.

Last updated: 30th January, 2015

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