Photo: A quiet moment by Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake.

Hoan Kiem Lake

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A visit to Hanoi would be incomplete without a wander around Hoan Kiem Lake, the centrepiece of the city. No matter the time of day, the lake is surrounded by activity and points of interest.





Ho (lake) Hoan Kiem means “Lake of the Returned Sword”. Legends as to how it acquired its current name vary in detail, but all relate to nationalist hero Emperor Le Loi, who borrowed a magic sword and used it to defeat aggressive Chinese forces before returning it to a turtle that surfaced in the lake. A giant turtle known as Cu Rua in fact lived in the lake for decades or longer before dying in January 2016, to the shock of many Vietnamese, who had considered the 160-kilogram beast sacred. The huge turtle had become a symbol of Vietnamese independence and resilience, and was one of the last four Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles left on earth.

The small pagoda honouring the lake's legendary giant tortoise. Photo taken in or around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The small pagoda honouring the lake's legendary giant tortoise. Photo: Samantha Brown

A small shrine in the centre of the lake was built in the 1880s to honour the turtle; it can’t be visited, but certainly makes the lake more photogenic. Now, we don’t know whether there are any other turtles in the lake, but we swear we saw something rear its head and take a breath as we stood on the lake’s shores just near the giant clock at the southern end of the lake.

A walk right around Hoan Kiem Lake is highly recommended. It’s a great opportunity for people watching, you’ll pass plenty of points of interest and, if you stick to the garden pathways, you won’t have to navigate or cross Hanoi’s infamous streets for a while.

When spring springs, there's a distinctive Parisian feel to Hoan Kiem. Photo taken in or around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

When spring springs, there's a distinctive Parisian feel to Hoan Kiem. Photo: Samantha Brown

Gardens line the banks of the lake and are stunning around spring and festival times, when lanterns and other decorations add to the already attractive scenes. The lake is a central gathering point on these special occasions. It’s the place to go for New Year fireworks or the mid-autumn festival, as long as you can handle crowds. It’s also a popular spot for wedding photographs and for young lovers, who take advantage of the many benches in the gardens to snuggle. During spring, potted flowers add riotous colour, and as Hanoi shakes off its winter gloom the cafes surrounding the lake take on a distinctly ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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