Finding out things to do in Hoan Kiem Lake (also known as Ho Guom) – the heart of Hanoi. This is not only a place to let their souls take a walk and enjoy it, but also associated with the people of the capital in many aspects of cultural history as well as going into poetry.
Situated at the heart of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake stands renowned for its tranquil allure and its rich cultural and historical significance.
A plethora of enchanting adjectives – from picturesque and splendid to ethereal and enigmatic – are employed to capture the lake’s captivating charm. Its unparalleled beauty serves as a magnetic draw, enticing not only locals but also a multitude of international visitors. This enduring appeal firmly establishes Hoan Kiem Lake as a perennial favorite among the myriad options for exploring Hanoi’s attractions.
For those considering a visit to Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam, this article offers a comprehensive exploration of its historical background and the array of activities to partake in during your visit.
Hoan Kiem Lake – History and Legend
Hoan Kiem Lake, a freshwater body situated at the heart of Hanoi, carries a legend that has been ingrained in the collective consciousness of all Vietnamese people. From a young age, they learn of the tale that centers around revered figures: a colossal turtle and a magical sword.
The story recounts a bygone era when Le Loi, the King of Vietnam, reigned. During a visit to a friend, he stumbled upon a resplendent metal rod that his companion had caught while fishing. The King took possession of this extraordinary find, transforming it into a sword inscribed with the words “Thuan Thien,” signifying harmony with the heavens.
Convinced of the sword’s celestial origins, he wielded it in a triumphant battle against the occupying Ming army. Subsequently, while enjoying a leisurely boat excursion on the lake, an unexpected interruption occurred. Emerging from the water was a majestic golden turtle, beseeching him to return the sword to the Dragon King. The King, without hesitation, returned the sword to the turtle.
To commemorate this extraordinary occurrence, he rechristened the lake from its former name “Luc Thuy,” meaning “Green water,” to “Hoan Kiem Lake,” signifying the Lake of the Returned Sword.
Beyond its historical significance, Hoan Kiem Lake possesses unique characteristics not commonly found elsewhere in Vietnam. The hue of its waters varies according to the sky’s reflection, transitioning between shades of green, darkness, and light.
Notably, Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi serves as a sanctuary for tortoises. Fortunate visitors may witness these grand creatures emerging from the water to bask in the sun.
Things To Do In Hoan Kiem Lake?
1/Ngoc Son Temple – to see in Hoan Kiem Lake
Sited on the northern shores of the lake, once referred to as the Elephant Ear Lake, Ngoc Tuong Island underwent a name transformation during the reign of King Ly Thai To, becoming Ngoc Son Island. During the Tran dynasty, the island’s nomenclature shifted once more, this time to Ngoc Son.
Founded by the benevolent Tin Trai, Ngoc Son Temple was established atop the remnants of the old Thuy Khanh palace. This palace had been ravaged by the flames ignited by Le Chieu Thong in 1787, a vengeful act directed at the Trinh lords. Within the sanctum of Ngoc Son Temple, reverence is directed towards Van Xuong, the celestial patron of literary endeavors, and the venerated figure Tran Hung Dao.
2/Turtle Tower – to see in Hoan Kiem Lake
Situated at the lake’s heart, this construction stands as a product of the years 1884 to April 1886. Perched atop Turtle Mound and influenced by French architectural elements, it takes the form of a rectangular tower.
The initial level spans 6.28 meters in length for both its eastern and western sides, each adorned with three doors. Its width measures 4.54 meters, with two doors gracing each side. These doors are uniformly adorned with rolling mechanisms, capped by tapering summits.
Ascending to the second tier, a span of 4.8 meters in length and 3.64 meters in width mirrors the architecture found on the floor below.
The third floor spans 2.97 meters in length and 1.9 meters in width. This level exclusively features a circular door on its eastern facet, boasting a diameter of 0.68 meters. Positioned above the door, three words read “Quy Son Thap” (Nui Rua Tower).
The crowning level resembles a gazebo, presenting a square design with dimensions of 2 meters on each side.
3/ Watching Water Puppet Show in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – to see in Hoan Kiem Lake
The one-hour spectacle unfolds within the premises of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, showcasing an array of 17 succinct vignettes that feature the artistry of traditional puppetry.
The performances are orchestrated by a Vietnamese ensemble, who provide a musical backdrop to the narratives. Accompanied by the resonating notes of wooden bells, drums, bamboo flutes, cymbals, and horns, these musicians contribute to the immersive storytelling experience.
The puppetry display commences with a prelude enacted by the whimsical character Teu, a puppet characterized by its comically exaggerated hair. As you observe this captivating presentation, your curiosity will inevitably be piqued by the enigmatic mastery of the Vietnamese puppeteers, who maneuver the puppets with remarkable precision, seemingly detached from the screen.
Evidently, this theater exerts an irresistible pull on the local Vietnamese populace as well as foreign visitors, all drawn by the desire to gain deeper insight into Vietnam’s venerable and legendary traditional art form.
>>> See more: Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Vietnamese’s Culture
4/Flower Garden, Ly Thai To Statue – to see in hoan kiem lake
The statue of King Ly Thai To finds its residence within the Ly Thai To Flower Garden, nestled along Dinh Tien Hoang Street in Hoan Kiem District, at the heart of Hanoi, the capital city. This sculptural masterpiece stands as a tribute to and commemoration of King Ly Thai To, the visionary leader who laid the seminal groundwork for the establishment of the Thang Long Citadel.
The site’s significance extends beyond its historical and architectural merits. The combination of the historical narrative, the allure of the flower garden, and the presence of the Ly Thai To monument collaboratively create an enchanting atmosphere. It has garnered a special place in the hearts of both locals and tourists, particularly during the serene hours of late afternoon.
Following explorations of the monuments within Ngoc Son Temple, visitors can saunter over to this location to immerse themselves in the tranquil essence of the capital city. It provides a glimpse into a markedly different facet of Hanoi, one that contrasts with the bustling and more commonplace depiction of the city’s vibrant existence.
5/Eating Trang Tien Ice Cream – to do in hoan kiem lake
Amidst the vibrant culinary offerings of Hanoi’s city center, it’s neither the renowned ‘Pho’ nor the flavorful ‘Bun Cha’ (grilled pork with noodles) that springs to the forefront of people’s minds. Instead, it’s the allure of Trang Tien ice cream that captures their attention.
With Hanoi making strides in relaxing social distancing measures as the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic gradually subsides, local residents have once again begun forming queues outside the Trang Tien Ice Cream Shop. This phenomenon is especially noticeable among the younger populace and families.
Their eagerness is palpable as they patiently await their turn, driven by a yearning to relish the extraordinary and refreshingly delectable flavors that define one of Hanoi’s quintessential culinary delights.
6/Hoan Kiem Walking Street in the weekend – to do in hoan kiem lake
Hoan Kiem Lake stands out notably, especially on weekends, deserving a dedicated mention. As the late afternoon settles in during this time, a transformation takes hold. Several streets encircling the lake are cordoned off, effectively barring the entry of cars, buses, and motorcycles. This alteration imbues the entire vicinity with a distinct and vibrant ambiance.
Local inhabitants are drawn to the lake during these weekend hours. The thoroughfares undergo a remarkable metamorphosis, turning into a lively stage for various recreational pursuits. Children engage in jovial escapades, maneuvering small toy cars, while the older ones indulge in games of ball or skip ropes.
Among the adults, the traditional Vietnamese sport of Da Cau comes to life—a spirited exchange where participants skillfully kick a shuttlecock-like object back and forth, ensuring it remains aloft without contacting the ground. This dynamic scene adds a new layer of vitality and community spirit to the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake during the cherished weekends.
>>> See more: Thing to do in Hanoi