Hoan Kiem Lake is a famous lake located in the center of Hanoi. Some people say that Hoan Kiem Lake is considered a bouquet, which plays an important role in making the landscape of the city more beautiful and airy.
I. HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS OF HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI, VIETNAM
Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake) is located at the center of Hanoi Old Quarters which is next to Hang Ngang, Hang Dao, Cau Go Lo Su, and Luong Van Can Street. In the beginning, people called this lake “Luc Thuy” (Lục Thuỷ) (it means “Green Water”) due to its green water all year around. Then, it was also known as “Thuy Quan” (Thuỷ Quân) (it means that the lake for troop review) and “Ta Vong” (Tả Vọng) under the Le Mat Dynasty. The name “Hoan Kiem Lake” happened in the 15th century which went with the Vietnamese legend “Returned Sword”. Legend told that at the outbreak of war against Ming China Army, the Dragon King (Long Vuong) gave the king Le Loi a sword imprinted with “Heaven’s Will”. It’s this sword that helped King Le Loi and his army gained victory and finished off fighting with the Chinese. Then, the peace descended once more in Vietnam.
One day in early 1428 when King Le Loi boating on the lake, the Golden Turtle God rose out of the water and asked for his magic sword. King Le Loi knew that it’s time to return the sword to the God, and then he raised the sword and brought it toward the Golden Turtle God. The Turtle immediately held the sword in its mouth and disappeared in the green water. To celebrate this event, King Le Loi decided to change the name of the lake to Hoan Kiem Lake which means that “The Lake of Restored Sword”. The Turtle Tower in the center of the lake was also related to this legend. In its original form, Hoan Kiem Lake was much larger than the lake of today. In the past, especially under the time of French Colony, many parts of this lake were filled to expand Hanoi City. Like many other historical monuments in Vietnam, Hoan Kiem Lake suffered a lot of damage in Vietnamese War. At present, Sword Lake is still a symbol of Hanoi city and a pride in the hearts of all Hanoians. Also, Hoan Kiem Lake is a famous site attracting millions of visitors from all over the world.
II. HOAN KIEM LAKE DESCRIPTIONS
Hoan Kiem Lake now has the water area of around 120,000 m2. The maximum of its length 700 meters and the maximum width is 250 meters. The average depth of Hoan Kiem Lake is from 1 to 1.4 meters. Hoan Kiem Lake is the one and only fresh water in the surrounding of Hanoi Old Quater. For a long time, Hoan Kiem Lake is famous for its watercolor which is not commonly found in other lakes elsewhere in Vietnam. The water here is greenish with dark or light shade depending on the color of the sky and the reflection of the scene on the shores.
In the center of the Hoan Kiem Lake standing a tower called Turtle Tower. There is also a vibrant red Hanoi bridge, called “The Huc” crossing the Lake. On the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, there are various flowers which are in full blossom all year around. Hoan Kiem Lake is also famous for being full of turtles. If luckily, you can catch the sight of these giant animals surfacing the water. Like the fact that turtle is considered one of the sacred animals in Vietnamese Culture, Hoan Kiem Lake then is a truly spiritual place of Vietnam.
III. WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI
If you’re seeking a peace of mind, let’s visit Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning from 5 am to 6 am. This time is when Hoan Kiem Lake is covered with frog and wonderful birdsongs. All the bustle and hustle of the city disappears and is replaced with extremely cool and peaceful air. Wandering around the lake, you will find lines of oldies and teenagers doing exercise including yoga, aerobic and tai-chi. It looks as if the entire city is joining a running event. Especially in the late morning of the weekend, you will find a variety of people sitting in the nearby coffee shop and chatting happily.
Another ideal time to visit Hoan Kiem Lake is at night. It’s time when the lake is shimmering in colorful lights. When the darkness falls, you can see a totally different version of the lake as it’s crowded and animated. Especially at the weekend, you will find numerous of playing around the lake. If luckily, you watch the water puppet performance. In addition, you can have chances of enjoying a special performance of traditional music called “Hat Xam”
IV. WHERE TO VISIT IN HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI OLD QUARTER, VIETNAM
1. Discovering the turtle tower, Hoan Kiem lake
Erected on a small islet at the center of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Turtle Tower was built from the middle of 1884 to April 1886. The Turtle Tower was based on the same site with Ta Vong Temple which disappeared between the Restored Le Dynasty and the Nguyen Dynasty. The highlight of this tower is its special architecture which was influenced by French style. The Turtle Tower has the shape of the rectangle and comprises of 4 floors. The first floor is 6.28 long and 4.54 meters wide. On each long side of this floor (on the East and West), there are 3 doors. Meanwhile, each shorter side has 2 doors. All doors have vaulted shapes like those ones of the church of Gothic architecture. The second floor is 4.8 meters long and 3.64 meters wide and has the same architecture as the first floor. The third floor is 2.97 meters long and only 1.9 meters wide. This floor features one and only oval door with a diameter of 0.68 meters on the East side. Above the door imprinted 3 words “Quy Son Thap” (it means that the tower of turtle mountain). At the top of the tower is a belvedere which is square-shaped. Each side of the Belvedere is 2 meters long. On this Belvedere, the French used to place their “Statue of Liberty” which was removed in 1945 when the Tran Trong Kim Government regained the control of Hanoi from the French. Back in those years during the French occupation, this Belvedere was also where Vietnamese people hang the revolutionary flag in defiance of French rules. Therefore, over more than 150 years, the Turtle Tower has stood majestically as a symbol of patriotic pride of Vietnamese people.
2. Visiting Ngoc Son temple, Hoan Kiem lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
Meaning “Temple of the Jade Mountain”, Ngoc Son Temple is located in an islet in the North of Hoan Kiem Lake. This temple is connected with the lakeshore by a vibrant red bridge called The Huc. According to ancient documents preserved in this temple, Ngoc Son Temple in its original form was a pagoda built on the site of the old Thuy Khanh Palace. This pagoda was also called was donated to build by a man called Tin Trai and was completed in the autumn of 1841. Then it was yielded to a charity which changed this pagoda to Tam Thanh Temple. This charity removed campanile rebuilt the main compartments and the chain of rooms in two sides. They also placed the statue of the national great scholar Van Xuong to worship. At that time, this pagoda was officially changed into and called “Ngoc Son Temple”. In 1865, this temple underwent a comprehensive renovation by Nguyen Van Sieu, an eminent scholar of the old Thang Long Capital. It’s also the time when many other structures were established and upgraded to create a new complex of relics. This complex including The Huc Bridge, But Thap (Pen Tower) and Dai Nghien (Ink Slab) still remains until today.
3. Admiring the beauty of Hoan Kiem lake from The Huc bridge
As mentioned above, The Huc Bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple was built by Nguyen Van Sieu in 1865. The name of this bridge means that “the place in which the sunlight falls”. This bridge of 15 spans consists of 32 bases of columns which are divided into 16 pairs. The floor was boarded with wooden plank painted red. The Huc Bridge has a vibrant red color which is more gorgeously in the colorful light at night. Overcoming more than 50 years of ups and downs, The Huc Bridge is not merely a normal bridge but a bridge associating the daily life to the spiritual life of those people visiting here.
4. Visiting Pen tower, Hoan Kiem lake, Hanoi
Pen Tower, widely known as Thap But, is located in the entrance to Ngoc Son Temple. Built-in 1865 as the proposal of the scholar Nguyen Van Sieu, Pen Tower is 28 meters high and features five floors. This Tower was constructed with stones and was based on a four-meter-high stone structure. At the tip of the tower resembles a writing brush which is 0.9 meters high. Imprinted on the tower are the words “Writing on the clear blue sky” which means “always be upright and truthful”. The Pen Tower is not only a principle of feng-shui but also a symbol glorifying the importance of literature. In addition, this tower demonstrates the power and martial art of the Trinh Lord.
5. Visiting the St.Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi St. Joseph’s Cathedral
At 40 Nha Chung Street stands a 120-year-old Roman Catholic cathedral called the St. Joseph’s Cathedral? Widely known as Nha Tho Lon, this cathedral was completed 1886 and was based on the site of Bao Thien Pagoda. The highlight of the St. Joseph’s Cathedral is its neo-gothic architecture (also known as the Gothic Revival Style). Built mainly with stone slabs and bricks, this façade is 64.5 meters long and 20.5 meters wide. The St. Joseph’s Cathedral comprises of two towers of 31.5-meter height. Each tower consists of five bells. These twin bell towers are often compared to those ones at Notre Dame de Paris. When visiting this cathedral, you’ll be attracted by the exterior wall made of granite stone slabs.
The St. Joseph’s Cathedral boasts the windows fitted with tall stained glass and featuring pointed arches. All ceiling found in this cathedral are rib vaulted like those ones found in medieval Europe. While the colorful windows and religious paintings for decoration in the St. Joseph’s Cathedral follow the Western style, the main interior part represents strongly the Vietnamese cultures. On the left of the nave is a statue of the Virgin Mary.
When visiting the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, in addition to discovering the beauty of the cathedral, you can join “Tra chanh chem gio” (enjoying iced lemon tea and chatting happily with friends) which is s the highlight of Hanoi’s society. Besides, you can drop in many nearby eye-catching souvenir shops to buy some gifts for your family and friends. The St. Joseph’s Cathedral is also home to a lot of tasty Western Restaurants.
V. THINGS TO DO IN HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI, VIETNAM
1. Enjoying egg-coffee – Dinh café
Egg coffee is a special coffee drink which can’t be found anywhere but in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Although made from very simple ingredients including eggs, toasted coffee, condensed milk, sugar egg coffee has a very distinct flavor. To make egg coffee, firstly they whisk quickly and carefully fresh chicken egg yolks with milk and sugar. Then pour hot coffee into the beaten eggs, which makes the beautiful and aromatic foam of chicken egg yolk floating. To keep its temperature, the waiter often put the cup of coffee in a small bowl of warm water. A well-blended and perfect coffee egg will have color fragrant brown. Taking the very first mouthful of egg coffee, you will feel the amazingly delicious, creamy taste and distinctly good smell. Then when drinking at the bottom, you will fell the richer taste of Vietnamese coffee. To experience the real egg coffee, you can drop in two coffee shops hereinafter:
Humbly hidden on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Giang Café is difficult to find but well worth the effort. Giang Café was established in 1946 by Mr. Nguyen Giang, a talented bartender in the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel. Unlike other egg coffee shop, Giang Café adds butter and cheese to their coffee to enrich the flavor. However, the most important parts making Giang Café different is its secret recipe which decides how to measure exactly the amount of egg yolks and coffee together with the way to blend them perfectly. In addition the tasty coffee, Giang Café has an ancient vibe and cozy ambiance which will bring you unforgettable memories.
Dinh Café is located on the second floor of a handbag story at 13 Dinh Tien Hoang Street. The first impression of every visitor coming here is its ancient décor which reminds of an ancient Hanoi. Dinh Café is where you can enjoy a truly delicious egg coffee when admiring the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake.
2. Discovering Hang Dao street night market, Hanoi
Hang Dao Night Market is celebrated from 18:00 to 23:00 every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The night market stretches from Hang Dao Street, over Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square to the gate of Dong Xuan Market. Hang Dao Night Market is famous for its wide range of street food. The street food here is not only yummy but also has a very reasonable price. Almost food is from VND 10,000 to VND 30,000. In addition, when wandering Hang Dao Street Night Market, you can have chances of buying a variety of wonderful things including, souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, and shoes.
3. Joining walking street around Hoan Kiem lake
The walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake officially put into operation in September 2016. Up to now, it has been a famous and favorite site of not only Hanoians but also almost all visitors in Hanoi. The walking street opens from 18:00 Friday to 23:59. During these times, all vehicles are banned to give place for walking street. When joining the walking street, you will have chances of experience the real lifestyle of the locals. The walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake is always crowded, animated and colorful. You will find here a wide range of delicious street foods. The walking street looks like an outdoor art exhibition because of colorful handicraft shops, a long line of an amateur painter with beautiful portrait painting, and photographic exhibition of Vietnam. Besides, you will be surprised at the talented performance of Vietnamese young people including dancing, beatboxing, and doing magic. No matter how the weather is, you still can find many bands playing around the walking street.
VI. WHAT TO EAT IN HOAN KIEM LAKE, HANOI
1. Vietnamese mixed rice paper – Banh trang tron
Vietnam mixed rice paper, also known as Rice paper salad is a must-try food for when visiting Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi. Like many other street foods in Vietnam, mixed rice paper is made from very simple ingredient including rice paper, quail eggs, beef jerky, dried shrimp, chili powder, special sauce, Vietnamese coriander, peanut, and seasoned fried onion. Thanks to its yummy taste and very low prices, mixed rice paper is a favorite food of young people in Vietnam. The best restaurant to enjoy mixed rice paper is the one in Hang Trong Street. To reach here, you have to follow a small path which is close to the “Viet Culture Space”. Taking a short walk of 120 meters, you will see right in front of your eyes a small restaurant full of people sitting on the pint-size plastic chair.
Discover more about Hanoi Street Food Tour here.
2. Trang Tien ice-cream – Hanoi’s special gifts
Trang Tien Ice cream is famous for its special flavor. Considered as Hanoi’s special gifts, these ice creams is the food for which countless generations of the Hanoian passionate. Representing distinctive feature of Hanoi’s culinary culture, Trang Tien ice cream has a variety of flavors for you to choose including chocolate, vanilla, young glutinous rice, green bean, and Indian Taro. Appeared in a corner of Hanoi in 1958, since then Trang Tien ice cream has maintained its golden reputation thanks to special flavors. It’s easy to see a long line of people queuing from outside to buy ice cream. Despite this fame, the price here is very reasonable. It costs you only VND 12,000 for an ice cream. To enjoy Trang Tien Ice cream, let’s move to Trang Tien Plaza where you can see a small path called Trang Tien. This street is always full of people and ice cream shop in two sides of it.
3. Wonton-men & fried dumpling in Hoan Kiem lake
Both wonton-men and fried dumpling are not Vietnamese cuisines but they’re still must-try food when visiting Hoan Kiem Lake. Brought to Vietnam in the early 1930s, wonton has changed a bit to be suitable with the appetite of the Vietnamese. A bowl of Vietnamese wonton often has shrimp wonton, a noodle made from wheat flour and chicken eggs, char siu, boiled chicken egg, pork liver, field mushroom, shallot, pork skin, and other special ingredients. To make consommé, people simmer chicken bone, pork bones, dried tam fish, some Chinese herbs and shrimp shells.
4. Beef jerky salad – Nom bo kho in Hoan Kiem lake
Another tasty street food you must try when visiting Hoan Kiem Lake is Beef jerky salad. To make this dish, people mix beef jerky, slices of boiled beef, beef tendon, smoked pork lover and green papayas salads. There are to options of enriching the flavor. The first one is using fish sauce and lime juice. The other is using soya and vinegar. This food is both crunchy (green papayas salad) and chewy (beef jerky). In addition, it tastes sweet, sour, spicy, tasty and a bit salty.
5. Grilled chicken feet – Grilled Adidas
When passing over Ngo Gach Street, you will be attracted immediately by the appealing fragrance of grilled chicken feet. The grilled chicken feet dish í very popular with the young people in Hanoi but a whole surprise for the first-time visitors of Hoan Kiem Lake. The grilled chicken feet are spicy, flavorful, and crispy. This dish is often served with pickled cucumbers in sweet vinegar, baby green mango, and water spinach salad. In addition, Ngo Gach Street is famous for roasted chicken feet, grilled chicken wings and grilled chicken breast covered with special BBQ sauce.
6. Vietnamese sweet soup – Vietnamese Che, Hoan Kiem lake
Vietnamese sweet soup is a traditional dessert which is greatly favored in Hanoi. There are some famous shops selling many types of Vietnamese sweet soup. The most nearby to Hoan Kiem Lake is the shop at 4 Hang Can Street. In this shop, you can find a variety of Vietnamese sweet soup including black-eyed peas soup, green bean soup with coconut milk, lotus sweet soup, and violet sticky rice sweet soup. Thanks to colorful ingredients, Vietnamese sweet soup is not only delicious but most eye-catching food in Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.
Located at the heart of Vietnam’s capital, Hoan Kiem Lake represents truly and fully the essence of Vietnamese cultures and the lifestyle of the Hanoian. At the bottom line, Hoan Kiem Lake is a must-see place when visiting Hanoi.