Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi - review by Rusty Compass
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Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

| 02 Sep 2019
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Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Central Hanoi

Our rating
02 Sep 2019

An early morning or late afternoon spent wandering around legendary Hoan Kiem Lake is a perfect way to start or end any Hanoi day. The lake is the spiritual heart of the city - and it's right downtown too. If you’re feeling energetic, join the locals in some tai chi or check out the wonderful parade of Hanoi characters, many of them old warriors, who make the daily pilgrimage to the lake’s shore. The lake area is especially interesting on weekends when nearby streets are closed to traffic.

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Hoan Kiem Lake is the spiritual heart of Hanoi, located in the geographic heart of the city. Don't just wander by here. Participate. Joining the locals in sitting, walking or reading in the early morning or late afternoon is a great Hanoi experience. You'll probably also get an invitation from a group of young students to practice English.

For the Vietnamese, Hoan Kiem Lake is the Lake of Restored Sword. The "restored sword" legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was empowered by a magical sword in his 15th century battle against Chinese invaders. After his victory, Le Loi returned the magical sword to a tortoise in Hoan Kiem lake, marking the return of sovereignty and peace in the kingdom. The tortoise tower in the centre of the lake marks the event.

These days, Hoan Kiem Lake is a hive of activity. In the mornings, locals of all ages descend for tai chi. By the afternoon, Hanoi's elderly descend for a walk, a chat or a game of cards. The lake is also a favoured spot for young courtship.

On a small island at the lake’s northern end sits the early 18th century Ngoc Son Temple. The temple commemorates another military hero, Tran Hung Dao and another skirmish with the Chinese - this one in the 13th century.

If you were unaware of Vietnam’s long history of fighting off foreign invaders, Hoan Kiem Lake is a good place for that vital Vietnamese history lesson.

There are a couple of ice cream and coffee shops on the lake that are worth a visit. Thuy Ta ice cream on the northwestern shore is a Hanoi institution.

Hoan Kiem Lake and large parts of downtown Hanoi are closed to traffic on weekends, making the area perfect for exploration on foot.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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