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

| 12 Apr 2012
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Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Central Hanoi

Our rating
12 Apr 2012

An early morning spent wandering around legendary Hoan Kiem Lake is a perfect way to start any Hanoi day. If you’re feeling energetic, join the locals in some tai chi or check out the wonderful parade of Hanoi characters, many old warriors amongst them, that makes the daily pilgrimage to the lake’s shore.

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If Ba Dinh Square is Hanoi's political heart, Hoan Kiem Lake is its soul. Also known as the Lake of the Restored Sword, Hoan Kiem is both rich in legend and one of the city's most well used and atmospheric public spaces.

Photo: Mark BowyerHoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake's location in central Hanoi between the Old Quarter and the French quarter means  there's really no avoiding it. But don't just wander past the lake. Joining the locals in sitting, walking or reading in the early morning or late afternoon is a great Hanoi experience. If you're extremely lucky, you may even spot the lake's famed turtle. It raises its head above the murky waters every few years in an event that attracts great attention and is considered to be auspicious.

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 the 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 courtship by young couples.

Photo: Mark BowyerNgoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
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.

There are a couple of ice cream and coffee shops on the lake that are worth a visit. The views across the lake from Legend's beer are also great (the beer isn't bad either).
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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