Hoan Kiem Lake ( Hồ Hoàn Kiếm) meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”), also known as Hồ Gươm (Sword Lake), is a fresh water lake, measuring some 12 ha in the historical center of Hanoi, Vietnam. The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.
According to the legend, after having defeated the Ming China, in early 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. King Le Loi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King had given Lợi some time earlier to defeat Ming China. Later, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. The first name of Hoàn Kiếm lake is Tả Vọng, when the King hadn’t given the Magical Sword back to the Golden Turtle God (Cụ Rùa).
Hoan Kiem Lake Today
The lake and the temple offer plenty of trees and shaded spots in which to escape the busy city streets. To get there head towards the Old Quarter and the main post office which is located next to the lake. Tickets are purchased at a booth located on the left-hand side before you cross the bridge. The temple opens at 08:00 and closes at 17:00 every day and its best to get to the lake as early as possible to watch the locals do their morning yoga and Tai Chi. To get to the temple, walk across the flag-lined bright red Huc Bridge across to Jade Island.
Every morning at around 6am local residents practise t’ai chi on the shore. Sunset is a lovely time to explore the lake too, and can make for some sublime photographs as the sun sets.
The ramshackle Thap Rua, on an islet near the southern end, is often used as an emblem of Hanoi. A number of elegant pagoda-like stone gateways can be found around the lake, inscribed with Chinese characters, including Hoa Phong Pagoda (Thap Hoa Phong) near the southeast of the lake shore.
You may often bump into small groups of Hanoi university and high-school students out interviewing foreigners to practise their English. They are invariably polite, often very interesting to talk to and provide an opportunity to interact with local youngsters, while they get the chance to improve their language skills (which the Vietnamese are highly ambitious about)!
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple was built in the 18th century on Jade Island in the centre of the ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’ or Hoan Kiem Lake. Legend describes how an emperor was once given a magical sword which helped him defeat the Chinese Ming Dynasty and in doing so saw the return of the Golden Turtle God to the lake.
Today ‘Turtle Tower’ stands close to the lake in memory of this legend. There are also endangered large soft-shell turtles swimming in the lake, and to see one of these gentle giants is considered very auspicious. The name of the temple translates to ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ and is predominately dedicated to war hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated an armed force of 300,000 soldiers sent by Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan in the 13th century to invade Vietnam.
Also inside the pagoda are a large bronze bust and other deities. There are altars dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, some ancient artefacts including ceramics and a preserved specimen of a giant turtle found in the lake weighing 250kg.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Area: 12 ha
Length: 700 m
Shore length: 1.75 km
Mean depth: 1.2 m
Max. depth:2 m (6.6 ft)
Location: Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
The Temple of the Jade Mountain
Address:Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
8AM – 6PM
Distance from La Sinfonía del Rey Hotel: 230m – 3 min walk