Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi, Vietnam
January 10, 2020
Located in the heart of Hanoi’s old quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake or Lake of the Restored Sword. It is a popular place for locals and tourists to stroll around and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the otherwise hectic streets of Hanoi. There is a small, tree-filled island on the lake where the Ngoc Son Temple with a red bridge spanning from the shore to the island. There is another small island on the lake that is home to Turtle Tower, which is a focal point as you walk around the lake.
The lake gets its name from the legend of Emperor Lợi who received a magical sword in order to defeat the Chinese. After defeating the Chinese armies, a Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui, came to surface of the lake and asked Emperor Lợi to return the sword to the Dragon King who had given it to him. So Emperor Lợi gave Kim Qui the sword and renamed the lake Ho Hoan Kiem, which means Lake of the Restored Sword or Lake of the Returned Sword. Turtle Tower stands near the center of the lake to commemorate that event. There are still a small number of turtles in the lake although they are rarely seen.
Ngoc Son Temple, or Pagoda, is mostly dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao who defeated the Mongolian armies of Emperor Kublai Khan in the 13th century. The name of the temple translates to Temple of the Jade Mountain and the island itself is called Jade Island. The is a nominal fee in order to go to the island and visit the temple and it is open from 8:00 to 17:00 daily. It is one of the most visited sites within Hanoi’s old quarter, so expect plenty of crowds.
During the week, the lake attracts tourists and locals alike in order to walk the tree-lined sidewalk that surrounds the lake. It is an oasis of tranquility in the otherwise bustling streets of the old quarter. On weekend nights, however, the streets around the lake are converted to walking streets with a market and stages with live music. People gather to play games, eat, listen to music, and generally have fun. It is very lively and very crowded with lots of families coming to enjoy the festivities.
Our hotel was only a couple of blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake and we walked by it several times. Seeing it at sunset is quite beautiful as well, but it is worth visiting at any time of day. It is also worth paying the small entrance fee to see Ngoc Son Temple with its golden turtle statues and beautiful architecture. There are also a couple of touristy restaurants on the shore of the lake, which are worthwhile, but be sure to explore the old quarter and getting street food there as well.