Hoan Kiem Lake is an enchanting place to visit while in Hanoi. Located in the heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake with its early morning misty air is a wonderful place gets some peace and quiet. Hoan Kiem also plays host to public performances organized on festivals like Tet and on special days like the National Day. Hoan Kiem is also the last surviving habitat for the endangered Rafetus Turtles. A couple of beautiful temples to see around the Lake Hoan Kiem would be the One Pillar Pagoda and Ngoc Son or Jade Mountain Temple.
Hoan Kiem Lake is located in central Hanoi. It is in fact a walking distance from the Old Quarters of Hanoi where most of the Hotels are located. Hoan Kiem would be a 40 minute drive from the Noi Bai Airport
The cheapest mode of transport in Hanoi is the smoke belching local buses, but they would not be a tourist’s cup of tea! Taxis are ideal for getting around Hanoi. To avoid getting into a rigged metered taxi, chose your Taxi from Hanoi Taxi (tel. 04/853-5353), Hanoi Tourist Taxi (tel. 04/856-5656), and Mai Linh (tel. 04/822-2555).
The story goes back to 15th century when Le Loi, a nobleman was fighting the Ming rulers of China. Le Loi got a sword from a Turtle in the Hoan Kiem Lake and was able to defeat Ming. This Turtle was Kim Qui the Golden Turtle God. Some time later when Le became Emperor and was boating in the Hoan Kiem Lake, Kim Qui resurfaced and asked him to return the Sword. Hoan Kiem literally means Lake of the restored Sword!
Emperor Le built Thap Rùa or the Turtle Tower to honor Kim Qui. The Turtle tower has always stood for patriotism for the people of Vietnam. It used to hoist the revolutionary flag during the colonial time as a protest against the French Rule. There used to be a Statue of Liberty on the top of Turtle Tower which was destroyed during the retreat of the French forces.
Hoan Kiem Lake is home to the last few surviving members of Rafetus Swimhoei Turtles. Considered to be the largest freshwater turtle, this species is noted for its deep head with pig-like snout and eyes dorsally placed. Even today one of these giant Turtles surface from the Hoan Kiem Lake, and as per local legend, such an event augurs some tragedy for the ruling family of Vietnam!
The One Pillar Pagoda is a beautiful Buddhist Temple right in the middle of a Lotus Pond. It is located at Ngoc Ha in Ba Dinh district. Built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054, the One Pillar Pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, which is a Buddhist symbol of purity. The One Pillar Pagoda was destroyed It was severely destroyed in 1954 when the French forces were beating a retreat. The current version is a replica built by the Vietnamese Government in 1955. As per local legend, if you pray at the One Pillar Pagoda, you will be bestowed with fertility and wellbeing!
A Red wooden bridge connects Hoan Kiem Lake to a small island where stands the Ngoc Son Temple. The bridge is called The Huc, which means "Flood of Morning Sunlight".
Ngoc Son Temple or the Jade Mountain Temple dates back to the 14th Century and is dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the forces of Kublai Khan the Mongol. An interesting aspect of this temple is an altar for La To, the patron saint of physicians.
Another noteworthy feature is a bronze brazier with burning incense sticks in front of the main hall.
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