It may have been a somewhat overcast afternoon when I took in the sights and sounds of what is arguably Hanoi’s most famous landmark, but whatever the weather I came back to my hostel feeling more than a little creeped out by the lack of activity beside Hoàn Kiếm Lake…
Hoàn Kiếm Lake is named after “The Lake of the Restored Sword” and is a focal point in the centre of Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi. A lot of the Hanoi residents come down here for a morning jog or for an afternoon nap, and even courting couples come down here for a romantic stroll once the sun has gone down. In this respect, Hoàn Kiếm reminded me of places like Fort Canning Park in Singapore, Lumpini Park in Bangkok, or the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur. However, there was a certain foreboding about Hoàn Kiếm; it may have just been the weather and pretty strong winds that cast a grey shadow over the area.
One of the highlights of the lake is the Sunbeam Bridge, which shines a resplendent red over the murky lake itself, and connects to Jade Island, on which sits the Confucian Temple of the Jade Mountain. This is an incredibly touristy area of the lake, and was the only place that didn’t necessarily feel eerie.
The Tortoise Tower, standing alone on an island in the middle of the lake, is a real highlight and focus point of any visit to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. I don’t know if it’s possible to reach the island by boat; I didn’t see anyone try it. The legend of the lake is that an old Emperor was sailing here in a small boat, minding his own business, when all of a sudden a giant golden turtle came out of the water and demanded the Emperor’s sword. To this day, there are plenty of soft shell turtles that inhabit Hoàn Kiếm Lake, and this species are critically endangered. I am told that there are rumours of giant turtles that still live in the water. I doubt that is true, but I always enjoy listening to local folklore – if only for the entertainment!