What to do at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
The Hoan Kiem lake is the beating heart of Hanoi, and is bustling with activity at all times during the day and night! It is not uncommon to find street performers, dancers, & singers performing for the crowds here. On one of my walks around the lake, I even saw a music video being shot here! The next day, there was a car launch, & all the paraphernalia surrounding it- dance performances, a live band- the atmosphere was electric!
10 things you have to know about Hoan Kiem Lake
1. Go everywhere from Hoan Kiem Lake!
The beautiful lake works as a good point of orientation as all the streets that a tourist needs to visit in Hanoi, stems from around it. The French Quarter, Old Quarter, and the fashion district, begin from the lake. Take a leisurely stroll around the lake, and walk into any part of town you are in the mood to visit, walk back to the lake, and branch out into another part of town.
2. Don't worry, the children are not lost!
It is not uncommon to see children running freely around here! I was so surprised (& scared for the first couple) to see 4-5 year olds running around without adults right by them, that I actually stopped & looked around to spot the adult accompanying them, wondering if they are running around in a frenzy looking for their lost kid! After the first few, I got used to it, & told myself, maybe kids are really safe here, but I would not suggest letting your kids run around like that in the crowded lake premises! This is just a heads up, for any of you, so you don’t have to get worried unnecessarily like I did!
3. Kids will love hanging out around the lake!
The lake is also a great place for children, as there are is an array of battery operated cars & motorcycles, bicycles, & tricycles on rent for them to ride. Not to worry, the roads are closed off for traffic on weekends, & some weekday evenings, when they are allowed to do this.
4. Have you heard of the legend of Hoan Kiem Lake?
Aristocrat & landowner Le Loi, after witnessing a Vietnamese village being destroyed by the army of the Ming dynasty, swore to free his country from Chinese rule. From 1418, he led revolts against the Mings using guerrilla tactics. In 1426, they finally defeated the Chinese, and the following year, in 1427, the Chinese recognised Vietnamese independence. Le Loi became king, took on the title Le Thai To & was the embodiment of a just & wise leader.
According to legend, Le Loi was said to have in possession a sword of immense power. The blade of the sword was inscribed with the words ‘Will of Heaven’ (Thuan Thien). It is said to have come from the Dragon King’s underwater palace, found in the net of a fisherman who was part of Le Loi’s army.
The hilt of the sword was found by Le Loi himself in a banyan tree. The sword is said to have made Le Loi grow very tall upon use, & to have given him the strength of many men. It is with this sword that Le Loi was able to defeat the Chinese Army.
One day soon after the Chinese recognised Vietnamese independednce, when Le Loi was out boating on the Green Water Lake (Luc Thuy), a large turtle surfaced near his boat, took the sword from his belt & swam into the depths of the lake with the glowing sword in its mouth.
Searches to find the turtle & the sword were of no avail, which made him accept that the sword was taken by its original owner, the Dragon King. The lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake ( the lake of the returned sword).
5. Turtle Pagoda
At the northern side of Hoan Kiem Lake, stands the Turtle tower in honour of the magical turtle that is said to still guard Le Loi’s sword. It is said that there are but a few turtles left in the lake today, due to pollution & the paving of the grounds on the shore around the lake, where the turtles used to lay their eggs.
6. Drink Egg coffee
The egg coffee was my favourite find in Vietnam! It was something I had never had before, & it sounded ever so peculiar! But I tried it & fell in love! I went back for it twice a day, every day that I was in Hanoi! Having said that, it is an acquired taste, so I hope you like it! :p
Origins of Egg Coffee
It originated in Hanoi in 1946, when a Vietnamese barista at a French restaurant, tried the combination of whipped egg yolk & sugar to top off an espresso. The people of Hanoi were poor & could not afford condensed milk to flavour their coffee, which was the reason for the creation of the egg coffee.
But today, there are different variations of the egg coffee. The original is still popular, but the version that uses condensed milk instead of sugar with the egg yoke, tastes more like a dessert! There is also a cold egg coffee, which I’m yet to try!
7. Eat at the restaurants
There are innumerable restaurants & cafes around the lake. It is so much fun cafe hopping, or even restaurant hopping ( eat a little bit at each restaurant, instead of one full meal. If you are alone, get the starters from a few restaurants), around the lake.
8. Drink freshly brewed beer seated on small stools
The beer culture of Vietnam is like no other, people brew their own beers, and enjoy it on the streets seated on low tables & chairs, that remind you of the furniture in a kindergarten!
Locally known as Bia Hoi, it is brewed fresh, without preservatives, & has to be consumed on the day of its production. The ritual starts around 4pm, & both locals & tourists partake in it. So if you want to know what the freshest beer tastes like- ask at one of the shops in town, & they will guide you!
9. Eat all the street food
It is completely safe to eat from the streets of Vietnam, the best way to judge, is by walking up to a stall that is really busy, which means that their food is fresh. It is very common to see men & women selling home made treats on the streets, I’ve eaten from them, & it truly was some of the best food I’d had during the trip!
10. Visit the Ngoc Son Temple
Located in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake, it is accessed by crossing the red bridge (Huc, or Morning Sunlight bridge). The temple was built in the 1400’s and is still an active place of worship. The elegant red bridge that connects the temple to the shore is constructed in classic Vietnamese style. The temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century), La To (Patron Saint of Physicians), & the scholar Van Xuong.
Hope you liked my suggestions for Hoan Kiem Lake! Do comment below to let me know of your thoughts/questions!