Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hanoi, Vietnam: Hoàn Kiêm Lake

One of the first things I like to do in a new city is find a place to relax. In Hanoi, this would have to be Hoàn Kiêm Lake. It's in the center of the Old Quarter and is a cultural hotspot in the city. It's a beautiful place: the park features a walking path around a large lake that is always green, lots of shade and benches, and bush sculptures around. Although I haven't seen any yet, apparently the lake is filled with tortoises (which is an unusual feature of lakes in Vietnam). In the mornings it is filled with older citizens practicing Tai Chi and exercising. By night it's filled with couples and groups of friends socializing.

Hoàn Kiêm Lake can roughly be translated to "Lake of the Returned Sword." Apparently, Emperor Le Loi had once been given a magic sword named "Heaven's Will" when he was leading a revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. He named it this because it was a gift from heaven, specifically the Dragon King. After he used the sword to win the revolt, he was confronted by a Golden Turtle God asking for it back. Without hesitation, the Emperor threw his sword back into the lake to return it to the local god that had given it to him. In the center of the lake is a tiny island which is home to Turtle Tower. It actually kind of looks like a turtle, and everything is gorgeous when lit up at night.

For me, it's a central point. I spend a little bit of time here each day, and before I head back to the hotel I just sit and relax in the park. Just a warning if you're planning on a visit -- on weekends it is swarmed by college students and English clubs filled with people that stop every foreigner they see so that they can practice their English. I like the idea of it, but it got a little annoying that I couldn't take five steps without someone trying to get my attention. It's much more calm during the week!

Deer bushes!

Lots of deer bushes!

Beautiful gardens are constantly tended by ladies in conical hats.

Turtle Tower!

The park is gorgeous.

The Huc Bridge, which leads to a temple named Den Ngoc Sun. I didn't go into the temple -- it was crowded
and I have seen so many temples that I didn't feeling I was missing out.

Entrance to the temple.

A pagoda outside the temple.

The bridge at night -- stunning.

The bridge and temple.

The entire path around the lake is lit up like this night.

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