Lake of the Restored Sword – Hồ Hoàn Kiếm
Ho Hoan Kiem is Hanoi’s most famous and beloved lake. Locals and tourists alike flock to its shady banks at all times of day. Older people particularly visit early in the morning to perform traditional exercises, and in the afternoons and at the weekends students meander shyly, hoping to meet international tourists with whom they can practice their English. The evenings are popular with couples, and you’ll often see them walking hand in hand around it, enjoying snacks and taking romantic photographs together. It’s a lovely place for a walk, steeped in history and mythology.
Legends and Mythology
The most famous tale of Hồ Hoàn Kiếm describes how the lake got its current name. It takes place in the early 1400s, prior to which it was known as Hồ Lục Thủy (Green Water Lake).
The emperor Lê Lợi, one of Vietnam’s greatest warriors, received a magical sword that gave him great power and helped him reclaim Vietnam’s independence from the Chinese. One day, after defeating his enemies and restoring peace to his homeland, Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when he was approached by the giant turtle god who lived in it. The emperor returned the enchanted weapon to the turtle god, which took it in its mouth and dived underwater, restoring the sword to its place of origin. From this point on it became Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, or, the Lake of the Restored Sword.
Another version of the legend states that the turtle originally gave Lê Lợi the blade, while yet another states that it was first found by a fisherman in Thanh Hóa province who later became his friend and military comrade. In all versions, however, the sword (named Thuận Thiên, or, Heaven’s Will) is returned to the turtle god of Hồ Hoàn Kiếm. In the middle of the lake is The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) which stands in honour of these events.
Visitors to the lake are also able to enter The Temple of the Jade Mountain (Đền Ngọc Sơn) via the charming wooden Rising Sun Bridge. This Taoist and Confucian temple was constructed in the 1800s, is devoted to a goddess, and also pays homage to another great Vietnamese military leader and prince named Trần Hưng Đạo.
Trần Hưng Đạo lived from 1228 to 1300 AD was known for his bravery and tactical nouse. He repelled several invasions from China and the Mongolians who at the time were led by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.
The Temple of the Jade Mountain complex also houses a giant turtle from the lake that is said to weigh 250 kg. These massive creatures have lived in the lake for centuries; sadly, in 2016 what may be the last of its species passed away in the lake, it is not clear if any further animals exist today. The aforementioned turtle was said to over 100 years of age.