Hoan Kiem Lake or the Lake of the Returned Sword is a historical witness of Thang Long – Dong Do and the present Hanoi city that records the rise and fall of Viet nation. It was once a part of the Red River or Hong River. Through thousands years of changes in the geography, moved eastward to the present position many kilometers from the river. The lake was once called Luc Thuy or Green Water because the water was green all year round.
The lake derives its name from the reign of King Le Thai To since 1428 to 1433. According to the legend, King To had warded off the invading Ming troops from China thanks for a magic sword given to him by the gods. One day, while ha was boating in the lake near the citadel a golden tortoise emerged from the depths, snatched the sword from the king and disappeared beneath the water surface with the sword. Thus, Hoan Kiem Lake means the Lake of the Restored Sword. The legend also shows the Vietnam nation’s desire for peace.
There are two islands in the lake those make the lake to become attractive. Vietnamese writer To Hoai ever wrote that people who visited Hanoi without enjoying a view of Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple is not to set foot on Hanoi soil.
The ornate Ngoc Son Temple graces the larger island that can be reached by crossing The Huc Bridge or the Bridge of the Rising Sun. The temple is a shrine to Van Xuong, a deity in charge of literature and the various tests required to become a mandarin. It is also a shrine to general Tran Hung Dao, a national hero responsible for many victories against the Mongols.
The larger island also comprises Thap But or Pen Tower on the hill which was once called Dao Tai. Three words those were inscribed on the tower are Ta Thien Thanh or Writing on blue sky. Inside the temple’s gate, a pool resembling the shape of an ink well was added. Beyond the ink well is The Huc Bridge or where the sun light is absorbed. The bridge leads to Dac Nguyet Lau or Moon Light Tower. Beyond the gates to the temple, there are two walls called Long Mon and Ho Bang (dragon and tiger slate) where the names of those who passed the national test are inscribed.
On the southwest end of the lake is the small island where Thap Rua or the Tortoise Tower was located on. It was rumored that King Le Thanh Tong was used to fish here. Lord Trinh also built the structure to house his entourage while visiting the lake.
Located close to the lake, Ba Kieu Temple where honoured three goddesses including Lieu Hanh, Quynh Hoa and Que Nuong preserves many cultural and historical relics such as stone stele, bronze bell and a system of 27 title conferment those belong to Le, Tay Son and Nguyen dynasty.
Additionally, there are numbers of statues located close to the lake, including the statue of King Ly Thai To who formed the imperial city of Thang Long in 1010, the statue of King Le Thai To who derives the legend of the Restored Sword and statue of Vietnamese soldiers who determined to deadly fight for winning the victory in Vietnamese war against the French.
However, the most famous attraction of Hanoi is Old Quarter that never ceases to fascinate those who love to understand the one thousand year old Hanoi city. Located close to the lake, the Old Quarter is often called the quarter of 36 guilds and streets. It is considered the best place to experience the spirit of the city. It has all the reputed good and bad qualities of the ancient capital of Vietnam: ancientness, prosperity, elegance as well as some “city vices” such as avarice, dishonesty and disorder.
By all accounts, the quarter is famous for handicrafts and trading. Being the heart of the capital of the Viet Kingdom in 1010 AD, it was also the most prosperous as well as important trading centre of the Kingdom. Most of these streets are named after the products or the trades of the guilds those dominated there: Hang Dao (silk), Hang Duong (sweets), Lo Ren (smithy), etc.
The people of the quarter, especially who belong to the families that have been living there for quite a few generations, are known not only for shrewdness and eagerness in business but also for good taste in all matters of life. The Old Quarter is also home of genuine Hanoi specialties, something writers and scholars can not miss in their works about this city. Artists of all people love the Old Quarter for all of its uniqueness and complexities. “It’d better to enjoy all the ins and outs of Hanoi Old Quarter from the height,” said Marcelino Truong, a Vietnamese artist residing in France .