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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip
Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip
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Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hanoi: What To Know and Do

Picture of Katie Kalmusky
Updated: 28 February 2018

Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi attracts thousands of tourists for its elegant combination of modernity and history. One place in particular attracts tourists and locals alike. Known for its peaceful atmosphere and gigantic turtles, Hoan Kiem Lake is more than just a place to relax: it’s the site of an old legend involving an emperor and a magical sword.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip 

The legend of Hoan Khiem Lake

Lying in the centre of Hanoi‘s historic district, Hoan Kiem Lake is a lovely, peaceful place with a fascinating history. In 1428, legend has it that Emperor Le Loi obtained a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against Chinese oppressors. The sword, as you may have guessed, came from Hoan Kiem lake.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip

After the successful battle against the Chinese invaders, Emperor Le Loi visited the beautiful lake. He was boating through the still waters when an enormous golden turtle surfaced. The turtle explained that he was sent by his master, the Dragon King, to retrieve the sword from Le Loi. Loi returned the sword to the turtle, who swam back beneath the jade waters. Loi then named the area Hoan Kiem lake, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” to commemorate the spectacular event.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip 

Turtle Tower lies on an island in the middle of the lake. After the gigantic turtle reclaimed the sword for its master, turtles began to be revered around Hoan Kiem lake. There was one turtle living in the water that was thought to be the incarnation of the mythical turtle Le Loi met in 1428. Affectionately named Cu Rua, the massive turtle was thought to be one of four Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles in the entire world. Sadly, she was discovered dead in early 2016 and the entire country mourned her death. She was embalmed and put on display at Vietnam’s National Museum of Natural History.

Hoan Kiem lake remains a very popular place for locals and tourists. Flocks of people gather here for exercise in the morning and for relaxing siestas in the afternoon.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip

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Hoan Kiem Lake is a perfect place to sit and observe the Hanoian pace of life. The site is a source of pride for those living in the city, and once you pay this beautiful place a visit, you will see why.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip

Hoan Kiem Lake is centrally located in Hanoi and is only minutes away from the Old Quarter, close to hotels and restaurants. Take Yen Phu Road to reach the Old Quarter and head east to Hoan Kiem Lake to see the special place where an ancient emperor once received a magical sword from the Dragon King.

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Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip