Hoan Kiem Lake
Pho Dinh Tien, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi Reviews
Heart of Hanoi (the French Quarter / Hoan Kiem Lake / Ngoc Son Temple area) Jun 27, 2011
Using my own non-expert terminology, I like to think of the Hoan Kiem Lake area as the "Heart of Hanoi." I think a tourist brochure would call it “the French Quarter”.
Don't let the word "lake" fool you; Hoan Kiem Lake is practically a pond. I imagine that the diameter is somewhere around 1 kilometer. The pictures don’t seem to capture how small the area really is.
That’s not to say you’ll run out of things to do (not for at least a couple days). There are dozens of things to do or observe in the areas for little or no price. For example, you can:
*Take a run around the lake
*Watch people doing what I believe was Thai Chi (sp?) in the morning. (Hint: Dawn is pretty. Get up early).
*Visit the mini-museum at Ngoc Son Temple (that's the island connected by the red bridge in the middle of the lake) and learn about a myth involving a turtle that I'm unable to recall with much clarity, (haha);
*see the water puppet show (Note: this is not on the lake, but rather in a nearby theater. Also, ask someone about the times; the shows are usually at night).
*Eat authentic food prepared by the locals
*Visit local markets
*Watch people playing a unique sport that involves kicking an object over a net in a court.
(I was really fascinated by this. I was observing two teams of two kicking what appeared to be a badminton birdie. However, I am not sure whether this was a sport in its own right or if the players were actually practicing for sepak takraw)
There are also relatively nice restaurants and other attractions that are a bit more costly in the Hoan Kiem / French Quarters area. It depends on what you’re up for. I believe a nice opera house is there, for example.
One word of caution (which is really rather minor):
While Hanoi is a welcoming place with a small-town feel, particularly at the lake, there are many aggressive "vendors" (perhaps phony ones at that, since they appear to target tourists to get them to buy things that actually have little or no true cultural significance). I never found them to be the least bit threatening, but I did read an article in a Hanoi newspaper that strongly condemned their sales tactics. (I guess that illustrates how nice the culture is in VN; tourist trappers are not appreciated).
Here's a quick example: One of these so-called "vendors" might put a straw hat on a tourists' head, ask her to hold a scale loaded with cut pineapples, wrap a baggie of pineapple around her finger, and then say "60,000 dong, please." The tourist might then be lucky to get away without having the "vendor" take her picture (for a price later to be "bartered for," haha), and paying inflated prices for fruit that could have been purchased from a real Hanoi vendor for much less.
I guess the morale of the story is that you don't need to encourage such activity. I wish I could say I had a better grasp on what is really "authentic", but maybe that's more of a philosophical question... or at least something that can be better answered by someone with more experience than I.
Also, (I'm sure you've read this elsewhere but) barter for everything in VN. Even if a local offers you a ride on their motorbike -- a means of transport that I found to be perfectly reliable and cost-effective -- make sure you negotiate the price upfront and that they understand your destination.
The Hoan Kiem Lake area is a beautiful place. I absolutely think of it as the "Heart of Hanoi." All you need to do is take a walk around Hoan Kiem and take everything in.
3 / 3 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
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Au coeur de la ville Feb 25, 2011
A voir aussi en soirée, la tour de la tortue, le pont et le temple de la Montagne de Jade sont éclairés!
Stunning focal point Mar 04, 2010
Based in the historic heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem lake is a wonderful focal point in the city and makes for a great visit.
In the middle of the lake stands turtle tower. According to local legend, the Emperor Le Loi handed a sword back to the tortoise god here, which helped him to lead a victorious revolt against the Chinese Ming dynasty.
Apart from the historic and fantastic labels, the lake is really nice and calming to visit away from the crazy traffic of Hanoi. People jog past, couples take a stroll and it just makes for a wonderful visit. At night too, the views of turtle tower are lovely.
If you are in Hanoi, you will and should definitely walk past here and admire the site.
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