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Things to see in Hanoi - Lakes

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

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  • Image © 2003 Lisa Spivey

The Thien Quang Lake

The Thien Quang Lake has an area of about five hectares and is situated in the Hai Ba Trung District, surrounded by four streets: Nguyen Du, Tran Binh Trong, Tran Nhan Tong and Quang Trung.

In the past, Thien Quang ("Buddha's Light) was a village in the southeast corner of the lake and is now Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street. Apart from this village, there were other villages around the lake-Lien Thuy in its northeast, Quang Hoa in the southeast and Phap Hoa in the south. According to old maps, this lake was originally even larger. Under colonial rule, the French ordered the lake to be filled in to build more streets and in the 1930s, the area was transformed into what we see today. It was also due to the construction of new streets that the colonialists leveled the lake's surrounding villages, displaced the population and incorporated the three pagodas of Thien Quang, Phap Hoa and Quang Hoa Villages and moved them to the lake's western side as part of Lien Thuy Village, now numbered 31-33 Tran Binh Trong Street. In the Thien Quang Pagoda, there is a stele engraved in 1882 with the history of the pagoda.

The Truc Bach Lake

Truc Bach and West Lakes are separated by Youth Road. The road as it is today, and its name originated in 1957-8. It was formerly called Co Ngu and was a narrow dyke separating a corner of West Lake. In fact, the Truc Bach Lake came into being in the 17th century when the inhabitants of Yen Hoa Village (now Yen Phu) and Yen Quang Village (now Quan Thanh Street) built a dyke separating West Lake's southeast corner in order to raise fish. At the southern side of the lake in Truc Yen Village, the inhabitants made bamboo blinds, which was why every family planted species of small bamboo trees.

In the reign of Trinh Giang (1729-40), Vien Truc Lam palace was built for worship. Later, the palace was converted into a prison for the custody of errant ladies. These poor women were forced to weave for their existence. Their silk fabric was so nice that it became famous throughout the capital and was called Truc village silk.

Like West Lake, there are various historic sites and distinctive architecture. The Holy Mandarin Temple is situated in the lake's southwestern corner. On the east, there is Chau Long pagoda that is said to have built in the reign of King Tran Nhan Tong and is where the princess of King Tran Nhan Tong worshipped. There is also the An Tri temple in Pho Duc Chinh Street and dedicated to Uy Do, a hero of the anti-Yuan war of resistance.

Streets line three sides of the lake and only the side on Youth Road is exposed and is where one can enjoy its beauty and calmness. On the northern corner, not far from Youth Road, there is a small hill on which the Cau Nhi Temple was situated. The temple no longer exists but there is a stone stele that tells of the temple's background.

The West Lake

This is a big lake in inner Hanoi covering an area of hundreds of hectares and the road around it is ten and a half miles long. Geographers have shown that the lake was once part of the Red River left behind when the river changed its course. It is perhaps due to changes in the courses of rivers and lakes that there are so many legends about them and their names. For instance, according to the "Ho Tinh" story, the lake was named after Xac Cao. The legend tells that there was a nine-tailed fox hiding itself in the area with the intention to harm the people. Long Quan raised the level of the water in order to destroy the fox's lair. The cave he occupied collapsed and was turned into the lake. According to another version, that of the "Bell Casting Giant," the lake had another name, "Golden Buffalo." This story tells of a giant amassing all the black bronze from the north in order to cast a bell which when struck, would echo throughout the countryside. Because black bronze was the mother of gold, the north's golden buffalo heard the sound and desperately searched for its mother. It came to this area and repeatedly trampled upon it to such an extent that the earth sunk and it became a lake.

According to ancient manuscripts however, this lake was written into 11th century history as Dam Dam (Frost Lake) and by the 15th century, it was called Tay Ho (West Lake) and has long been a site of interest. Since the Ly-Tran dynasties, kings built various palaces around the lake as sites of interest and enjoyment.

When the lake and weather are calm, boating on it is a delight. On a walk around the lake, one can see many relics and sites of interest. Nghi Tam Village (birthplace of the famous poetess, Ba Huyen Thanh Quan), the Kim Lien pagoda with its unique architecture and Nhat Tan Village with its famous garden of peaches are located around the lake. There is also the Thien Nien pagoda dedicated to the founder of the art of weaving, Ke Buoi village with its traditional papermaking, Dong Co temple, and most striking of all, the Holy Mandarin Temple.

Today, with a series of newly built hotels around the lake, its beauty is even more diversified. Together with Truc Bach Lake, the West Lake further enriches the poetic nature of inner Hanoi while at the same time gives the city a source of fresh fish.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake means "Lake of the Restored Sword" referring to a legendary fifteenth century Vietnamese hero, whose magical sword was swallowed by a golden tortoise. Hence on a tiny island in the middle of the lake stands appropriately "Tortoise Tower," an ancient three-tiered pavilion in memory of the famed tortoise. On another islet to the north, inside the fourteenth century Den Ngoc Son Temple, a giant preserved turtle encased in glass keeps the legend alive. This picturesque temple is linked to the shore by the red-lacquered Huc Bridge, which is resplendently mirrored in the murky waters below.

Read Samantha Coomber's On the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake

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Excerpted from Hanoi: Past and Present by Nguyen Vinh Phuc, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 1995

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Published on 12/7/03

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