In Hanoi’s city center, people for generations have integrated Hoàn Kiếm Lake into their daily lives. Central to their social, physical and cultural routines, youth and adults crowd the site day and night. In the early morning, community elders congregate in traditional areas to practice Tai Chi, while youth and young adults jog on the lake’s paved path.
After school hours and in the early evening, students congregate to talk at various popular spots – sometimes to meet international tourists and practice English conversation. The lake is a romantic setting at night for couples of all ages, of course. And, on the weekend, traffic is blocked from the road circling the lake, widening the pedestrian walking path and a offering a place to set up traditional games, such as jump rope and “umbrella eating.”
The lake’s most prominent feature is the Turtle Tower, or “Temple of the Jade Mountain” (Tháp Rùa), a stone pagoda on a small island linked to the shore by the stunning, iconic Rising Sun Bridge. The monument was built to commemorate 13th-Century hero General Trần Hưng Đạo, who defeated an armed force of 300,000 soldiers sent by Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan to invade Vietnam.
According to legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was given a magical sword by the Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) to smite the Chinese Ming Dynasty. After successfully fending off the invaders, the Emperor was boating on Hoàn Kiếm Lake when a giant turtle rose up and snatched the sword before diving back into the depths, never to be found again. Lê Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, the Dragon King (Long Vương) had gifted him for the battle. The Emperor renamed the lake Hoàn Kiếm (“Lake of the Returned Sword”) to commemorate this event.