Hanoi’s Historical Sites Series: Hoàn Kiếm Lake

History is what makes a country and its people.  I love to travel not only to have my pictures taken but also to experience a place and discover its stories behind the famous titles and taglines of “world’s largest”, “world’s #1”, “world’s wonder”, etc.  It is by knowing how a place came to be which gives traveling its essence.  To be exactly there and not just by reading or watching from television that one can truly understand the history of a nation.

My folks asked me, “Why Vietnam?” when I told them I was going to visit the country.  “It’s just like Philippines”, they added.  “I wanna see Ha Long Bay”, I replied.  “So, what’s in Ha Long?  It’s just like Coron, Palawan!”, I said to myself.  Me, myself, and I even doubted why I chose Vietnam and why I wished to be there.  But something is drawing me near to it.

When we arrived in Hanoi, it is indeed just like the Philippines.  Chaotic, polluted, another third world country.  But still, I felt different!  I became proud of being there, just stepping into the grounds of war, battle cries, poverty, courage, hope, and love.  Vietnam had gone through a lot from its Chinese, French, Americans, and Japanese conquerors.  It was only in 1945 that the country claimed its independence, identity, and name because for over 5 millennia, it kept changing its name 23 times. (Source:  Wikipedia) Vietnam is remarkably a country of longest history in the world.  Then I told myself, “It is just like the Philippines”.

However when we got there, I found out that Hanoi is being surrounded with bodies of water.  There are rivers and numerous lakes which I found odd for a city.  I asked our tour guide, Tun about it and he replied, “That is the result of the bombings of the United States to our country”.  And right at the very heart of the city of Hanoi is the Hoàn Kiếm Lake or “Lake of the Restored Sword”.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

According to legend, there’s this golden turtle god named Kim Qui who snatched the magic sword of Emperor Lê Lợi while he was boating in the lake.  It has been believed that the sword was given to the emperor by a local god Long Vương, the dragon king during his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.  Since the revolt is over, Kim Qui was sent by Long Vương to reclaim the magic sword from Lê Lợi.

Giant turtles are really found in the lake but sightings are now rare.  The last turtle sighting was in 2011 and the turtles are now listed as endangered species.  “Turtles in Vietnam are a symbol of peace and end of war”, quipped our guide.

turtle tower hanoiturtle tower vietnam

The Turtle Tower or Thap Rùa in the photos above stands majestically in its place.  By night, it becomes magical by the colored lights pointing towards it.  It can’t be reached by people because there are no boats nor bridge connecting to it unlike the nearby Jade Island.

hanoi center
The Jade Island houses the Temple of the Jade Mountain or Đền Ngọc Sơn which was built for the Confucian and Taoist philosophers.

The first gate of the Ngọc Sơn Temple displays two large Chinese characters – happiness on the right and prosperity on the left.  Two of the sought-after elements of this so-called mortal life we have.

first gate hanoi
As you enter the first gate, there’s the Pen Tower or Thap But which tells that the temple is dedicated to literature and poetry.

pen tower
The second gate is carved with animals – tiger, dragon, storks, and carp symbolizing stability and longevity.

ngoc son temple 2nd gate
The third gateway has an ink slab or Dai Nghien on top from which the shadow of the Pen Tower falls on it every 5th of May of the lunar calendar.  The white scroll underneath it is inscribed with a quote written by Nguyễn Văn Siêu, a Confucian master and famous writer.

hanoi ngoc son
Then a bright red wooden bridge brings you to the island.  This is the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge or Cầu Thê Húc in the shape of a sickle-moon.  This offers the best view of Hanoi’s blissful sunrise everyday.

Cầu Thê Húc morning sunlight bridge
Finally, the fourth gate!  On top of it is a small room with circular windows called the Moon Contemplation Pavilion or Dac Nguyet.  It has various Taoism symbols of watching and protecting and the carved Kim Qui on the left carrying the magic sword on its back.  (Source:  Thang Long – Hanoi)

Entrance fee to the temple is 30,000 VND which is equivalent to 60 PhP only.

And that’s the Hoàn Kiếm Lake complex.  Stay tuned tomorrow for another historical site of Hanoi, the Temple of Literature as we journey into this series only here on The Other Side of Mae!  #tosomtravels

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