Friday, April 27, 2007

Lake of the Returned Sword 3

Hoan Kiem Lake is the famous landmark around Hanoi. If you are lost, just take the lake as your reference. People are seen doing aerobics, tai chi, exercise, fishing in the day. At night, this turns out to be the favourite dating spot.

Ho Hoan Kiem means "lake of the returned sword". The story behind the name is a legend. In 1418, the Vietnamese emperor fought a war against the Chinese. It wasn't going too well for him so when he walked by the lake one day, he saw a giant tortoise coming out of the water with a magic sword in its mouth. He took the sword and eventually defeated the Chinese army. When he was having his victory parade at the shores of Ho Hoan Kiem, the tortoise appeared again and demanded the sword back. Before he could do anything, the sword flew away from his hands to the tortoise's mouth. It disappeared in the water. The emperor had a temple built which can still be seen today. Now, here's the curious thing: In 1968, a giant tortoise was discovered dead in the lake. Scientists estimate that it's at least 200 years old. It is exhibited in the temple (Jade Hill Temple, located on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake) and it is really huge: I would guess that it is about two metres long and weighs probably some 500kilos or so. Apart from all that historic stuff (that, btw, can be seen in the water puppet shows in the Water Puppet Theater next to the lake), Ho Hoan Kiem is a wonderful place to relax and watch the wind rippling the water. In the early morning and the evening, hundreds of Hanoians gather at the lakeshore to play badminton or do tai chi. Moreover, when you visit the lake at darkness, the lights of thousands motobikes passing by are beautifully reflected in the water. One final thing: The best look on the lake is from the top terrace of Pho Co Cafe. It's a little difficult to find - the entry is in a souvenir shop in 11, Hang Gai street, some 150metres away from the lake. And while there, you must enjoy a fresh orange juice...

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