There’s a Hanoian saying that “Tụ thủy, tụ nhân” – where there are lakes, there will be crowds of people which is the reason why Hanoi has been the capital for over a thousand years.
Numerous foreigners to Hanoi get amazed by the number of large lakes in the city. The capital with high population density where living area even seems to be limited still remains those large lakes. Hanoi has over 100 lakes ranging all around the city. Besides man-made lakes (Văn lake, Ngọc Khánh lake, Thành Công lake), there are spectacular natural lakes such as Restored Sword lake, West Lake, Trúc Bạch lake, Thiền Quang lake, etc. The five lakes including West Lake, Sword Lake, Bảy Mẫu, Ngọc Khánh, and Đồng Nhân lakes are the most well-known representing the five basic elements.
Restored Sword lake – the most sacred
Perhaps, there are no lakes all over the country considered as sacredly as Restored Sword lake. Legend has it that 6 centuries ago, Sword lake had 2 parts ranging from Hang Dao, Hai Ba Trung, Ly Thuong Kiet streets to Hang Chuoi street, directly into the Red River. At the 15th century, the lake had its name as Sword Lake based on the legendary story of returning a sword to a golden turtle. Le Loi, who are posthumously known by his temple name Lê Thái Tổ, came to the throne and set Thang Long as the capital. When he was on board floating on the Green Lake, a giant turtle suddenly appeared and took the golden sword from the king. Since then, Green Lake has its name as the Restored Sword Lake. Its total area is about 12ha with 700m length and 200m width.
Sword Lake is green all year round standing with the historical relics such as Turtle Tower, Ngoc Son Temple, Pen Tower, Hoa Phong Tower. From upward perspective, Sword lake shows up as a blue pearl in tremendous beauty. Around the lake are various types of trees fluttering in the breeze and silhouetting on the surface of the lake. Sword lake is compared to a giant flower basket in the middle of the capital, a pride of Hanoians in particular, and of the country in general.
West Lake – the largest lake
Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake, West Lake has a circumference of 17km and houses many of the city’s historic places of interest around its perimeter – including Vietnam’s oldest pagoda and one of Vietnam’s four sacred temples.
The lake attracts many locals and tourists seeking respite from the busy city, providing a sanctuary of great natural beauty with plenty of quiet spots in the sizeable lush gardens surrounding the lake.
Known locally as Tay Ho Lake there are a host of stunning architectural gems surrounding this spot in addition to one or two entertainment venues and a smattering of high-end hotels.
The actual creation of West Lake still remains a mystery although one legend claims that it was formed when the Dragon King Lac Long Quan drowned a wicked fox spirit with nine tails in his lair. An alternative folklore source claims the lake was formed when a large Chinese buffalo mistakenly confused a pagoda temple bell with its mothers call and ran so fiercely into a small hollow that the lake was made.
West Lake is a beautiful place to while away an afternoon, there are boats for hire and lunch on a floating restaurant makes a novel dining option. Notable points of interest at West Lake include Tran Quoc Pagoda which was built in the 6th century making it Vietnam’s oldest temple.
The lake used to be part of the Red River when it was a retreat reserved for the relaxation of mandarins and kings, today the lake offers so much to enjoy with a unique fusion of nature at her best and some of the most historic cultural sights in the whole of Vietnam.
Bay Mau Lake which has the largest number of isles
As a freshwater lake located in the Thong Nhat park in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Bay Mau lake has two islands standing at the middle creating a uniqueness compared to other lakes in the area: Thong Nhat isle is a flower garden and Hoa Binh isle, near the eastern shore, is a shady quiet place for guests to relax.
The lake occupies approximately 28 ha in total area. The lake used to be quite large which got separated into 3 lakes (Thien Quang lake, Ba Mau lake) after road construction.
Some people said its name came from its total area, but actually this lake is up to 30 ha wide, not 7 (Bảy). Some others said it was the name of the goddess this place worshipped which is unclear.
The lake was deepened in 1960, renovated along with the construction of the Thong Nhat Park, and is currently a beautiful lake to check in.
Truc Bach Lake
Students of the American Vietnam War may know Truc Bach Lake as the place where the American 2008 presidential candidate and Arizona senator, John McCain, was shot down. McCain parachuted from his plane into the lake and nearly drowned. A group of Vietnamese men pulled him from the lake, at which point he was mauled by a mob and made a prisoner of war. To this day, a monument erected in celebration of this event stands on the western shore of the lake.
Built in the 1600s when a narrow dyke was constructed in order to divide West Lake for the purpose of raising fish, Truc Bach Lake is dotted with historically significant sites. The Vien Truc Lam palace is one of these, which was originally a place of worship, and later became a prison for “errant ladies”. The ladies living in the prison were forced to weave, and the silk fabric they produced there became famous throughout Hanoi. On the southwestern corner is the Holy Mandarin Temple, and in the east is Chau Long pagoda. An Tri temple is also nearby.
Hanoi’s lakes, along with the parks and historical landmarks surrounding them, are definitely worth a visit as you explore Hanoi. If possible, try to make it to the lakes early one morning as the sun is rising. West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake especially are very beautiful as the sun comes up, and a beer on West Lake watching the sun set is a great way to end a hard day’s exploring.
Thien Quang Lake
Not far from West Lake, Thien Quang, which means “Buddha’s Light”, was named for a village located along the southeastern corner of the five hectare lake. Other villages also surrounded the lake, but as Hanoi grew, these villages were absorbed by the city. Unfortunately, the French filled in part of the lake in order to build more streets in the 1930s, transforming the lake into its present size and shape. The traditional village populations at that time were displaced, most of them moving to the western side of the lake (today, 31 – 33 Tran Binh Trong Street).
Also known as “Halair Lake” and “Halais Lake”, Thien Quang today occupies a relatively quiet area, surrounded by a park with walking trails. Visitors might see young boys fishing with bamboo poles along the lake’s edge.