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The commercial vi xử lý core of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem District, trang chủ to the city’s banks, airlines và the GPO, plus most of the hotels, restaurants, shopping streets và markets. But there’s a lot more lớn the area, not least Hoan Kiem lake itself and the nearby temples, which date back to lớn the earliest days of the city. Though you’ll want to spend time on these individual sights, it’s the abundant streetlife and architectural wealth that give the area its special allure. You will likely find walking tours around the district to be particularly worth doing at night, when temples are lit up, making reflections on the water.

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What to see in Hoan Kiem District

Hoan Kiem Lake

Early morning sees Hoan Kiem Lake at its best, stirring khổng lồ life as walkers, joggers và tai chi enthusiasts limber up in the half-light. Space is at a premium in this crowded city, and the lake’s strip of park meets multiple needs, at its busiest when lunch-hour hawkers are out in force & easing down slowly lớn evenings of old men playing chess and couples seeking twilight privacy on benches half-hidden among the willows. The lake itself is small – you can walk around it in thirty minutes – and not particularly spectacular, but to Hanoians, this is the soul of their city.

The name of the lake, which means “Lake of the Restored Sword”, refers khổng lồ a legend of the great Vietnamese hero, Le Loi, who led a successful uprising against the Chinese in the fifteenth century. Tradition has it that Le Loi found a sword that was partly responsible for his glorious win, after ten years of battle, the sword was reclaimed by the gods through the use of a golden turtle.

A good way to get your bearings in Hanoi is khổng lồ make a quick circuit of the lake, a pleasant walk at any time of year và stunning when the flame trees flower in June & July. The sights below are given in clockwise order, beginning at the iconic Huc Bridge (possibly the most photographed site in the city) at the lake’s northeast corner.

Den Ngoc Son at Hoan Kiem Lake

When crossing the Huc Bridge, an arch of red-lacquered wood poetically labelled “the place where morning sunlight rests”, you will find the secluded Den Ngoc Son sheltering among ancient trees. This small temple, known in Vietnamese as “Temple of the Jade Mound”, was founded in the fourteenth century & is dedicated lớn an eclectic group: national anh hùng General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in 1288, sits on the principal altar; Van Xuong, God of Literature; physician La To; & a martial arts practitioner, quan tiền Vu. The temple buildings date from the 1800s và are typical of the Nguyen Dynasty; in the antechamber, look out for the long heads, carved with bulbous noses và teeth bared in manic grins.

Statue of King Ly bầu To

Heading south along the eastern side of Hoan Kiem Lake, you’ll come to an imperious statue of Hanoi’s founding father, King Ly thai To, which was erected in 2004 in anticipation of celebrations lớn mark the city’s millennium in 2010. At dusk, the expanse of polished stone paving around it provides an incongruous venue for Hanoi’s small but keen band of break-dancers.

The Tortoise Tower at Hoan Kiem Lake

A squat, three-tiered pavilion known as Thap Rua, or the Tortoise Tower, ornaments a tiny island at the southern kết thúc of Ho Hoan Kiem. It’s illuminated after dark, & is another of Hanoi’s most prevalent icons, with its reflection shimmering in the lake. It was built in the 19th century to commemorate the legend of the golden turtle & the restored sword but is not accessible lớn the public.

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The General Post Office

At the southeast corner of the lake stands the enormous General Post Office, which marks the northern fringe of the French Quarter. Opposite the post office, on the shore of the lake, stands a small & ancient brick tower. This is all that remains of an enormous pagoda complex, Chua Bao An, after French town planners cleared the site in 1892 khổng lồ construct the administrative offices & residences of their new possession.

St. Joseph"s Cathedral

As you round the southern tip of the lake and head up its western shore, you’ll spot Hanoi’s neo-Gothic cathedral over the rooftops to lớn your left. Veer left along Hang Trong, then left into Nha Tho, khổng lồ reach it. It was constructed in the early 1880s, partly financed by two lotteries, và though the exterior is badly weathered, its high-vaulted interior is still imposing. Among the first things you notice inside are the ornate altar screen and the stained-glass windows, most of which are French originals. Over the đen marble tomb of a former cardinal of Vietnam stands one of several statues commemorating martyred Vietnamese saints, in this case, André Dung Lac, who was executed in 1839 on the orders of the fervently anti-Christian emperor Minh Mang.

The cathedral’s main door is xuất hiện during services (the celebration of Mass was allowed to lớn resume on Christmas Eve 1990 after a long hiatus); at other times walk round to lớn the small door in the southwest corner. The cathedral is on Nha Tho, one of the most fashionable streets in the đô thị for shopping, dining and drinking.

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda

Walking north from St Joseph’s Cathedral along Ly Quoc Su brings you to lớn Ly Quoc Su Pagoda, a small pagoda with a genuinely interesting collection of statues. Ly Quoc Su (sometimes also known as Minh Khong) was a Buddhist teacher, healer and royal adviser who cured the hallucinating King Ly Than Tong of believing he was a tiger. Quoc Su’s image resides alongside that of the white-bearded Tu Dao hanh khô on the principal altar of this twelfth-century temple – when it later became a pagoda they simply added a few Buddhas behind. In front of the altar, two groups of statues face each other across the prayer floor: four secular, female figures sit opposite three perfectly inscrutable mandarins of the nineteenth century, clothed in rich red lacquer.

From Ly Quoc Su, make your way back to lớn Hoan Kiem Lake và continue northwards to lớn where Thuy Ta café offers respite from the traffic & a fine place to lớn relax.

Giant Turtles at Hoan Kiem Lake

At least one hardy giant turtle still lives in the lake. It was captured and examined in early 2011 when wounds on its leg and head were identified, though it still managed to elude captors twice before being netted. It is a rare species of enormous, soft-shelled turtle known as rafetus swinhoei, of which there are only a few other specimens in Vietnam và China. This one weighed in at around 200kg and scientists estimate its age at around 80-100 years, but of course, Hanoians believe it is one và the same creature from legends that supposedly took Ly thai To’s sword over five hundred years ago.

The turtle you’re most likely lớn see, however, is a heavily varnished specimen captured in 1968. It’s preserved and on view on a small island behind Den Son Ngoc, also accessible via The Huc Bridge. Beside the bridge stands a nine-metre-high obelisk, the Writing Brush Tower, on which three outsized Chinese characters proclaim, “a pen lớn write on the blue sky”.

Where to lớn eat and drink in Hoan Kiem

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