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Situated in the heart of Hanoi, this delightful body of water also lies close to the hearts of the Vietnamese people. Legend has it that in the early 15th century, during the Minh Chinese occupation, General Le Loi was presented with a magical sword by a divine, golden turtle, which lived in the lake’s waters.

With the help of this sword, Le Loi expelled the Chinese from Thang Long, present-day Hanoi, and established himself as Emperor Le Thai To. Some time later, when the emperor was sailing on the lake, the divine turtle once again rose to the surface and reclaimed the sword. Since then, the lake has been known as Ho Hoan Kiem, or the lake of Restored Sword.

In the mid-19th century, a small pagoda called Thap Rua or Turtle Towner was built to commemorate this supernatural event. Located on an islet in the center of the lake, the structure has since become a prominent city icon.

On an island at the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake stands Den Ngoc Son or Jade Mountain Temple, one of the most beautiful and revered religious buildings in the capital. The temple can be accessed by an attractive red-painted, arched wooden bridge. This is the celebrated The Huc or Sunbeam Bridge. Dating from the Nguyen Dynasty in the early 1800s, the temple’s building is exquisitely preserved. Decorated with up swept eaves and elaborate carved dragons, the predominant colors are red, gold, yellow and black. The temple was established by a mandarin named Nguyen Van Sieu. A stylized stone ink slab rests atop the temple’s gate, while nearby, a tapering stone pillar represents a traditional writing brush. The ideograms on the stele translate as “writing on a clear sky.” In the antechamber, a giant turtle that died in the lake in 1968 is preserved. Den Ngoc Son is dedicated to the spirits of the soil, medicine, and literature, as well as to Tran Hung Dao, the general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century.

To the east of the lake is the large, bronze Statue of Ly Thai To, honoring the great founder of Thang Long. The statue, which has already become quite popular with pious Vietnamese, is venerated with incense and flowers.

Today, Hoan Kiem lake is one of the city’s most popular venues, generally packed with couples taking a stroll, people practicing Tai Chi, and old men playing chess. The lake also plays a major role during the city’s Tet celebrations, with stages for live music and a huge fireworks display.

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