As much as the Old Quarter is known as a special area of interest for tourist coming to Hanoi Hoan Kiem Lake seems to be the heart and spiritual soul of Hanoi. Especially in times of changing seasons you’ll have a feeling as if every Hanoian seems to visit the lake area.
The real name of the lake is Ho Hoan Kiem, which means “Lake of the returned sword” and the area around the lake is called Bo Ho – Lake Shore. In former time there has been a link from the lake to the Red River by To Lich River enabling small boats to come into the center of the city. At these times the lake was a source of fish, growing rice and vegetables in fertile soil.
Today the lake is a picturesque oasis in the middle of this bustling city. It is at every hour an attractive side for socializing, relaxing and a lot’s of different sport activities especially in early mornings. Apart from these sights there are as well some man build monuments.
The turtle tower
In the lake is an islet with a small tower called Thap Rua (Turtle Tower), which honors the magic turtle still guarding the sword of Le Loi, a Vietnamese hero. Near the beginning of the Old Quarter you’ll find the Temple of the Jade Mountain. It has been built in the 16th to 18th century. In old times it has been a country villa of some mandarins and became a Buddhist pagoda in the 19th century.
To get to the temple you have to pass the Three Passage Gate (Tam Quan) and the Morning Sunlight Bridge (The Huc). If you come to the first gate you’ll have the sign for happiness on the right and that of prosperity on the left.
After the first gate you’ll find the Pen Tower (Thap But) a ten-meter high stone structure resembling a writing brush. The mountain it stands on represents good foundation and earth. A principle of Feng Shui as well as the water in the lake gives a harmonious arrangement. The small altar is to pray for permission to enter.
The following gate is decorated with Taoist symbols. On the left you can find a tiger image and on the right the Vietnamese dragon. Both are symbols of stability. On the backside a carp and a phoenix symbols of longevity. On the top of the third gate you will see a large stone representing an ink stone. This stone is placed in a way that on the 5th of May (lunar calendar) the shadow of the Pen Tower falls on the ink stone.
Than you cross the red painted Morning Sunlight Bridge here you can watch the sunrise if you are early enough. After crossing the bridge you reach the islet with another gate. Here are as well typical Taoist symbols to find the Dragon horse and tortoise. The temple complex exemplifies the harmony of Feng Shui, it is surrounded by water, which directs the energy to the temple. The temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. In front of the main temple is a vast bronze incense burner before you reach the red entrance doors.