Right in the heart of Hanoi is a public park where you can get your fix of nature. It’s called Ho Hoan Kiem Lake, and the strip of park meets multiple needs for the cities inhabitants—from a space to practice your sport of choice, to a prime picnicking spot, and much more. While the lake itself is on the smaller side, Ho Hoan Kiem Lake is Hanoi’s cultural and historic heart, which explains why the park is always busy from the first break of sunlight all the way through twilight.
The name of the lake means “Lake of the Restored Sword” and it refers to a legend with Le Loi, a great Vietnamese hero. Over the years, a number of statues, pagodas and other spaces have been developed to honour the legend of the lake and create quiet spaces for reflection. If you visit Hanoi, Ho Hoan Kiem Lake will undoubtedly be on your to-do list, and it will prove to be a relaxing way to spend a morning, afternoon, or evening.
The best way for you to get your bearing of Ho Hoan Kiem is to take a quick lap around the lake. As mentioned above, it isn’t especially enormous, and one lap will take you approximately 30 minutes to complete. There’s no need to rush the experience, as the walk is a pleasant one at any time of the year. If you happen to visit during June or July, you’ll be treated to the stunning site of the flame tree’s flowers in full bloom.
As you make the loop, you’ll see a number of landmarks, included Den Ngoc Son, a red-lacquered wood bridge leads you into the Temple of the Jade Mound. It’s surrounded by trees and the immediate sense of privacy and quiet can be incredibly relaxing. Take your time wandering around the Temple looking out for carved features like dragon heads.
Continuing on the loop around the lake you’ll also see features such as the Tortoise Tower, the statue of King Ly Thai To, St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the General Post Office.
There isn’t a much better way to enjoy the morning than sitting at a cosy café with a cup of coffee or tea, watching the levels of energy and activity slowly rise around Ho Hoan Kiem. You’ll have a number of options to choose from, depending on where around the lake you’d like to sit.
The Highlands is on the north side of the lake, and while it’s a chain coffee store, it has some of the best views. Heads up though, you may pay (literally) for the location—prices are often inflated here. For a more local-feel, head to Au Lac instead, where locals flock to enjoy their coffee that’s marketed as “Hanoi’s best.” Based on the crowds alone, there must be something about the coffee and café to keep people coming back as they do.
If you are a morning person, then head to Ho Hoan Kiem early. Here, at dawn on the shores of the lake, there are numerous t’ai chi lessons that take place on the greens. Often free, without any sort of reservation for place, you can join the locals in this practice and follow their flows. T’ai chi is a precise and rewarding practice, and even if it’s your first time trying it, you’ll be struck with the sense of togetherness it fosters, and you may even come out of the class with a sense of calm.
After a long day of sightseeing around Hanoi, a lazy, relaxing afternoon wandering through Ho Hoan Kiem could be exactly what you need. There are plenty of benches to take advantage of, and regardless of how long you have in the park, where in the park you go or what time of the day you visit, your impression of Ho Hoan Kiem Lake is sure to impress. Before you relax too much, don’t forget to get travel insurance before you get to Vietnam, so you can let the little worries go and stop stressing.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Maya-Anaïs Yataghène