Hoan Kiem Lake – A morning view

Hoan Kiem Lake – A morning view

It means getting up before the sun does but it will be well worth the effort – I’m referring to taking a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, the beating heart of Vietnam’s capital city Hanoi. This kidney bowl shaped area of water separates the frenetic Old Quarter from the tree-lined boulevards of the French Colonial area and modern day Hanoi.

One thing you can be sure of is that you will not be alone on your walk. Vietnamese people are early to bed and early to rise and they take full advantage of the waking hours to go walking, jogging, play badminton and practice tai chi and calisthenics around the lake. The wide pavements are a hive of activity as groups of elderly ladies wave fans and perform a variety of manoeuvres often to musical accompaniment. Nearby young men cavort around a hastily chalked out badminton court whilst their grandparents move gracefully in silence facing the lake as they do their daily tai chi exercises.

Whilst all this is going on joggers and walkers– young and old alike – make numerous circuits of the lake as curious tourists look on with cameras and mobiles phones poised at the ready. The relative serenity of the morning’s proceedings is in stark contrast to the frantic traffic contained within the busy road which encircles the entire lake. Here cars, buses and above all motorbikes vie for position, stopping only for red lights (and even then reluctantly)! The motorbikes are laden with goods bound for the various markets dotted around Hoan Kiem Lake. Some carry livestock such as chickens or ducks whilst others are weighed down with sheets of metal, lead pipes or bamboo poles. Some bikes have an entire family on board with the children sandwiched in between their parents. Thankfully the wearing of helmets is now compulsory in Vietnam.

Ho Hoan Kiem translates as Lake of the Restored Sword – an Arthurian style legend which says that the all-conquering Emperor Le Loi, whilst out boating on the lake, was asked by a golden turtle to return the Emperor’s magic sword to the Dragon King as he no longer needed it. Le Loi duly obliged and cast the sword in to the lake.