Legend Story claims that, in the mid-15th century, heaven sent Emperor Le Loi a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of this lake to restore the sword to its divine owners, inspiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword).
The area is best from Friday to Sunday: nearby traffic is banned between 7pm and midnight and a public-square, funfair vibe takes over. Every morning at around 6am local residents practise t’ai chi on the shore. Sunset is a lovely time to explore the lake too, and can make for some sublime photographs as the sun sets. The ramshackle Thap Rua, on an islet near the southern end, is often used as an emblem of Hanoi. A number of elegant pagoda-like stone gateways can be found around the lake, inscribed with chu nho Chinese characters, including Hoa Phong Pagoda (Thap Hoa Phong) near the southeast of the lake shore.
The island on which the temple is built is known as Jade Island and is accessible by the iconic The Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge which is a charming scarlet-painted wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design. The temple is also guarded by two towering posts decorated with Chinese writing. The lake and temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi city in which to rest and enjoy the view and are a great place to sit back and watch the locals.
Ngoc Son Temple was built in the 18th century on Jade Island in the center of the ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’ or Hoan Kiem Lake. Legend describes how an emperor was once given a magical sword which helped him defeat the Chinese Ming Dynasty and in doing so saw the return of the Golden Turtle God to the lake.
Today ‘Turtle Tower’ stands close to the lake in memory of this legend. There are also endangered large soft-shell turtles swimming in the lake, and to see one of these gentle giants is considered very auspicious. The name of the temple translates to ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ and is predominately dedicated to war hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated an armed force of 300,000 soldiers sent by Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan in the 13th century to invade Vietnam. Also inside the temple are a large bronze bust and other deities. There are altars dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, some ancient artifacts including ceramics and a preserved specimen of a giant turtle found in the lake weighting 250kg.