Hoan Kiem: Cool Things To Do In Hanoi

The Legend of Ho Hoan Kiem

Ho Hoan Kiem is translated into English as “The lake of the returned sword”.  Centrally located in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem District is named after Hoan Kiem Lake. The legend states that in the 15th century a golden turtle god, had surfaced on the lake near the Emperor’s boat and asked him to return the sword. Previously, the sword had been given to the Emperor in order to lead the revolt against Ming China. The revolt had been a success and therefore the local god wished for the sword to be returned. 

Turtle Tower

The main feature of the lake is Turtle Tower, featured prominently on a small island. Consequently, Hoan Kiem Lake is very alluring also making it the focal point of social activity in Hanoi.

turtle tower hoan kiem lake

Thankfully, my female friend was very good at getting the Vietnamese to pose for photographs. Many times the Vietnamese would come up and ask to have their photo taken with her. That was the case in the photo below.

photos at hoan kiem lake

Shopping District

Additionally, Hoan Kiem features a large shopping area. This area consists of a wide diversity of street front shops offering products such as luggage, hats and jewellery. The prices are exceptionally low and it is also a great place to get your sandals repaired.

This gentleman did a great job of prolonging the life of my favorite footwear.


Non La

The traditional Vietnamese hat is called the Non La and there are different versions for men and women. The main purpose of the broad rim, is to protect the wearer from the harsh tropical sun.  Literally, Non La translates as “conical hat” in English.

Non La conical hat

This street vendor was selling some Non La hats and also some snacks.       

shopping district hoan kiem

Sunrise at Hoan Kiem Lake

Starting at the crack of dawn, the local citizens gather around the lake and take part in a variety of exercise programs. Seriously, go down to the lake at 6AM and see for yourself.

giant clock at hoan kiem

The modern variety of exercise that can be observed at the lake is aerobics. There were several groups both large and small going to different beats and velocity.


Traditionally, a game called Da Cau is the national sport of Vietnam. Basically, combine hacky sack with badminton and you will get Da Cau. It is based on the traditional Chinese game called Jianzi. This game is also widely played around the lake in the morning.

playing da cau at hoan kiem lake

Hoan Kiem Lake After Sunset

The lake is also a gathering point in the evening. Turtle Tower is brilliantly lit up on it’s island in the center of the Hoan Kiem Lake. Originally, the lake was named Luc Thuy before the Emperor renamed it Hoan Kiem. Luc Thuy translates as green water in English.

hoan kiem lake at night

Additionally, the trees are lit up and this adds ambiance to a leisurely nighttime stroll around the lake.

hoan kiem lake at night

The Night Life

Basically, there are two kinds of nightlife in Hanoi. There is the quiet kind and the loud kind. Personally, I enjoy the quiet kind a bit more. However, we diligently explored both venues.

The Wild Lotus Restaurant

The Wild Lotus is located just outside Hoan Kiem District. However, I highly recommend dressing up and going there for a nice dinner. Going out in some of the traditional local clothing was a fun and memorable experience. Although there is not any traditional dress code there, The Wild Lotus is a great place for this. The chef features a fusion between French and Vietnamese cuisine.

Afterwards, there are a variety of little boutique cafes to stop for desert and coffee.

the wild lotus

In Vietnam there is a very large population group aged between 18 and 25. Therefore, the nightlife in Hoan Kiem district also has its share of nightclubs. Unfortunately, night clubs are not really my thing. However, everyone is very friendly and welcoming.

night clubs in Hoan Kiem

National Museum of Vietnamese History

Last but not least, the museum is also located in Hoan Kiem and features over 200,000 exhibits covering a very wide range of topics. Beginning with pre-history 300,000 to 400,000 years ago and concluding with the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945. Also known as North Vietnam, the state existed until the Vietnam War concluded in 1976. 

A quirky aspect of the museum and all other government buildings in Vietnam, is that they close for lunch. Unfortunately, all visitors must exit the building at the designated time. However, you can return at 130 to finish touring the exhibits. 

national museum of vietnamese history Photograph in front of the National Museum of Vietnamese History.


Hoan Kiem district in Hanoi is an integral part of any comprehensive visit to Vietnam. We had acquired a good travel guide in Hoan Kiem. Therefore we were prepared to set out into the countryside and explore the mountain villages. I will cover this extensively in another post because it is a very interesting topic.




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