The Turtle Pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Lake Life

Through the early-morning haze, against a backdrop of exhaust fumes, beeping horns and music piped through loud speakers, you can spot the morning exercise crowd gathering around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Shuttlecocks sail back and forth, runners diligently circle the water’s edge, groups of lycra-clad women bust out aerobic moves and bizarrely, couples can be seen practising their waltz. For lack of green space in this city, Hanoians have made the lake into their oasis of calm amid the chaos of life in the Capital.

Back in London we enjoyed our pick of vast parks and luscious green spaces. I could take a train from my office in London Bridge, make the 15-minute journey home to leafy Forest Hill and feel like I was closing a door on the hustle of the Big Smoke. At weekends we could run circuits around Dulwich Park or go dog-spotting in Crystal Palace; if we really wanted we could head over to Greenwich and hike up to the observatory, sit on a bench and marvel at the London skyline.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

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As we’ve discovered since moving to Vietnam, park space here in Hanoi is seriously lacking. Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Old Quarter is the closest thing to green space as you can get and given that it’s basically a giant roundabout surrounded by traffic, it’s not the most serene setting for a stroll. However, it does have a certain Hanoian-style charm and is a focal point for tourists and locals alike. As the day wears on the morning exercisers depart and the tourists arrive, cameras in hand. With them come the hawkers selling photocopied Lonely Planets and the rickshaw drivers who circle the lake, touting for business.

Police man and dog at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Policeman meets dog at Hoan Kiem Lake

During the cool of early evening, which is growing steadily colder as we head towards winter, the evening exercisers arrive. Benches are used for stretching legs, balls are kicked back and forth by groups of young men and power-walkers pump their way around the lake. Vietnamese students linger, searching for Tays (Westerners) to practise their English with, couples in their wedding outfits arrive for elaborate photo-shoots and Hanoi’s growing population of dog-walkers emerges.

The Turtle Pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

The Turtle Pagoda by night

Darkness falls and the Turtle Pagoda in the middle of the lake is illuminated, casting coloured sparkles across the water. Legend has it that a huge golden turtle surfaced in the lake one day to ask the emperor Le Loi to return his magic sword, hence the name Hoan Kiem (lake of the returned sword). In fact, if you look closely you might be able to spot one of the endangered large, soft-shelled turtles that live in the lake today.

Hoan Kiem Lake, in Pictures

Morning exerciser at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Vietnamese Dog Walker in Hanoi

A Dance Class at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

People Sitting by Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam

Exercising by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam

Huc Bridge, Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi

Children Walking a Dog by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

People Relaxing by the Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam

Evening Exercises by Hoan Kiem Lake

Dog on a Bench by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Exercising by the Lake in Hanoi

Wedding Photo Shoot at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Children Playing by Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam

Dog Walking By Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake by Night

Lake Life, Hanoi

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16 Comments
  • Helen
    Posted at 11:48h, 22 November Reply

    Ooh, what a great post! Sounds very much like the park activities in China that I loved to observe. Hoan Kiem Lake is now on my list of places to visit in Hanoi.

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:13h, 22 November Reply

      Thanks Helen. Yes, I think that parks and lakes are a great place to check out local life in a city. Let me know when you make it to Hanoi 🙂

  • Stefan Arestis
    Posted at 14:17h, 22 November Reply

    Cute dancing dog photo! Reminded me a lot of China – they love their outdoor activities if they can find any green public space.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:43h, 22 November Reply

      He was actually grabbing the dog so it wouldn’t attack another dog but dancing sounds a lot nicer, so let’s go with that! Yes, I thought Hoan Kiem looked very similar to some of the footage in your China video – parks are great places to catch local people exercising!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 18:45h, 23 November Reply

    Hanoi was definitely not my favorite city in Vietnam, but I did love that area around the lake. For such a noisy, bustling city, it really is an oasis of calm!

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:50h, 24 November Reply

      We find that the lake is one of the more peaceful spots in Hanoi, but hopefully we’ll actually get out of the city and take a weekend trip into the countryside soon for some proper relaxation!

  • Patti
    Posted at 19:03h, 24 November Reply

    I love experiencing Hanoi through your posts. Vietnam is not on my radar, but your photos make it tempting!

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:20h, 25 November Reply

      I’m glad I can share a slice of Hanoi with you Patti 🙂

  • Catherine
    Posted at 22:54h, 26 November Reply

    It’s a shame there’s not more green space, but I bet it sure makes you appreciate what green space there is a lot more! Sounds like quite an exciting place with a lot going on too 🙂 I would definitely fancy a stroll around the lakeside!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 06:20h, 29 November Reply

      That’s true Catherine! Hanoi does have a great energy about it but we hope to balance this by getting out of the city into the countryside more from now on.

  • Katie
    Posted at 06:56h, 28 November Reply

    I loved the lake when we visited Hanoi 5 years ago, although I remember it being the rarity in a very chaotic city! It’s lovely to see a slice of “proper” city life as well – lovely post! 🙂
    Katie
    PS – As an adopted Londoner, you have made me very nostalgic for all the lovely parks there. I can never decide whether my favorite was Richmond or Regents Park though!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 06:22h, 29 November Reply

      Oh, I love Regent’s park Katie! I had a few picnics there when we were in London this summer 🙂 The lake definitely offers some respite from the chaos of Hanoi.

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 09:35h, 28 November Reply

    London does have some amazing parks and green spaces. But I have enjoyed seen how this lake in Hanoi brings people together to enjoy interesting activities, it looks peaceful and yet vibrant. A great place for people watching. I do want to visit Vietnam and certainly Hanoi.

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:25h, 29 November Reply

      It is a great place for people and dog watching Gilda 🙂 I hope you make it to Hanoi one day.

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    […] wider but they’re no less congested; there are bigger, glass-fronted shops, shiny malls and a few lakes and small green spaces to dilute all the steel, glass, stone and smog but you can’t see any […]

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    Posted at 11:31h, 01 January Reply

    […] of the Old Quarter, having dinner with friends in our favourite Hanoi restaurants, strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, having foot massages and chilling out in our […]

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