22 Nov 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.
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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.
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.
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
Do you fancy taking a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake?