One aspect of Hanoi that endears itself to many visitors are its large areas of green and water in the city centre. There’s no doubt that the city’s congestion begins to grate on visitors’ nerves after a while, but there are several parks and lakes in and around the centre that offer a tranquil escape. These ‘lungs’ of the city are at their busiest at dawn and dusk, when Vietnamese flock to them to exercise or just hang out.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Located in the geographical heart of Hanoi, this lake and its major features have become photographic icons of the city and popular with amateur photographers capturing the traditional scene.
Willow branches bending low over its waters, the elegant swoop of The Huc Bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple, and the three-story Tortoise Tower that protrudes from the south end of the lake.
According to legend, of a golden turtle appeared from the lake to retrieve a sword from Ly Thai To, the city’s founder, and return it to the gods, its rightful owners. There is a path that clings conveniently to the lake’s perimeter, and a walk around takes only around half an hour. There are also several refreshment kiosks and cafes with good views of the lake, where you can enjoy a coffee or ice cream.
There’s little greenery around Hoan Kiem Lake apart from a few trees, but the ample grounds of Lenin Park are ideal for a shady stroll, and in the middle is Bay Mau Lake, where pedal boats are for hire. This park is off the tourist trail, so it’s a good place for chance encounters with locals.
West Lake (Hay To)
Situated to the north of the city centre, West Lake is Hanoi’s biggest expanse of water by far, with a circumference of around 13kms. For much of its perimeter, the lake is bordered by ancient temples, fancy hotels and upmarket residences, though there are sections where you can stroll by the water. There are pedal boats for rent here, too, and the city’s oldest temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda: (Open: 07:00-11:30, 13:30-18:00 (daily); Admission: free, tel: +84 4 3824 3011). The pagoda sits on a tiny island and is accessed by a causeway.
Truc Bach Lake
This was once part of West Lake, but in the 17th century locals built a dyke to cut it off and use for fishing. These days there are several cafes on its banks, as well as the 11th-century Quan Thanh Temple (Open: 08:00-16:30 (daily); Aadmission: 2,000D; Quan Thanh and Thanh Nien Sts., tel: +84 4 3823 4378), dedicated to Tran Vo, one of Hanoi’s guardian spirits.