West Lake is one of Hanoi’s most beautiful sites. Its many historical and cultural relics reflect the development history of the capital city. West Lake is perhaps the most romantic corner of Hanoi.
The Surrounding Area of West Lake
West Lake is the biggest freshwater lake of northwest center of Hanoi, Vietnam. With a shore length of 17 km and 500 hectare in area, this is the largest lake of the capital and a popular place for recreation with many surrounding gardens, hotels and villas.
The city’s largest lake, West Lake is 15km in circumference and ringed by upmarket suburbs, including the predominantly expat Tay Ho district. On the south side, along Ð Thuy Khue, are seafood restaurants, and to the east, the Xuan Dieu strip is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and luxury hotels. The atmosphere makes a calm change from the chaos of the Old Quarter. A pathway circles the lake, making for a great bicycle ride.
The area surrounding West Lake is famous for the density of its historical relics, most of them pagodas exhibiting different Buddhist architectural styles. There are 62 relics, of which 22 are classified as national heritages and 7 municipal heritage sites. In the early days of spring these sites attract tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims. Going around the lake in an electric car has become popular in recent years. Nguyen Quang Loc lives in Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi: “I knew that West Lake was great but I never got a chance to see everything around the lake. Now, thanks to the electric car, I can visit the craft villages, historical relics, temples and pagodas around the lake.”
West Lake was created from a curved part of Red River and appeared in several Vietnamese legends. One legend suggests that West Lake was shaped after the battle between Lac Long Quan and a nine-tailed fox spirit, and that’s why the lake was once called “Fox Corpse Swamp” (Đầm Xác Cáo). Another folk story claimed that original name of the lake was “Golden Buffalo Lake” (Hồ Trâu Vàng) because it was formed from struggle of a buffalo after the disappearance of her calf. In the 11th century, the lake was named “Foggy Lake” (Han Viet: Hồ Dâm Đàm) due to its misty condition. Ultimately its name was changed to “West Lake” in 1573 to avoid the given name of king Le The Tong, which was Duy Đàm.
West Lake is bordered by many significant places in the history of Hanoi and Vietnam. Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Vietnam, was built in the 6th century by Ly Nam De and is located on a small island in the middle of the lake. Near Tran Quoc Pagoda is Quan Thanh Temple, one of the Four Sacred Temples of ancient Hanoi (Vietnamese: Tứ trấn Thăng Long). Chu Van An High School, one of the oldest high schools in Vietnam, is also located close to the lake.
What to do in West Lake?
If you’re spending more than a couple of days in Hanoi, it’ll be worth checking out the cafe and restaurant scene in the West Lake expat area, known as Tay Ho. This is one of the most vibrant culinary centres in the city for international cuisine – and becoming more so. And there’s nightlife and shopping to check out too. It’s all found around 10 – 15 minutes by taxi from downtown Hanoi.
Hanoi’s West Lake food scene is blossoming – this is where many of the city’s international restaurants, and some its best cafes, are found. West Lake is large but the international restaurant scene is mainly concentrated around a small part of its eastern shore in the streets that run southwest off Xuan Dieu.
West Lake is majestic in all seasons, especially in summer when its waters reflect purple and red flamboyant trees. Every day, from dawn to dusk, Hanoians walk along its banks to breathe some fresh air and may be do some calisthenics before returning home. In the evening, West Lake is a place for friends and lovers to meet. Some relax in a small café by the lake, enjoying the breeze over a cup of coffee. Some go to a restaurant to eat West Lake’s famous crepes with shrimp. Others board a luxury boat and sail around the lake. More than just a pleasant destination, West Lake is an important part of Hanoians’ life.
Location: West Lake, Tay Ho DistrictArea: 5.3 km²Shore length: 17 km