Search Asia travel online and you’ll likely encounter Vietnam tours. That’s precisely my wife found as she was searching for our next travel adventure. Vietnam is now one of Asia’s free economies and with the growth came opportunities for avid travelers to explore its storied history, rich culture and spectacular landmarks. After checking images online, I agreed and Vietnam tours it is!
We touched down in Hanoi at 1 a.m. with little idea except for the short briefing from our travel agency. From the Noi Bai International Airport we were picked up and took a 45-minute ride to our hotel in downtown Hanoi. The city was eerily silent as compared to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok that we are used to, even at 1 a.m. in the morning. At around 8 o’clock, a shuttle picked us up and we met our guide named Giang along with other tourists from other countries as far as Sweden and Brazil. So off we went for our Vietnam tours escapade.
The first stop is considered the center of Hanoi, both physically and symbolically…Ho Kiem Lake. Also known as the ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’, Ho Kiem is unique because the color of its water is not typically found in other lakes: greenish with a dark or light hue depending on the sky’s reflection. We were fortunate enough to spot a couple of giant tortoises emerging out of the water. Giang told us that since the tortoise is regarded as a holy creature in Vietnamese culture, Ho Kiem Lake has become a sacred place. She added that the lake is also site for performing aerobics, yoga and tai-chi especially early in the morning starting at 5 a.m. It was not surprising because of the lush trees and fresh air in the area.
If there’s one thing that stuck to our minds during our Vietnam tours adventure, it’s the Arthurian-like legend of the lake. Let me play the role of Giang and ask you to close your eyes as I unfold the legend of Ho Kiem…we travel back in time 600 years to the Le Dynasty to witness the epic story. As a war against the Minh invaders rages, a fisherman found the Sword of the Golden Turtle God and gave it to Emperor Le Loi. Following a decade of war, the emperor finally conquered the Chinese aggressors and reclaimed the country’s sovereignty. One day as Le Loi was enjoying a boat ride on the lake, a huge golden tortoise approached him, grabbed the sword and vanished into the depths. The emperor mourned the loss of such a precious weapon but later realized that the God merely lent him the sword to defeat the enemy and since they’re gone, it must have been time for the sword to be returned to its rightful owner. After that incident, the emperor decided to call the lake ‘Ho Kiem’ or the Lake of the Restored Sword.
So back to reality, that folklore is actually a common theme of the skits performed by the world-famous water puppets. There is also a shrine named the ‘Turtle Pagoda’ perched on an islet that pays tribute to the golden turtle. Of course Vietnam tours won’t be complete without sampling the local food, so we tried the Thủy Tạ for ice cream, Hồ Gươm Xanh for coffee and a little food-moving shop along the side-walk. Then we headed to the Ngoc Son Temple, but I’ll reserve that as well as the other awesome sites in my next post!