Hanoi has a huge number of natural lakes, with there often being parks and entertainment all around, however, the most central and popular one is Hoan Kiem Lake – which is a great spot to visit – especially at weekends for all age ranges. The lake is situated in the old quarter (near the cathedral) which makes it very easily accessible within the central hub of the city.
As the sun gently rises over Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake comes alive with the mesmerising sight of locals practicing tai chi and other traditional exercises. It is free for all and everyone is welcome to simply join in! – just join in quietly at the back of the group and try to follow the movements of others. Note that the Tai Chi takes place very early – so be ready for a very early start.
If you are into more energetic activities, then you will find the lakeside full of early morning runners ( or joggers if you are not that energetic ! ) As there is a path all the way around the lake it is a great route to take – although the start is super early with people being there from about 4 am onwards!
For those not so energetic (and not an early riser) Hoan Kiem Lake is also wonderful for leisurely strolls. Unlike most of Hanoi where there are either non-existent pavements – or pavements totally blocked with motorbikes, the whole route around Hoan Kiem Lake is paved with a very wide walkway – making it very easy to walk.
Along the walkways, you will find small cafes and restaurants with lovely views over the lake as well as numerous ice cream stalls.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Water puppetry is exactly that – colourful puppets who seem to be moving on the surface of the water, along with live traditional music and folktales and stories from Vietnamese history. This traditional art form originated in the rice paddies of Northern Vietnam – the water is real water and the puppets are controlled from behind or above by very talented puppeteers.
You can view water puppetry in various locations throughout Hanoi however the largest and most popular in Hanoi is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. There are daily performances and you can either book a ticket in advance or get one at the door. The prices are very reasonable and the show lasts about one and a half hours.
The enchanting Ngoc Son Temple is located on a small island in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. Connected to the lake’s shore by the iconic red-painted Huc Bridge, the temple’s tranquil surroundings and striking architecture offer a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. Inside the temple, you can pay your respects to the revered figures of General Tran Hung Dao and the scholar Van Xuong, whose statues are enshrined there.
Street Food Delights
Exploring Hanoi’s street food is an adventure in itself, and the area around Hoan Kiem Lake is a gastronomic paradise. Numerous street food vendors set up shop, offering a variety of delectable Vietnamese dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. From the famous pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) to delicious rice paper rolls and fresh fruit shakes, the options are endless.
Weekend Pedestrian Areas
On Saturdays and Sundays, many of the roads around the Hoan Kiem Lake are closed and become a pedestrian area. There are often lots of colourful stalls set up as well as lots of balloon sellers and little remote cars for young children.
There are also often special events – such as musical shows or festivals around the area at weekends which you can join in for free. Be aware if you are travelling by motorbike in this area at the weekend as with the roads closed you need to make various diversions.
Live Music and Entertainment
As the sun sets and the city comes alive, the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake light up with live music performances and entertainment. Numerous bars and cafes offer live music, ranging from traditional Vietnamese melodies to contemporary tunes. You can relax with a drink in hand, enjoying the diverse music scene that Hanoi has to offer.
Hoan Kiem Lake is not just a body of water -it is the heart and soul of Hanoi’s entertainment and cultural scene. From the peaceful morning tai chi sessions to the vibrant night market and live music performances, the area around the lake offers a delightful escape for both locals and visitors – so whatever your needs and interests, Hoan Kiem Lake and its surroundings promise an enchanting and memorable adventure in the heart of Vietnam’s capital city.