In a metropolis built on waterways, it’s no surprise that West Lake has secured a prime spot in Hanoi’s cityscape. With numerous historic temples and pagodas as well as luxurious hotels and residences, visiting this lake offers visitors a plethora of activities.
You can get in a strenuous workout, have an amazing seafood lunch, relax in a peaceful spot in the shade, and even party the night away, all without leaving the area.
West Lake, or Tay Ho Lake as it’s known locally, has a history steeped in legend. Having been given multiple names over the centuries such as “Fox Corpse Swap” and “Golden Buffalo Lake”, there are many stories about these waters.
One tale says how the lake was formed when the ‘Dragon King’ Lac Long Quan drowned a nine-tailed fox spirit in its lair. Another legend involves a buffalo that created the lake due to struggling with the disappearance of her calf. Officially, it was named Foggy Lake in the 11th century and became West Lake in the late 1500s.
West Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Hanoi. With a circumference of 17 kilometers and a roughly crescent-shaped shoreline, there’s plenty of waterfront for a wide range of activities. Besides notable places of historical interest, West Lake is one of Hanoi’s swankiest, high-end neighborhoods, boasting huge real estate prices and 5-star hotels.
One of the premier attractions on the shores of West Lake is the Tran Quoc Pagoda. Built during the 6th century, making it Vietnam’s oldest temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda’s tapering multi-tiered levels are a nod to Vietnamese Buddhism. If you come in the early evening, the tower makes for a particularly stunning photo opportunity.
Visitors can observe the intricately carved statues found throughout the premises, while the lush surroundings will leave no doubt as to why former kings used to come here to worship on full moons and special occasions.
Another popular attraction is the Quan Thanh Temple, one of the Four Sacred Temples constructed around the beginning of the last millennium. This ornate structure is home to several shrines, intricate carvings, an impressive bronze statue, and a bell as well as some mighty banyan trees.
Seemingly transplanted right off the streets of Paris, on a trip around the lake you’ll come across Chu Van An High School, one of the oldest high schools in Vietnam. Built by the French in 1908, visitors can enjoy the French architecture of the period along with the natural beauty of the ancient trees that surround the grounds.
Dotting the shoreline at various intervals are a number of historic pagodas, ranging from the intricate woodwork of tiny Van Nien Pagoda to the bright yellow stone of the oft-reconstructed Vong Thi Pagoda. You can be walking or cycling along in the modern world, and out of seemingly nowhere, be transported back in time at one of the historic buildings that line its shores.
If at some point you find that you’re hungry and in the mood for some seafood, make your way to the southern end of the lake, where you’ll find an entire street dedicated to seafood eateries. Shrimp cakes are the most well-known offering on the menu, but you can also score some fabulous shellfish vermicelli soup and wash it down with fresh coconut ice cream.
For more upscale dining and lodging options, stick to the north end in the Tay Ho District. Here you’ll find luxury hotels and high-end eateries catering to international visitors. Once night falls, you can make your way to the Summit on the 20th floor of the Pan Pacific Hanoi Hotel for a stunning panorama of the lake while sipping on signature cocktails.
West Lake is just a 15-minute drive from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, so getting here by taxi shouldn’t be a large investment in time or money. While you can visit the lakefront anytime, some of the temples have set visiting hours and require a laughably small entrance fee. Just be sure to dress modestly if you wish to go inside out of respect for the sacredness of the site.
That said, in view of all there is to see and do at West Lake, comfortable clothes and shoes are a must.
Besides the obvious sightseeing opportunities, active visitors can enjoy cycling and other exercise-related activities all along the lake. Couples can go for a spin on the water by renting a swan-shaped pedal boat or just stare into each other’s eyes at one of the many cafes found on the waterfront.
There’s also a water park that occupies one corner of West Lake, which is perfect for kids, or adults that act like kids, who want to have fun and cool down at the same time.
A Watery Oasis in Hanoi
The city of Hanoi is an energetic and vibrant destination, with lots to see, taste, hear and do. Just be sure to punctuate all that frenetic activity with moments of peace and reflection at West Lake, for a balanced blend of modern and ancient that typifies a visit to present-day Vietnam.
You won’t be sorry that you dedicated a portion of your visit to this unique location within the city, as it may end up being a highlight during your trip.
Address: Hanoi, Vietnam