Hoan Kiem: Cool Things To Do In Hanoi

Hanoi is a great city with a rich history. To best experience the delights of Hanoi, visitors are advised to stay in Hoan Kiem district. Indeed, Hoan Kiem things to do makes for a cultural, historical and culinary adventure. If you like the night life, they have that also. My post below tells you everything you need to know about a meaningful visit to Hoan Kiem district in Hanoi.

Ho Hoan Kiem is translated into English as “The lake of the returned sword” and this is the basis for the Hoan Kiem Lake legend.  Centrally located in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem District is named after Hoan Kiem Lake. The legend states that in the 15th century, a golden turtle god had surfaced on the lake near the Emperor’s boat and asked him to return the sword.

Previously, the sword had been given to the Emperor in order to lead the revolt against Ming China. The revolt had been a success and therefore the local god wished for the sword to be returned. 

Ho Hoan Kiem Turtle Tower

The main feature of the lake is Turtle Tower, featured prominently on a small island. Consequently, Hoan Kiem Lake is very alluring also making it the focal point of social activity in Hanoi.

turtle tower hoan kiem lake
Presumably, Turtle Tower was built in honor of the 15th century golden turtle god. Either way, it is a very aesthetically pleasing aspect of the Ho Hoan Kiem.

Thankfully, my female friend was very good at getting the Vietnamese to pose for photographs. Many times the Vietnamese would come up and ask to have their photo taken with her. That was the case in the photo below.

photos at hoan kiem lake

Visit the Old Quarter

Additionally, Hoan Kiem features a large shopping area. This area consists of a wide diversity of street front shops offering products such as luggage, hats and jewellery. The prices are exceptionally low and it is also a great place to get your sandals repaired. We met this shoe cobbler at the shopping district and he fixed up my sandals for me.

Shoe Cobbler in Hoan Kiem District
This gentleman did a great job of prolonging the life of my favorite footwear.

Traditional Vietnamese Hat “Non La”

The traditional Vietnamese hat is called the Non La and there are different versions for men and women. The main purpose of the broad rim, is to protect the wearer from the harsh tropical sun.  Literally, Non La translates as “conical hat” in English.

Non La conical hat
My girlfriend would have made a successful vendor in Hoan Kiem.
shopping district hoan kiem
This Hoan Kiem street vendor was selling some Non La hats and also some snacks.

Sunrise at Hoan Kiem Lake

Starting at the crack of dawn, the local citizens gather around the lake and take part in a variety of exercise programs. Seriously, go down to the lake at 6AM and see for yourself.

giant clock at hoan kiem
The sunrise reflects off of this clock in the center of Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi.
morning activities at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi
There is a lot of activity around the lake at sunrise. There were several groups doing aerobics, both large and small going to different beats and velocity.

Traditionally, a game called Da Cau is the national sport of Vietnam. Basically, combine hacky sack with badminton and you will get Da Cau. It is based on the traditional Chinese game called Jianzi. This game is also widely played around the lake in the morning.

playing da cau at hoan kiem lake
These local gents are getting some morning exercise playing the traditional game of Da Cau.

The lake is also a gathering point in the evening. Turtle Tower is brilliantly lit up on its island in the center. Originally, the lake was named Luc Thuy before the Emperor renamed it Hoan Kiem. Luc Thuy translates as green water in English.

Photo of Turtle Tower at Hoan Kiem lake at night
Turtle Tower is lit up at night and it a adds great amount of ambience to the lake.
hoan kiem lake at night
Additionally, the trees are lit up and this adds ambiance to a leisurely nighttime stroll around the lake.

The Hoan Kiem Night Life

Basically, there are two kinds of nightlife in Hanoi. There is the quiet kind and the loud kind. Personally, I enjoy the quiet kind a bit more. However, we diligently explored both venues.

Wild Lotus Restaurant Review

The Wild Lotus is located just outside Hoan Kiem District. However, I highly recommend dressing up and going there for a nice dinner. Going out in some of the traditional local clothing was a fun and memorable experience. Although there is not any traditional dress code there, The Wild Lotus is a great place for this. The chef features a fusion between French and Vietnamese cuisine.

Afterwards, there are a variety of little boutique cafes to stop for desert and coffee.

the wild lotus

In Vietnam there is a very large population group aged between 18 and 25. Therefore, the nightlife in Hoan Kiem district also has its share of nightclubs. Unfortunately, night clubs are not really my thing. However, everyone is very friendly and welcoming.

night clubs in Hoan Kiem

National Museum of Vietnamese History

Last but not least, the National Museum of Vietnamese History features over 200,000 exhibits covering a very wide range of topics. Beginning with pre-history 300,000 to 400,000 years ago and concluding with the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945. Also known as North Vietnam, the state existed until the Vietnam War concluded in 1976. 

A quirky aspect of the museum and all other government buildings in Vietnam, is that they close for lunch. Unfortunately, all visitors must exit the building at the designated time. However, you can return at 130 to finish touring the exhibits. 

national museum of vietnamese history in Hoan Kiem District
Photograph in front of the National Museum of Vietnamese History.


Hoan Kiem district in Hanoi is an integral part of any comprehensive visit to Vietnam. We had acquired a good travel guide during our visit and we were prepared to set out into the countryside and explore the mountain villages.

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