Early in the morning Hanoi seems empty but if you think that everyone is still sleeping, think again. They are all doing their exercise around Hoan Kiem Lake. There are groups doing tai chi, others doing dances with fans. A rather large group is dancing Merengue. There is even several lines of people giving each other standing up massages. The rest are walking around the lake, doing 3 km laps while watching the sunrise over the water.
Hoan Kiem means Lake of the Restored Sword. According to the legend the emperor handed a magic sword which brought him victory in his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty back to the Golden Turtle God in the lace. Apparently in these waters there is a giant turtle who is considered somewhat of a deity by the locals. Depending on who you ask the turtle is somewhere between the size of medicine ball to the size of a small car. His name is actually Cu Rua and he weights a healthy 200kg, is believed to be 600 years old and has a range of magical powers. He is also very special as he is one of only four Rafetus Swinhoei turtles in the world. He has been through a lot. The lake has has quite high levels of pollution over the years and his health has suffered at time but he still lives on.
It is extremely good luck to see the turtle but despite intensely watching the waters for several hours this morning we didn’t see any evidence of this noble creature. We decided to move to higher groups to see if we had more luck and took the elevator up five floors to the City View Café. Here we sat on the covered terrace and looked for Cu Rua.
From up here you get a great feel for Hanoi. Below is a large intersection with motorcycles zipping by in all directions. Sometimes it is hard to figure out which way the traffic is actually supposed to be going. You can see the last few locals exercising around the lake. The tourists have woken up and have started to visit the lake. Many tourists and locals alike take the little red Huc Bridge across to a small island in the lake that houses the Temple of the Jade Mountain erected in the 18th century.
I of course order the hot chocolate to keep me company while watching all of this. It comes in a tall glass with a couple of straws and a long silver spoon. It was very difficult to drink and was very sweet, so if you are a sweet tooth you will like this hot chocolate more than I did. This is one of those spots though that you come to regardless of the quality of the drinks because the view is fantastic.
Verdict: Fantastic view and a great spot for an early morning drink after a quick walk around the lake with the locals. In the afternoon they open the rooftop terrace on the 6th floor where I’m guessing you can get an even better view of the lake and the old Quarter on the other side. City View Café, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam