West Lake: Tranquility Amid Temples and Pagodas

West Lake (Vietnamese spelling: hồ Tây/ Tây Hồ) is 5km northwest of central Hanoi in Tay Ho District which is named after the lake. It’s the biggest freshwater lake in the city with an area of 5 km2 and 17 km long shore. The lake was formed from a curve in the Red River and it’s featured in many Vietnamese poems and legends.

Tales and Names of the West Lake

Tales and Names of the West Lake
[ by Trần Ngọc Tùng from Flickr ]

West Lake has existed since the early foundations of Vietnam and was a favorite outing spot for bygone royalties. It went by many names in accordance with tales and legends of different time periods.

Fox Corpse Estuary

Fox Corpse Estuary (đầm Xác Cáo) is probably the oldest traceable record. It relates to the tale of a nine-tailed fox spirit (cửu vĩ hồ – 九尾狐) that was causing a lot of mischief in the area.

There are two stories of how this fox meets its fate. One is where the fox is killed by Lạc Long Quân— the legendary Vietnamese patriarch ancestor. In the other, the fox is killed by the God of the North Star who’s now worshipped in Quan Thanh Temple.

Golden Buffalo Lake

The name Golden Buffalo Lake (hồ Kim Ngưu) stems from a popular Vietnamese folk tale. The Monk Nguyễn Minh Không of the 11th – 12th century Dai Viet went to China to cure a prince of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) of a disease.

The monk asked for hepatizon, or black Corinthian bronze, as payment and used it to forge a bronze bell.  Upon returning, the monk sounded the bell. Its sound was so immense that a golden buffalo, near the forgery in China, heard it and ran all the way to Dai Viet to the bell. The weight of the buffalo collapsed the ground around the bell and formed a lake.

The monk was later worshipped as the ancestor of bronze smiths. He was actually a real historical figure also known as the scholar Lý Quốc Sư of the Ly Dynasty, the inspiration for the Bai Dinh Pagoda, and the North Guardian of Hoa Lu Ancient Capital in Ninh Binh.

Foggy Lake

Foggy Lake (Dâm Đàm) is a name derived from the natural features and phenomena of the lake. When the first King Lý Thái Tổ of the Ly Dynasty moved the capital from Hoa Lu in 1010 to Thang Long or present-day Hanoi, Kim Nguu or Golden Buffalo Lake became a boating playground for royalties.

In 1573, ‘Dâm Đàm’ was changed to ‘Tây Hồ’ or West Lake. It’s to avoid the taboo of having the same name (tên húy) as King Lê Thế Tông which was ‘Duy Đàm’. People have since chosen to stick with the name West Lake.

Things to See at the West Lake

West Lake tends to be quieter and less crowded than Hoan Kiem Lake, making it ideal for walking or cycling around and stopping by lake-view cafes and restaurants. Visitors can try some West Lake crispy shrimp cakes (bánh tôm hồ Tây) and enjoy pagodas and religious sites nearby.

If you come around May and June, lotus blossoms will fill the lake. During the remaining months, you can do some swan boat pedaling and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) rowing at Tay Ho Park. The park is near Truc Bach Lake (hồ Trúc Bạch) which was artificially separated from West Lake in the 17th century.

Tay Ho Temple

Tay Ho Temple
[ by Marcus Lacey from Facebook ]

Tay Ho Temple (Phủ Tây Hồ) was built in the 17th century to worship Princess Lieu Hanh (công chúa Liễu Hạnh)— the second daughter of the Jade Emperor in Vietnamese folklore. She’s also one of the Four Immortals (Tứ Bất Tử) and a goddess in the Mother Religion of Vietnam.

The temple is along the calm and tranquil shores of West Lake (Hồ Tây). People come here to pray for luck or prosperity and it gets extra crowded during Lunar New Year.

According to legend, Lieu Hanh was banished to the mortal realm and then spent her days helping ordinary people. During that time, she met with scholar Phung Khac Khoan (Phùng Khắc Khoan) who later built Tay Ho Temple.

Quan Thanh Temple

Quan Thanh Temple
[ by Vietnam News Agency from Facebook ]

Quan Thanh Temple (đền Quán Thánh) or Tran Vu Temple worships Huyền Thiên Trấn Vũ. He’s the God of the North Star Polaris and the East Protector of Thang Long Capital City, formerly Hanoi.

Quan Thanh Temple is Southwest of Truc Bach Lake. Built in 1010, the temple was recognized as a National Heritage Site in 1962. The inside features a 4-meter bronze statue cast by smiths from Ngũ Xã Village about 3 centuries ago.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda
[ by 9636137 from Pixabay ]

Tran Quoc Pagoda (chùa Trấn Quốc – 鎮國寺) is the oldest Buddhist site in Hanoi dating back to 541 CE. It’s been recognized as one of the most beautiful and picturesque pagodas in the world.

At this pagoda you can view various traditional aspects of Buddhiat architecture that have been preserved through numerous restorations.. In 1959, the Former President of India gifted the pagoda a sacred Bodhi tree taken from the original one in Bodh Gaya (bồ đề Đạo Tràng).

More about the Tran Quoc Pagoda

Kim Lien Pagoda

Kim Lien Pagoda
[ image from Chuakimlien.business.site ]

Kim Lien Pagoda (chùa Kim Liên – 金蓮寺), or the Golden Lotus Pagoda, is heavily influenced by the royal architecture of the  Ly Dynasty. Originally, it was a palace for Princess Tu Hoa (công chúa Từ Hoa) of Lý Thần Tông— the fifth king of the Ly Dynasty from 1128 to 1138.

When Tu Hoa passed away, a pagoda named Đại Bi was built on the foundation of the palace. She was worshipped as the ancestor of silk embroidery. In 1771, the pagoda went through a major renovation and was named Kim Lien Pagoda. Kim Lien became what it is today in 1792.

How to Get to the West Lake

How to Get to the West Lake
[ by Bill Rand from Flickr ]

Since West Lake is close to the center of Hanoi, it’s easily accessible. Check out our article on ‘25 Best Things To Do in Hanoi’ for more about how to get to West Lake and other nearby destinations.

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