On our way back to the United States, we had a little extra time in Hanoi to explore. After researching all of the places we could visit in Hanoi, we decided to see Ngoc Son temple, walk a little around the Old Quarter, and see the famous Water puppet show. We only had one afternoon, and all of these activities were within close walking distance of each other, so it worked out. Ngoc Son Buddhist temple is on Jade Island in the middle of Hoan Kiem lake. We walked by this lake on our first day in Hanoi, but did not go anywhere near the temple end of the lake, so it was nice to return and see more of the stuff around the lake.
Hoan Kiem means “lake of the returned sword”. The legend goes that Lo Lien, a Vietnamese revolutionary that fought against the Ming Chinese occupation in the 1400s, had a magical sword that helped him have the strength of many men. According to the legend, a fisherman caught the sword Hoan Kiem lake, and Lo Lien found the hilt in the tree. The fisherman said that the sword came from the Dragon King, deep underwater. After the Chinese occupation ended, Lo Lien was boating on the lake when a giant turtle took the sword from the boat and dove down to the depths, returning the sword to the dragon king. The coolest thing about this legend is that there are actually large, soft-shell turtles that live in the lake today! I guess there are two, and it is good luck to catch a glimpse of one of the turtles. We did not see any turtles during our visit, though. The temple was built in the 18th century and is primarily dedicated to another war hero who defeated a Mongolian army in the 13th century.
We had a few minutes before the water puppet show to check out the entrance to the temple on the shore of the lake. Jade Island is connected to the shore by a traditional Vietnamese wooden bridge painted bright red.
After the puppet show, we had dinner at the nearby Lotteria (think Korean version of McDonald’s) and then went back to the temple after sunset to check it out more fully. Tickets were about $1, and well worth it to walk around Jade Island and see the distinctive elements of Vietnamese temples. The bridge, temple and island light up at night and the reflection off the water made it magical!
From the island, we could see all the buildings surrounding the lake all lit up and reflecting on the water as well. We were some of the only ones there right before closing, so it was a very peaceful oasis in the middle of a lake in the middle of the bustling, loud, chaotic city of Hanoi! While I was drawn to the elaborate details of the temple itself, Landon, of course, was drawn to this grove of trees where he enjoyed climbing among the tangled roots. In a little room off to the side of the main temple, we found this preserved turtle- one of the large turtles that used to live in the lake, and took the sword! It was pretty big!
This temple was built to revere a specific war hero, with Taoist and Confucian religious influences. I was confused that I did not find any Buddhas, until I figured out that it was not actually a Buddhist temple at all. I loved all of the elaborate details that I found all around the temple, including on doors, ceilings and side panels.
I loved these peacocks on the sides of the altar! All too soon, it was time to catch a taxi and get our kids to bed. In Hanoi, there are several reputable taxi companies with meters that are safe and will not rip off tourists. It took a few minutes, but we finally hailed one from one of these taxi companies, gave them our hotel card and were on our way back to our hotel. Ngoc Son temple was stroller friendly with a few steps here or there, from what I can remember. A visit to Ngoc Son temple on Hoan Kiem lake, the water puppet show, and the Old Quarter of Hanoi are all activities we highly recommend for families traveling through Vietnam.