Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hanoi - Tran Quoc Pagoda by a Hoan Kiem Lake

Date: 1st January 2015

The best cover photo of the Tran Quoc Pagoda and Anne

Tran Quoc Pagoda or "Chua Tran Quoc" pronounce in Vietnamese language is regarded as one of the oldest pagodas in Hanoi city. It is located on a small peninsula on the eastern bank of Ho Tay or the West Lake in Hanoi. The history of Chua Tran Quoc can be traced back to 545 AD, during a revolt by the Vietnamese against their Chinese occupiers. This pagoda was our first official tour stop after a quick photo session at Long Bien Bridge. Everything about the pagoda is lovely, including the pavement leading to entrance gate. I can't help but taking the first snap of Tortoise and evidence of our presence when we first step out from the taxi. Lovely view on a lovely day. 

Vietnam national hero, Ly Bon built the Chua Khai Quoc, being the foundation of the Country Pagoda, by the banks of the Red River at the same with the construction of a wood and bamboo citadel at the mouth of the Song To Lich. Chua Khai Quoc was the original name for Chua Tran Quoc or Tran Quoc Pagoda. In the 17th century, Khai Quoc Pagoda was moved to its present side on the peninsula in Ho Tay, and was renamed Tran Quoc Pagoda. Historian learned all this from a stelae found on the premises. The stelae dates back to 1639.

With its beauty and history, Tran Quoc pagoda is now one of the leading tourist attractions in Hanoi. While walking pleasantly towards the pagoda, Anne and I had our memorable talks, wondering whether we would still be able to do this when we were really really at an old age. Who knows? Anyway, the West Lake where the Pagoda is seated, is a freshwater lake in the center of Hanoi city. With a shore length of 17 km it became the largest lake of the capital and a popular place for recreation with many surrounding gardens, hotels and villas. A small part of West Lake is divided by Thanh Nien road to form Truc Bạch Lake. Another district of Hanoi is named after the lake, Tay Ho District. For the record, the backpacker's area are just around the corner, within a walking distance.

West Lake was created from a curved part of Red River and appeared in several Vietnamese legends. One legend suggests that West Lake was shaped after the battle between Lạc Long Quan and a 9 tailed fox spirit. That was the reason why the lake was once called "Fox Corpse Swamp". Another folk story claimed that original name of the lake is "Golden Buffalo Lake" since it was formed from a struggle of a buffalo after the disappearance of her calf. Later in the 11th century, the lake was named as "Foggy Lake" derived from its misty condition but then, ultimately the name was changed to "West Lake" in 1573.

West Lake is bordered with many significant places in the history of Hanoi and Vietnam. The presence of Tran Quoc Pagoda, being the oldest pagoda in Vietnam balance the history of the country. If you look close, the pagoda is actually located on a small island in the middle of the lake where the whole compound is occupied with the Pagoda's residence. There is another temple seated near to Tran Quoc Pagoda, i.e. Quan Thanh Temple, one of the 4 Sacred Temples of ancient Hanoi. Besides, Chu Van An High School, one of the oldest high schools in Vietnam, is also located close to the lake.

As Hanoi's largest lake, located right in the center of Hanoi, West Lake is abundant with many gardens, hotels, restaurants and other entertainment centers. For this reason, real estate prices near West Lake are rocket high and the surrounding quarters are often full of many imposingly large edifices occupied by wealthy Vietnamese people and expatriates.

Hoan Kiem lake is the most important one in Hanoi, famous for it's legendary story. It lies just south of the old ancient part of town, and is the center of a sort of Arthurian legend. According to a legend, in the 15th century a fisherman found a magical sword in his nets and he presented it to Emperor Ky Thai To (also known as Le Loi). The Emperor used the sword to defeat the invading Mongols. One day after the battle, the Emperor was enjoying an afternoon boat ride on Hoan Kiem Lake when a giant golden tortoise appeared, took the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake. The restoration of the sword is the subject of one of the skits performed by the water puppets.

A small pagoda sits on an islet in the center of the lake is dedicated to the tortoise. The lake is surrounded by a narrow strip of park-land with paths leading all around. There's a small cafe at the southwest corner of the lake which is almost always crowded when the weather is nice. Near the northeast corner of the lake a red wooden bridge connects to a small island with the Ngoc Son Temple on it. The park around the lake is popular all day long. You may see in the morning, people exercising, while in the afternoon people walk, sit and enjoy the sunset, or meeting special friends to while waiting for the sunset.

There's a water puppets showing at the main theater seated at the northeast corner of the lake, across the road that rings the lake, a "must see" sights in Hanoi. And for those who has spare time, it's worth to visit the Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain) located at the northern end of the lake. The temple supposedly dates back to the 14th century, although the current buildings were probably built in the 18th century. The temple is dedicated to the hero Tran Hung Dao, who defeated a force of 300,000 sent to invade Vietnam by the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. There are also altars dedicated to the scholars Van Xuong and La To, the patron saint of physicians.


The island and its temple are reached by a red wooden bridge called The Huc, which translates to "Flood of Morning Sunlight". Either end of the bridge is guarded by large stone gateways with Chinese characters written on them. The temple consists of a main building housing the altars as well as some shops, along with a pavilion in front of the altars. A large bronze brazier sits in front of the main hall, holding burning incense sticks. Inside is the first of two altars. On it sit the two scholars along with several other deities. Behind this altar is the high altar dedicated to the hero Tran Hung Dao. In a room off to the side of the front altar is a preserved specimen of the lake's giant tortoise
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