Have you ever had a special place that’s excluded from the bustling life out there where tranquility can be found? If you haven’t or already have but are a prolific explorer like me, Hanoi’s West Lake should definitely be your next destination. Why? Because with its exquisite beauty, West Lake offers a variety of distinctive features which can satisfy any kind of visitor.
If you are culture vultures
For the culture vultures who live for exploring art, history and culture, you’ll be happy to know that West Lake is full of them. Right next to West Lake lies another lake; Truc Bach Lake, whose elegance is also enchanting. Not only is it beautiful, Truc Bach Lake was also found as an ideal hiding place for John McCain after his aircraft was shot down above the area in 1967 but unfortunately he was caught later on. Standing still with time, Truc Bach Lake has witnessed the milestones of Hanoi. More interestingly, Truc Bach and West Lake used to be one gigantic lake, but since it was way too big, causing difficulty in fishing, a road was built to separate them which is called Thanh Nien road (meaning: youth). “Grandpa, why would they name it youth? Is it because only young people can go there? – a much younger me (with an annoying ability to bother people with my curiosity) asked my Grandfather, who happened to be a brilliant historian. He responded with a touching story that from 1958-1959, a large number of young Hanoian fellas who were mostly students came around and voluntarily helped construct and expand the road. Ho Chi Minh then suggested to change its old name to Thanh Nien as a way to remember the dedication of those dynamic young people.
If you are outdoor enthusiasts
For those outdoor enthusiasts who crave to see the wonderful work of nature, West Lake is the place for you. Here you can experience a mix of old and new Hanoi around its border thanks to its vast size. How? Well, if you choose the right angle along the border of the lake to look at the surroundings, you can see the obvious separation between the old at one side – where graceful old architecture, historical relics, experienced middle-aged fishermen stand, and the new at the other– where big companies and high rises pop up. Isn’t it extraordinary when there is a place where you can feel the nostalgia and modernism at the same time? Isn’t it remarkable when you can witness how the city has grown and respect its cultural root from one spot?
If you are food crawlers
For the food crawlers who love tasting the local cuisine, working your way around the lake is the answer as you’ll be able to sample every dish Hanoi has to offer along the way. Phu Tay Ho is one of the most popular shrines on the shore of West Lake where people from all over Hanoi pour to pay respect to the deities. Just beyond the temple’s entrance lie a row of open-air shops serving a variety of specialties. Try the ‘bun oc’ – a combination of snails and rice vermicelli soup and ‘oc xao chuoi dau’ – a mix of starchy green bananas with tofu, scallions and herbs in a turmeric-seasoned sauce. To top such a delicious treat, go to many of the lakeside cafés where you can enjoy servings of authentic Vietnamese coffee that has rarely disappointed any coffee enthusiast.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what type of traveler you are. Whether you enjoy learning about the history of Hanoi, a day of aimlessly wandering, tranquility, or even a night of fine dining; West Lake has it all! However you enjoy the lake, the point is you will be doing something out of the ordinary, learning about other cultures, and discovering a little bit about yourself along the way. And now I’m going to head to West Lake for just that. Hope to see you there!
By Nguyen Thanh Huong, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam