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About a kilometer from the Old City and 2 kilometers from Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a much bigger lake called West Lake. It is interesting and relatively clean. You'll see people fishing all around it. There are historic buildings (Quan Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda) on it and a paved road goes almost all the way around. It is a good place to do an extended jog or go for a long walk and sightsee.
You can reach the lake by walking from the Old City area, but a lot of buses go there. It used to be the royal reserve of the Trinh Dynasty between the 16th and the 18th centuries. The road around goes through farmland and higher-class residential areas and restaurants.
The lake is probably the best place in the area for extended sightseeing, biking, and jogging. What's good about the lake for most joggers and walkers and cyclists is that most of the shore has some open space and a road that goes almost all of the way around it. The lake is shaped in the form of a half moon with the eastern shore being the straight edge.
North of the Sheraton Hotel on the eastern shore, there is a square-shaped section of jagged land about a kilometer long and a kilometer wide jutting into the lake. The scenery gets nice there.
You can see fields with some sort of water crop with big leaves around Quang Khanh, Pho Quang Ba and Sen Ho Streets that run along the shore. The street names keep changing, but the quality and shape of the road and its sidewalks remain about the same.
This open lakeshore that people fish in and farmland is amazing to see in the center of an a congested East Asian capital city. It looks like you're in the countryside.
It is about the same size as the famous West Lake of Hangzhou. However, unlike Hangzhou's West Lake, it isn't on the outskirts of the city and surrounded by parkland and it isn't as clean. It is in the center of the city near the big government buildings and the congested Old City. This is what makes finding some open space and farmland around it so special and surprising.
(Starts at Tran Quoc Pagoda and Ends at Quan Thanh Temple)
This tour starts and ends at a major monument. You can start your tour at the Tran Quoc Pagoda that is on an islet in the lake. There is a road called Thanh Nien on the embankment between Tuc Bach Lake and West Lake. You can reach it by walking down Yen Phu to Thanh Nien or take Bus 50 and get off at the bus stop near the temple.
Go southwards down Thanh Nien to see the pagoda.
The Tran Quoc Pagoda (鎭國寺, Stabilizing the Nation) is said to be Hanoi's oldest pagoda. Actually, the 11 tiered red pagoda that you can see was built in 1815. It isn't clear whether it is on the original site that dates to about 1,400 years ago. Maybe only the name of the old temple was transferred to this site when it was built in the 1800s. It is only about three stories tall or less. One of the present statues inside was fashioned in 1639.
You may hear some terrible sounding chanting being broadcast on a loud speaker. A ticket may cost 5,000 dong (25 US cents). It is open 5:00am–7:00pm. Long trousers are required for men.
Then go north along the embankment to the Lake View building with a coffee shop called Coffee Bean. Take a left in front of the coffee shop and you'll find a road called Yen Hoa you can follow along the bank.
The road cuts in front of the Ritzy Hanoi Club Hotel (you'll be going down an alley-like road at this section). This section near the hotel is maybe the only place where you get away from the water.
About 100 meters past the hotel on Yen Hoa, it meets Yen Phu, so there is a fork. Yen Phu curves around a piece of land and leads back to the same point. For a shorter route, keep following Yen Hoa along the canal.
The name of the road strangely changes to Yen Phu. To avoid loops and detours, we suggest going straight up that and follow the shore lanes around to Quang An.
Quang An runs southwest and is on the southern shore of the 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer piece of land described above. It is around here that the scenery is the best with paddies of crops with very huge leaves and ponds beside the lake to see. Are you in the middle of Hanoi or what?
Go up Xom Chua and follow the road around to Pho Quang Ba. You'll go past two ponds called Ho Quang Ba and Ho Bai Tao near Sen Ho Tay Street. Continuing north, you'll come to Nhat Chieu where the bank turns south. Follow that southwards to Ve Ho.
This point is interesting because you can see two big serpentine green dragon statues in the water. At this intersection, you can also see a Daoist god statue in a temple complex and a small park next to it with a lot of benches.
This area is interesting too because you can also see a big government building and interesting and huge propaganda paintings on the street. The scenery is particularly beautiful, and the area is quiet.
a) If you want, go up to see the government building and Lac Long Quan Avenue, then you can cut back to Ve Ho. If you are tired at this point, on Lac Long Quan you’ll find a bus stop for Bus 55 that goes back to the Old City.
b) Otherwise, continue south on Ve Ho and continue east on Trich Sai to Tinh Yeu. You'll come to the Hanoi Hilton, and from there you'll see the bank going back northwards with Thanh Nien road on it.
It is at this point at the corner of Thuy Khue and Thahn Nien that Quan Thanh Temple sits.
The Quan Thanh Temple (真武觀, True Military View) is called the oldest temple in Hanoi. It is a Taoist temple used to worship the Taoist god Tran Vu.
It is said that a temple was first established on this site in the 11th century during the reign of Ly Thai To (1010–1028), the emperor who was credited with founding Hanoi. The temple is almost a thousand years old, so it has probably been renovated or remodeled many times.
Steles in front of the temple record that there was a renovation in 1677 and that the last renovation happened in 1894.
It features a white facade, and inside there is some beautiful timber carvings and a big bronze idol of Tran Vo that was put there in 1677. This statue measures 3.96 metres (13.0 ft) in height and weighs around 3,600 kilograms (7,900 lb). The statue is considered a masterpiece of ancient Vietnamese bronze casting, and is the second biggest bronze idol in Vietnam.
The French called this the Padoda of the Big Buddha because they thought it was a Buddha statue. There is also a big bronze bell that was cast at the same time as the statue. A big Banyan tree shades the place.
Continue back up the embankment. Just a few meters more, and your round-the-lake tour is almost over. On the right bank of Thahn Nien is the smaller Truc Bach Lake. It was created when the embankment was built.
United States senator John McCain was shot down in October 1967, and he landed in it. There is a small concrete monument set up to mark the event. You can find the monument about 60 yards south from the Tran Quoc Pagoda temple.
There is a bus stop for Bus 50 near the monument. You can take that or continue past the coffee shop back up to Yen Phu and catch a bus back from there. You can take 31, 55 or 58 back from Yen Phu.