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Timings : Lighting Hours: 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM

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Thap Rua, Hanoi Overview

Thap Rua Tower, also known as the Turtle Tower, one of Hanoi's most iconic attraction was built to commemorate Le Loi who gave Vietnam freedom from the Chinese in 1425.

Constructed on a small piece of land in the Hoan Kiem Lake, this tower is inaccesible to the public, however, you can admire its glory from the edge of the lake.

The Thap Rua Tower was built in the 19th century and displays distinct qualities of both French and Vietnamese architecture. It can be viewed from nearly every point at the lake, standing proudly at its centre. The little island it stands on, lovingly called "Turtle Islet", has a small population of turtles that can be spotted swimming in the lake's waters. Unfortunately, this attraction is not accessible to the public.

You'll have to settle for enjoying it from a distance, walking around the lake which lights up at night time. In fact, this entire area comes alive post-sunset when the restaurants and rooftop bars are full of life.

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History of the Thap Rua Tower

In 1886, the Thap Rua Tower was built in honor of Le Loi, Hanoi's local hero and a legendary figure. Today, the structure stands as a sign of loyalty and patriotism. It was based on an older structure called Ta Vong Temple that had stood on that very same land back in the 17th century. During French colonial rule, the French installed their Statue of Liberty at the tower but this was removed in 1945. During this colonial period, the Vietnam flag was put up multiple times in the tower as a show of dissent, only to be taken down by the French each time.

Legend of the Temple

Known as 'Turtle Tower', Thap Rua Tower was built to commemorate Hanoi's local hero, a legendary figure known as Le Loi. He was born in 1384 to an aristocratic family when the Ming Chinese ruled Vietnam. He began his crusade against the Ming Chinese in 1418 shortly after Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. He initially began by recruiting an army of 500 people, but as the years went by, this number grew to at least 350,000 Vietnamese people fighting against the Chinese troops.
It is believed that Le Loi received help from the 'Dragon King' who gifted him with a mystical sword. The blade of the sword was found by fishermen in Hanoi's waters while the hilt was discovered by Le Loi himself in a banyan tree. Legend has it that wielding this sword, which had the inscription "thuan thien" (meaning "the will of heaven") gave Le Loi immense strength and power, enough to overpower the Chinese and take back their land.

When the battle was won, Le Loi attempted to return the sword by taking a boat ride across the lake Luc Thuy to the Dragon King. While sitting on the boat, the sword was attached to his belt. In the middle of his journey, it is said that a mystical turtle, an envoy for the Dragon King, leaped from the water to grab the belt and disappeared back into the lake. Despite his best efforts, he could not track it down. Believing this to be a sign, Le Loi eventually named the lake Hoan Kiem or "Lake of the Returned Sword".


Turtles of Hoan Kiem Lake

Because of the importance of the turtle in this legend, turtles have been revered around Hoan Kiem Lake. One turtle was even believed to be an incarnation of the Dragon King's turtle envoy. Named Cu Rua, this turtle was one of four Yangtze soft-shell turtles in the world. They are said to be of the species Rafetus swimhoei or Rafetus leloi, named after Le Loi. When Cu Rua passed away in 2016, all of Vietnam mourned her loss and today her embalmed body is on display at Vietnam's National Museum of Natural History.

Tips for Visiting Thap Rua

  • It's most enjoyable to visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Thap Rua Tower on the weekends. During this time, nearby traffic is diverted from 7 PM to midnight. Stalls are put up and this area instantly turns into a festive, funfair.
  • Popular local hangouts in this area are the lakeside ice-cream parlour and the fountain near Highland Coffee. Don't miss out on grabbing a bite at these cool spots while you're there!

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