Similar to many countries across the globe, legends and myths are deeply intertwined into Vietnamese heritage and have influenced the modern world we see today, perhaps even more than you would have previously thought! Many of Vietnam’s biggest tourist attractions names were derived from folklore stories, passed down from generation to generation. These magical stories of the ancient world will make you see these historical sites in a whole new light on your Vietnam tour.
Hanoi at night (Source: Internet)
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is an unmissable experience to add to your helloVietnam tour. It’s easy to see why the stunning natural beauty of the bay has been listed as a UNESCO world natural heritage site. The Bay has 1969 separate limestone islands topped with lush rainforests, the oldest of which is estimated to be 280 million years old! A helloVietnam cruise in Ha Long Bay will provide you with surreal scenery, straight out of a movie. The Bay is also steeped in myths that date back thousands of years.
According to legend, many years ago the gods took pity on the struggles of the Vietnamese, who at the time were trying to establish Vietnam as an independent country against invaders. The gods sent a powerful family of fire-breathing dragons to assist with the war efforts. Lead by mother dragon they descended from heaven to Ha Long Bay, where Vietnam was extremely vulnerable to seemingly endless naval attacks. The magnificent dragons spat burning fire incinerating invading ships. They also scattered giant fragments of jewels, jade, and emerald into the waters to form a protective barrier from future attacks. Legend says these precious stones dispersed and became the breathtaking islands we see today. The mythical beasts decided to stay in the human world to oversee the peace and Ha Long Bay was aptly named, ‘the bay of the descending dragons.’
Ha Long Bay (Source: Internet)
Unfortunately, you probably won’t see any dragons on the Ha Long Bay boat cruise, but you will have the opportunity to visit some local floating villages and incredible caves. Located in Ha Long Bay, Hang Trong (male cave) and Hang Trinh Nu (Virgin cave) were named after a tragic love story that could rival Romeo and Juliet.
According to folklore a beautiful young girl born to a poor fishing family was aggressively approached by the cruel governor of their fishing village, for her hand in marriage. She declined as her heart was already taken by her fiancé, who was away fishing to raise funds for their approaching wedding. In a fit of rage, the governor banished her to a desert island, Hang Trinh Nu, where she died alone and heartbroken. As soon as her fiancé heard what had happened, he rushed to save her. A fierce storm destroyed his boat and knocked him unconscious; he washed up onto a desert island. When he woke, he could see the girl in the distance. He frantically called her but it was no use, his voice was muffled by the strong winds. In desperation, he smashed a rock against the cave walls in the hopes of drawing her attention. He persisted until he died of exhaustion.
Today a stone statue can be seen in Hang Trinh Nu cave of a beautiful young girl laying down, looking longingly in vain out to the sea. Opposite is a matching statue of a boy with a fear-stricken face in Hang Trong cave gazing directly to where the girl lays. The caves are in perfect view of each other as they are only between 700-800 meters apart, close enough to hear a shout. The mysterious caves are now considered a symbol of true love.
View from the cave (Source: Internet)
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is physically and symbolically at the heart of Hanoi. It’s a popular destination for locals and tourists to admire the uniquely colored emerald water and enjoy a moment’s break from the charming chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter on your Vietnam tour. If you’re an early bird you can join in with the locals practicing yoga, tai-chi, and aerobics around 5 am, but don’t worry if you value a lie in, the lake has plenty to see and do day and night. Hoan Kiem Lake has been a source of inspiration for many famous artists and is regarded as one of the capitals most picturesque spots. The complex also homes several historical relics including the distinctive Huc Bridge which leads to the Ngoc Son Temple. When the red bridge is lit up at night, it casts a beautifully contrasting reflection onto the green water. Hoan Kiem Lake sometimes referred to as Sword Lake was supposable named by an ancient King who fiercely defended Vietnam.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Source: Internet)
According to legend, centuries ago at the time of the Le Dynasty, King Le Loi, possessed a magical sword of tremendous power that was found in the Hoan Kiem Lake. Whilst fishing in the lake his friend came across the blade and presented it to the king. Once the king had molded the blade into a sword he noticed an inscription had appeared ‘Thuan Thien’ loosely translated to ‘harmonious with heaven’. He believed it was a gift from the heavens to defend his country from fierce invaders. The legend goes that when he held the sword he grew extremely tall and possessed un-humanly strength. After their victories which lead Vietnam to be accepted as an independent state, he returned to the lake known at the time as Thuy Quan. A gigantic turtle surfaced from the green waters pleading for the return of the sword to its owner, the dragon king. Without hesitation, Le Loi throws the glowing sword into the water. The turtle took the sword in his mouth and dove far down into the depths of the lake as a flash of violent lightning filled the sky. The King decided to fittingly rename the lake, Hoan Kiem which translates to ‘the lake of the returned sword’.
Sacred animals in Vietnamese culture such as turtles, dragons, and phoenixes are heavily featured in their folklore. Nowadays spotting a turtle in the lake serves as a reminder of the colorful Vietnamese culture and also a symbol of good luck! A massive turtle like the one featured in the story has also been seen emerging on the surface of the lake. Conservation experts estimated the turtle to be hundreds of year’s old, but he sadly died in 2016. The small tower on the islet of the lake is called Thap Rua (Turtle tower) to honor the magical turtle that guards the sword.
Thap Rua or Turtle tower (Source: Internet)
helloVietnam tour operators have an unrivaled knowledge of the history of Vietnam and the best destinations to include on your next trip.