West Lake

About 3 km (2 miles) northwest of Hoan Kiem Lake is West Lake (Ho Tay), a body of water that's steeped in legend. It is said that a giant golden calf from China followed the peals of a monk's bronze bell to this spot. When the ringing stopped, the calf lost its direction and kept walking in circles, creating the basin of West Lake. Like Hoan Kiem's tortoise, the calf is said still to dwell in the lake. If so, it likely feeds on the snails that are considered a local delicacy.

West Lake's wealth of history takes a more tangible form in the temples and war memorials that line its shores. Development is changing the face of the shore, however, as luxury hotels and high-rent villas eat away at the land of traditional flower villages like Nghi Tam, where wealthy expatriates seclude themselves behind walls of bougainvillea.

The lake itself is a weekend boating spot for Vietnamese families, who paddle around the murky waters in boats shaped like ducks, swans, and dragons, or in rubber dinghies for rent on Thanh Nien Street. Afterward they stop in one of the floating restaurants for snails boiled in lemon leaves or banh tom (deep-fried shrimp cakes). You can also rent boat houses made of bamboo for an afternoon of fishing (although eating what you catch is not recommended). The causeway can be traversed in about 20 minutes, but allow for an hour or more if you want to peek around the temples. Allow even more time if you want to rent a paddleboat from the quay on the Truc Bach side. The walk along Phan Dinh Phung Street to the water tower is another 15 to 25 minutes.

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