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Hanoi Postcard No. 9: The Turtle God of Hồ Gươm

Hanoi's lakes, including Hồ Gươm, are brimming with fish, debris and memories of historical lore. 

According to Vietnamese mythology, Emperor Le Loi gained possession of a powerful sword, named Heaven’s Will, during the 15th century while war raged with China. A soldier and former fisherman caught the sword in his net and gave it to the emperor. It was this gift that helped Le Loi overthrow the Chinese and gain Vietnam’s independence.

After the war, Le Loi was boating on Hồ Gươm when Kim Quy, the Golden Turtle God, surfaced. Le Loi placed Heaven’s Will into the turtle’s outstretched claws and thanked the divine being for its help. The beast swiftly disappeared into the depths to return the sword to the Dragon King who sent it. Le Loi then renamed the lake Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, meaning “The Lake of the Returned Sword.”

It is likely such ancient turtles are the ancestors of their modern relatives. In January 2016, Hanoians were left shell-shocked after learning that Cụ Rùa, the last living Hoan Kiem Turtle, had died.

Some claim that two or three young turtles still live in the lake. Yet without proven sightings, they exist merely as legends, classified as cryptozoological. And so the era of Hồ Gươm’s turtles, from Kim Quy until today, remains bookended by myths. 

Check out the postcard below (click to flip for text):

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