Urbanist Hanoi

Back Arts & Culture » Postcards » Hanoi Postcard No. 9: The Turtle God of Hồ Gươm

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):

Related Articles

in Postcards

Hanoi Postcard No. 2: Coming up Roses

Hanoi Postcards is our series of love notes to the city we call home. This second offering is of a flower seller cycling along with her florets. With sunlight shining through an audience of trees, her...

in Postcards

Hanoi Postcard No. 6: Hoa Sữa by Any Other Name Would Still Smell as Caustic

The fragrance of hoa sữa, or milk flower, is so deeply embedded in the mythology of Hanoi’s autumnal days that singers, poets and authors alike have all sung its praises.

in Culture

A Visit to Hanoi's Birdsong Clubs: Have You Heard the Call of the Oriental White-Eye?

Birdsong clubs, a tradition originating from China, are one of Hanoi’s hidden gems. If you’re willing to really look for them, it’s possible to find huge collections of birds kept in finely decorated ...

in Postcards

Hanoi Postcard No. 10: Capital City Claustrophilia

Cramped alleyways thread through the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter like arteries, carrying not just people and goods, but also intrigue and fear.

in Postcards

Hanoi Postcard No. 1: Hom Fabric Market

This week, Urbanist Hanoi is proud to announce a new series: beautifully crafted illustrations, in the form of postcards, celebrating everything we love about this city. Every couple of weeks, we’ll r...

in Postcards

Hanoi Postcard No. 3: The Right Side of the Tracks

The third entry in the Hanoi Postcards series, our love notes to the city we call home, depicts a unique neighborhood.