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Ho Hoan Kiem

From: David Le
Date: 2009/2/4

Greetings Group Members!

Would anyone happen to have any information about the Thap Rua in Hanoi's Ho Hoan Kiem? Some cursory internet research suggests it was built in 1886, but I'd like to know more. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

- David Le

From: Minh Tran
Date: Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:31 AM

I hope this passage help.

On the southwest end of the lake is Thap Rua. It was rumored that king
Le Thanh Tong used to fish here. Lord Trinh also built the structure
to house his entourage while visiting the lake.

keyword: rumored

Minh Huynh Tran
PhD Student

From: Diane Fox
Date: 2009/2/4


I have a vague memory of being told that people often get confused by the thap rua -- that it was actually a burial spot (in my even fuzzier memory, linked to a Chinese family). Now that I have said this much, I realize that it is not so much a matter of a fuzzy memory as a questionable source--so I'd love to learn more!

for what it is worth.


From: Minh Tran
Date: Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:57 AM

According to Frommer's Vietnam, the small island was involved in some
sort of scandal about an official attempting to inter his father's
bones at the base of the pagoda, but Frommer did not cite its source.
Some say it is an ancient stupa.


From: Diane Fox
Date: 2009/2/4

Thay Vu The Khoi, retired from what used to be called the Hanoi Foreign Language College, is a wonderfully learned and passionate source for all things around Hoan Kiem -- but does anyone know how to reach him?
Huu Ngoc, NXB The Gioi, 46 Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi --another great source.

From: Mike High
Date: 2009/2/4

I'm not too sure that Le Thanh Tong would have fished there on a regular basis. It seems that Ho Hoan Kiem did not come into its own until the time of the Restored Le, when the Trinh lords built their palace nearby.

For comparison, most sources say that the first building on Ngoc Son island, also on Ho Hoan Kiem, was a “palace” built by the Trinh lords in the 18th Century, sometimes — probably more accurately — described as a “fishing pavilion.”

I have not heard of any similar early structure on the little islet that is now home to Thap Rua. I read somewhere — I think in one of Huu Ngoc’s “Miscellany” — that the Thap Rua was built in 1886 by a local mandarin named Ba Kim who planned to bury his father’s bones there. He was apparently held in ill-repute because of his close association with the French, and there’s also a story about a riot among disgruntled scholars at his daughter’s stationery shop near the lake.

:: Mike High
Great Falls, Virginia

From: Niels Fink Ebbesen
Date: Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 12:15 PM

It seems to be correct that the tower was erected in 1886 as a burial
spot. The story goes that an official was told by a fortune teller that
the small islet would be an excellent last resting place for the
official's father. The official offered to build a tower on the islet, but
did not reveal his real purpose. Unfortunately(?) he never succeeded in
bringing his father's mortal remains to the islet.

This story is told in Nguyen Van Uan's impressive Ha Noi nua dau the ky XX
(NXB Ha Noi) which was published in the mid-nineties. 3 volumes (a. 2,700
pages) and a wealth of other information about old Hanoi.

Niels Fink Ebbesen

From: Hue-Tam Ho Tai
Date: 2009/2/4

According to Tran Hung & Nguyen Quoc Thong, Thang Long-Ha Noi, Muoi The Ky Do Thi Hoa (nxb Xay Dung, 2004) Ho Hoan Kiem used to be called Ho Luc Thuy and was located southeast of the Thang Long imperial capital (hoang thanh). Under the Ly and the Tran, it was the site of re-enactments of victories through the 11th to the 15th centuries. To celebrate a victory over Champa, in the mid-11th century, the Ly dynasty erected the Bao Thien stupa, the Bao Thien pagoda and the palace of Cham harem women by the lake (p. 29). The Bao Thien pagoda was razed in 1883 to make way for St. Joseph Cathedral. Keep in mind that the various lakes have been filled in over the centuries.

Hue-Tam Ho Tai

From: Diane Fox

Date: 2009/2/4

Yes--I've been told that at the time when the tortoise re-took the sword as King Le Loi was rowing on its waters, HHK was 10 times its present size.


From: Chung Nguyen
Date: 2009/2/5

There are many legends re: the origin of the name Hoan Kiem (Lake of the "Returned Sword") and the construction of the Thap Rua (The Turtle Tower).


For the first, the best source comes from Lam Son Thuc Luc, authored by King Le Loi himself. A fisherman in Thanh Hoa by the name of Le Than found a sword blade in his catch. Le Loi, then a minor local official, came to own it after an appropriate exchange. Later by change he came across a handle at the foot of a banyan tree which fit the blade perfectly. This had to be heaven's will, Le Loi thought. From that the idea of leading an uprising grew.

We do not find the second part of the legend - how the sword was returned, in Lam Son Thuc Luc. It was created later to honor King Le Loi. In Tang Thuong Ngau Luc written by Pham Dinh Ho and

Nguyen An during the Gia Long reign (1802-1819), the story goes as follows:


"Hoan Kiem Lake, located by the side of Bao Thien ward, Thang Long citadel, was connected to the (Red) river, and huge. It was here that the Founding Emperor of the Le dynasty dropped his sword. When the Emperor led the uprising, he came into possession of an ancient sword. Later, when he reigned, he often carried it with him. One day, while in a pleasure boat on the lake, he saw a very big turtle suddenly coming up from the depth... He pointed to it with his sword. Unexpectedly, the sword fell into the water and disappeared. The turtle dived with it..."


Philippe Papin (Histoire de Hanoi, Fayard, 2001, p. 115), and many others, as noted in previous

posts, recount the modern version as we have it today.


For the second legend, as told by Pham Dinh Bach (Ban Do HaNoi, 1873), Nguyen Khac Ngu (My Thuat Co Truyen), and others, there was a small temple built on the Go` Ru`a (Turtle islet) to commemorate the Trinh Lords, called Ddi`nh Ta? Vo.ng. It was there that Ba Ho Kim made the offer to renovate it, with the secret plan to surreptitiously burry his parents' (or father's) bones there in order to take advantage of its superior geomantic properties. When his intention was discovered, the plan was abandoned. He had, however, to go ahead to rebuild the structure anyway.


Hoang Dao Thuy agrees that the CURRENT Thap Rua/Turtle Tower was built by Ba Ho Kim in

1884. He notes the Gothic character of the structure ("Thang Long, Dong Do, Ha Noi," 1971, p. 75), which could not exist before the France officially took over the North after the Paternote Accord in June 6, 1884. There is also a photgraph of the tower, as much as it looks today, taken by Dr. Hocquard during his tour from Jan 1984 to April 1886 (see the book cover of Histoire de Hanoi).


The Returned Sword, the early construction of the Turtle Tower during the Le dynasty, may all be legends; the turtle, however, miraculously, isn't a legend at all.


You could see its pictures and a short video of its surfacing in as recently as Nov 2008:



Pictures and Video:


C. Nguyen
UMASS Boston

From: dfp
Date: 2009/2/6

The story of the daughter's stationery goes as follows:

Ba Kim's daughter had a shop on Hang Khay, selling paper, pen-brushes and ink-slabs to Confucian scholars, who came to Hanoi to pass the exams on the Tràng Thi examination ground. In 1886, a triennial examination took place, attracting around 5000 scholars.

Story goes that the daughter was "a greedy person, with no respect for the scholars rural background and poverty." (Although I don't know how much "communist" influence is hidden in telling the story like this…). She apparently cheated and insulted the scholars. They started to riot her shop, even more angered by the fact that she was the daughter of a "traitor".

The French authorities, who mistrusted scholars anyway, seeing them as potential subversives, took advantage of the riot and closed down the examination ground. Examinations in the following years could only take place in Nam Dinh, where they could be more tightly controlled.

Both incidents might help explain why the tower was hated so much in the beginning.

It is also said that there was a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty placed on top of Kim's tower. It was called "Dàm Xòe" ("foreign Lady"). It was later removed to Cua Nam Square, and apparently got lost after the Japanese invasion 1945.

A lot of these odds and ends can be found in Nguyen Vinh Phúcs small book about Hanoi's Old Quarter.

David Frogier,

CIM Advisor, Hanoi

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