Exploring Hanoi's West Lake

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  Electric cars touring the Old quarter in Hanoi

Autumn is the most beautiful time in Hanoi with the skies blue, air cool, and lakes misty. It's the ideal time for a visit.

Among the capital's many attractions is West Lake, which has a long history associated. A tour around the lake by electric car has recently become popular among visitors who want to enjoy a relaxed inner city trip and explore some famous cultural and historical sites.

We booked a tour one recent sunny Sunday. There were a couple of options for us to choose from - a 90-minute package and a shorter 45-minute package. They also rent out the cars together with drivers - for those who want to explore on their own.

We opted for a 90-minute trip departing from Ho Tay Water Park. The counter clerk told us that we would pass 20 sites including pagodas, temples, and craft villages, and we could choose some of them for brief visits.

Four of us got into a car and it drove gently along the bank of the lake. The driver told us that this tour would let us enjoy the beauty of West Lake from all sides. On the eastern side was the romantic Thanh Nien Road and the west offered a panoramic view of the misty lake.

"If you come in summer, you can enjoy the wonderful view and scent of lotuses, which is a specialty of West Lake," he said.

 
Phu Tay Ho (West Lake Palace) is among many beautiful spots that electric car tours take visitors to in Hanoi
The 18-km trip took us through many beautiful pots around the lake such as Tao Sach and Tran Quoc pagodas, Vong Thi, Quan Thanh, and Co Le temples, and Phu Tay Ho (West Lake Palace).

We asked the driver to stop at Tran Quoc Pagoda and Tao Sach Pagodas to explore the culture and history of these two national heritage sites. Tran Quoc, which was built in the sixth century by Ly Dynasty kings, lies on the only islet on West Lake and is famous for a beautiful garden tower, impressive architecture and charming natural scenery. This used to be a place where many Vietnamese kings came to sightsee and pray to the Buddha during traditional festivals. Visitors here take photos under a 50-year-old Bodhi tree in the yard that was presented by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad. It was under a Bodhi tree in India that the Buddha attained enlightenment.

The 600-year-old pagoda Tao Sach Pagoda has many ancient materials written in Chinese and Nom (an old Vietnamese writing system based on Chinese characters) scripts and other precious relics.

The service is available from 8:30 a.m. until dark. Tourists can book a tour at 10 places including Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ho Tay Water Park, and Quang An Flower Garden. A 90-minute package costs VND80,000 per person, and a 45-minute package costs VND40,000. Electric cars cost VND400,000 per hour.
The large pagoda also provides a wonderful view of West Lake. We were most impressed by two large ceramic dragons made during the Ly Dynasty style by artisans from Bat Trang pottery village.

According to a monk there, they are the country's largest ceramic dragons and were on display during the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi in 2010 before being moved to the pagoda.

Though the tour only gave us a brief glimpse into life around West Lake, we were still happy with what we could see.

One of the members of our group said the tour helped him learn more about the lake's unique culture, particularly about some of its traditional crafts such as fishing, growing flowers, and scenting lotus tea.

"But I hope they will improve the service by giving us more information about each site.

"Next time I will rent a car here so that I can stay longer at these sites or drop into some restaurants to enjoy the specialties of this area like noodles, snails, and crispy shrimp pancakes."

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