West Lake, also called Ho Tay, is the biggest lake in central Hanoi, covering 500ha. In the past, West Lake used to be part of the Red River. West Lake, a beautiful spot in Hanoi, was once a resort for mandarins and kings.
Ho Tay is the largest of all the lakes in Ha Noi. The lake is on the northwest part of the city. Long ago, the lake was a branch of the Red river but later, as the river changed course, the lake remained a body of water just west of the river. There are many legends associated with West Lake. The most popular is the legend of the golden buffalo.
As the story goes, there once was a medicine man who was a giant. He is well known in Vietnam for his medicine practice and the king often used him to treat the royal family. His fame reached China and he was invited to China to treat the king. He was successful where others have failed so the king was going to reward him with great wealth. He refused offerings of gold and only requested that the king give him all the black copper in the king's vault. The king agreed and the giant left for Vietnam with vast amounts of black copper. In Vietnam the giant molded a giant bell of black copper. The giant rang the bell and the sound resonated all the way to China. In the king's vault there was a golden buffalo. Upon hearing the sound of the bell, the buffalo came to life (because he thought that his mother was calling him) and charged southward. Upon reaching Ha Noi, the buffalo trampled the land in the area near Red river. Over the years, this area filled with water and became Ho Tay or West Lake.
Ho Tay has always been an area for vacationing royalties. When Ha Noi was still the capital city, the kings from the Ly and Tran dynasty built summer homes along the lake. In the north end of the lake there are several villages famous for their flowers and fruits plantations. Most famous is Nghi Tam village, the birth place of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, one of Vietnam's premier Poetess.
Today, many of the summer homes built by kings of yesteryears are now shrines and temples.Many palaces including Thuy Hoa Palace, Ham Nguyen Sanctuary, Tu Hoa Palace, Kim Lien Pagoda, and Ngoc Dam Palace were built on the bank of the lake.
The 17km path around the lake leads to Nghi Tam flower village, Tay Ho, Nhat Tan peach garden and Tay Ho Temple, were built in honour of Princess Lieu.
Phu Tay Ho is one of the more popular shrine on the shore of Ho Tay. During the first and fifteenth day of the lunar month, people from all over Ha Noi pour to the shrine to pay respect to the deities. On these days, the roads are filled with people dressed in colorful attire heading to the narrow road leading to the shrine.Visitors can go sightseeing and enjoy typical dishes, Phu Tay Ho is also famous for the Bun Oc (escargot vermicelli soup) and Banh Tom (shrimp cakes) sold in stalls along the way.