by Minh Thu
|Romantic: Tran Quoc Pagoda, a famous tourist and cultural site in Ha Noi. — VNA/VNS Photo Trong Duc
As perhaps Ha Noi's most tranquil spot, it is difficult to think of many ways to improve the experience of wandering around the West Lake. However, an ambitious tourist company is trying to do exactly that. How? By offering tours around the 18km route in environmentally friendly electric buggies.
The small, speedy and silent vehicles offer a unique mode of transport around the lake, and offer tourists the chance to enjoy beautiful sights, breathe in the fresh air and visit some unique locations along the way.
Five tourism packages will be offered, including site visits to temples, pagodas and some beauty spots as well as regular food stops where local delicacies including snail noodles and crisp shrimp pancakes can be savoured.
|Shore thing: West Lake (right) in Ha Noi attracts tourists from Viet Nam and abroad. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
Bui Thai Binh, a resident in the capital, is a fan of the new tours, which last half a day, and when receiving friends from HCM City one of the first things he does is take to West Lake.
"I often ride my motorbike around this area to enjoy the breeze and fresh air, however, when sitting in an electric car I have an even more peaceful and atmospheric feeling," he said.
The tour always starts at the Electric Car Operation Centre on 614 Lac Long Quan Street with a view out onto the lake, with the morning sunlight bouncing off the surface of the water. The buggies then set out along the romantic lakeside roads – a favourite spot for dating couples.
"On the way, tourists are introduced in Vietnamese and English to the legend and history of West Lake as well as being informed about the history of the remarkable vestiges and beautiful architecture and listening to songs about the lake," said a guide from the Thanh Do Company, which runs the tour.
The first stop is at Tay Ho Temple located on the banks of the lake, which has long impressed visitors fascinated by the myth of its establishment.
The story goes that Princess Lieu Hanh, the daughter of the Jade Emperor (who is believed to be among four Immortals in Vietnamese belief), was sent to the earth because she broke a precious jade vase. She was charmed by the beauty of West Lake and decided to open a teashop.
One day, Phung Khac Khoan, a mandarin of the Le dynasty, visited the shop and recited poetry with its charming owner. Later, when Khoan came back to find the princess once more, she returned to the heavens. To remember the date, he founded Tay Ho Temple, which is now a place for believers to worship Lieu Hanh and other Mother Goddesses.
|Green tourism: Electric cars take tourist around the city centre. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha
These days many visitors come to pray for good fortune and health.
After the temple, the buggies and their passengers head for Kim Lien (Golden Lotus) Pagoda, and its magnificent ancient architecture. It was once part of a palace built by King Ly Than Tong for his daughter.
The building is composed of three pavilions, each of which has two roof layers with the appearance of being slightly curved and supple. The great gate is one example of the sophisticated and intricate architecture, which also includes sculptures of flowers, dragons and phoenix-shaped patterns on the roofs, walls and pillars.
The next destination is Tran Quoc Pagoda, which sits on an island between West Lake and Truc Bach Lake, the two most romantic lakes in the city.
It is among the oldest pagodas in the country as it was built some 1,500 years ago. Many kings and mandarins came to the pagoda to pray for peace and prosperity.
Inside, there are many valuable relics, including the red lacquer and gold-trimmed statue of Sakyamouni Buddha, which is a masterpiece of Vietnamese sculptural art.
It must be said that the island and pagoda provide a beautiful backdrop, particularly when viewed at sunset. The adjacent garden contains a Bodhi tree, which was cut from a tree where Buddha is believed to have sat in a lotus position and achieved enlightenment in India 25 centuries ago.
In 1959, on his visit to Viet Nam, then Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat offered the pagoda the Bodhi tree as a gift. Today, the tree's green and luxuriant leaves cover the yard in shade.
At midday, the guests end the tour by enjoying a break at Tao Sach Pagoda on Lac Long Quan Street and eat vegetarian food cooked by the monks.
Nguyen Duy Uan, director of the West Lake Joint Stock Company, said the tour is meeting the demand of tourists who want to integrate with nature by using a vehicle which is environmentally friendly.
"As the tour has just been launched, tourists have several options but we're trying to open new routes to satisfy domestic and foreign visitors," he said. — VNS