Turtle Lake – Mysterious stories at the center of Saigon (HCMC)


For those who have ever been to Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam, you cannot miss any of these four ancient Saigon’s symbols include: Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica (Nhà thờ Đức Bà), Saigon Central Post office (Bưu điện Trung tâm Sài Gòn), Independence Palace (Dinh Độc lập) and Turtle Lake (Công trường Quốc tế or Hồ Con Rùa).

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Four ancient Saigon’s symbols

Located at the middle of Pham Ngoc Thach Street, Turtle Lake is a traffic roundabout of Pham Ngoc Thach Street with Tran Cao Van and Vo Van Tan Street. Turtle Lake attracts the tourists not only its location on the main street in the center of Saigon, but also its unique combination between Eastern and Western in architecture. Moreover, it was one of the symbols of this city that were built before 1975 and still stays nearly the same until today. The name Turtle Lake also causes a misunderstanding with visitors because actually there is no turtle at all. So, “Where is the turtle?”, “Why it called Turtle Lake?” or “Any turtles underwater?” are some very common questions which are usually asked by someone first came there.

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Traffic roundabout of Pham Ngoc Thach Street

The answer for these questions above is about an old story about this place that not many people know, even when they are the citizens of this city.

Turtle Lake today used to be the center of ancient Saigon Gia Dinh, long time ago. Before the year 1975, the South Vietnam government of President Nguyen Van Thieu decided to build Turtle Lake in 1967. There are many different mysterious stories about his decision. However, all of them have some similar points about a dragon under the ground of Saigon. This story about a Master of Feng shui, he came and told President Nguyen Van Thieu that there was a dragon underground of Saigon. And based on this story, the dragon’s head was under Independence Palace (on Le Duan Street today) and its tail was actually at the location of Turtle Lake today. This Feng shui Master advised that to maintain the peace for this country and the greater development of President Thieu, it must be a huge turtle there to hold the dragon’s tail.

According to this story, we can find many interesting points from the structure of Turtle Lake. People believe that the main pillar there looks like a sword that has been pitched into the lake to hold the dragon’s tail for a long time. Moreover, the shape of this lake was designed follow the Bagua structure, which can be easy to recognize when you see it from the high places. Some other people said that the whole structure of Turtle Lake, itself, looks like a huge turtle and it will hold the dragon’s tail forever.

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The main pillar looks like a “sword”

Although there used to be a huge alloy turtle with a stele on its back and some concrete pillars around the main pillar when it was built in 1967 and restored in 1974, after the country unification (1975), the new government did not believe in this story. That’s why Turtle Lake was not taken care of as much as before and the story about this place began to be lost from that time. In 1978, the turtle was destroyed in an explosion by a group of some people who disagree with the new government. After that, there was no turtle anymore and this place has an official name as “Công trường Quốc tế”, however, people still get familiar with its old name and call it Turtle Lake (Hồ Con Rùa in Vietnamese).

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The alloy turtle with a stele on its back

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One of the concrete pillars today

Nowadays, there are a lot of coffee shops around the Turtle Lake area and it becomes famous as a main street on the center of this city. People come there to enjoy coffee, take some nice pictures, hangout and taste street food, etc. Just forget all the noises and complications of a busy day from this city for a moment, take a seat and be a part of this place, you can feel everything there at a different side… Now just try.

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Turtle Lake nowadays

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