Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 28th, 2006
In the midst of a very long article reviewing the eating establishments and the The Ho Chi Minh Museum of Hanoi, Vietnam, there’s a surprising update on the Old City’s most famous cryptid.
Photograph of the Hoan Kiem Lake’s Giant Turtle. Credit Vietnam.net
Here’s what we learn from Simon Busch, in the January 28th edition of London’s Financial Times:
The turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake sounds terribly lonely. Such experts as there are on this most elusivecreature, Vietnam’s only slightly less fabulous version of the Loch Ness Monster, contend furiously over its likely age and its species – even its sex is unknown – but they do seem to agree on its size. Its shell is thought to measure a metre and a half long by just over a metre wide, which makes its extremely rare sightings in a body of water that stretches no more than 600 metres from shore to shore, in the middle of Hanoi, all the more mysterious.
Legend has it that the turtle first appeared in the 15th century, when it arose from the waters of the lake to reclaim from King LeLoi, out boating with his courtiers, a magic swordlent him by the gods toexpel a rampaging Chinese army. Professor Ha Dinh Duc, recently retired from Hanoi National University and probably the foremost authority on the turtle, thinks the real animal could indeed be that old: the adult of a hatchling the king himself may have released into Hoan Kiem some 600 years ago (Galapagos turtles live almost half as long). He also insists this awesomely long-lived beast is the last of its kind – that when it does finally die, it will die truly alone.
Hanoians revere the legendary denizen of Hoan Kiem, in part because of its putative survival through so many centuries of their country’s history and in part because of its role in a tale of Vietnamese victory overa great, invading power. What many of them do not believe – given that its snout is only apparently glimpsed above the water every decade or so and that it has never been caught – is that the turtle exists.
For those interested in further resources on the Hoan Kiem turtles, which cryptozoologists consider a cryptid of interest, see The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, pages 181-183, where you will find a map of the lake, details of the sighting history, and sources for researchers.