Hoan Kiem’s Giant Turtle

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.

HoanKiem Turtle

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.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

11 Responses to “Hoan Kiem’s Giant Turtle”

  1. shovethenos responds:

    Amazing. I’ve never even heard of this, let alone seen a picture. Sure this isn’t a hoax? It doesn’t even look very reptile-like. It almost looks like a seal.

  2. shovethenos responds:

    Appears to be authentic. Googled and there are more pictures. Amazing. Hope there are more out there and this isn’t the last one.

  3. cary charles responds:

    Did anyone ever hear about the giant turtle spotted in 1956 or ’57?

  4. CryptoInformant responds:

    It’s real all right, and if that lake’s as shallow as it is small on the surface, then there aren’t very many. It appears to be rather like a giant sea turtle, maybe a surviving Archelon.
    Shell Measurements for Archelon:
    10ft long
    5ft wide
    3ft tall

  5. CryptoInformant responds:

    I’m just wondering how it usually escapes attention, because Archelon probably had to surface every 2 or 3 hours.

  6. shovethenos responds:


    Like other soft-shelled turtles it has a nose built like a snorkel, it just has to poke the tip out of the water. If it is still around it likely has no problem finding reedy areas, hollow portions of bank, overhangs, etc. to do this in hiding.

  7. CryptoInformant responds:

    Thanks for the info, and Archelon certainly did have more of a leathery shell than a hard, armor plated one.

  8. ilyo responds:


    – this is a species of the genus Rafetus, better known as Bicallosite Soft-shelled turtles. There are several species within the genus.

    – the Hoan Kiem soft-shelled turtle is either a separate species, called Rafetus leloii or the last of a population of Rafetus swinhoei, the Shangai Softshell Turtle. The question on about what it exactly is, is for taxonomists, and is very common in the scientific world.

    – if anyone would have actually gone to the lake in Hanoi personally, they would have seen a stuffed individual of this species which was caught decades ago. The animal is enormous and weighs over 200kg, as the other species in this poorly known genus .

    – there is no question that the giant turtle was therefore present in hoan kiem lake. It is only a question wether an individual still lives there, and regular sightings say it does. For those visiting hanoi, they will see groups of people standing along the water and looking for it every single evening, when it is more likely to be reported. However, the lake is highly polluted and turbid, and the single specimen might well be diseased.

    in any case, it is not a mythical animal.

  9. CryptoInformant responds:

    Thanks for the ID on the turtle! Now the only question remaining is how many there are.

  10. chazmuz responds:

    This may sound a bit off subject, but I agree the turtle does look more seal-like than turtle-like. If this animal is as old as suggested, it could be a link to supposed ancient times when mythical giants / demons interbred with mankind. Who’s to say that animals were’t cross bred if the ancient stories are all correct? It’s apparent that technologies greater than our own existed in ancient times (the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, etc.) Maybe our fore-running cultures experimented in cross-breeding such as we’re currently experimenting with cloning!? Or perhaps this turtle is just a case of rather original appearance within its species? Either way, a very cool and interesting study.

  11. CryptoInformant responds:

    Uh, what?!? Well the thing about mythical giants/demons is that, they really are mythical. Unlike some cryptids, there is no good evidence for them. Besides that, there is no evidence that technology greater than our own has ever existed on Earth. It took long periods of time to build the pyramids, and Stonehenge was no easy task. One thing we have today could make both fairly easy; cranes.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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