In the centre of Hanoi, locals cook, wash and carry out chores around a railway track – until a whistling train barrels through. It’s life on the line.
Forget the motorbikes. On the edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, not far from the landmark Hoan Kiem Lake, the biggest danger many locals face is a high speed locomotive on their front doorstep.
Twice daily, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm, a train whizzes through their narrow residential enclave, just inches from houses on either side of the track.
Children are ushered indoors, washing is dragged in and bikes are pulled up against houses moments before the train speeds past, with just a couple of feet clearance on each side. In some places the train is mere inches from the buildings.
While Hanoi’s famous Train Street captures the imagination of tourists, locals are accustomed to the daily upheaval the passing trains bring. They’ve learned to shape their lives around it.
Train Street was never meant to be a tourist attraction.
The buildings were already standing when the train line was laid through the centre of the city by the French in 1902.
As the population increased, so did the number of houses. Eventually, the quirky neighbourhood where life stops momentarily each day, starting attracting the attention of outsiders.
So popular is this offbeat site for visitors that scooter companies and other tour operators now include Train Street on their daily itineraries.
The Hanoi Train Track Cafe (pictured below) also does a roaring trade trackside as tourists sit and wait for the train to pass through.
But given the vast number of tourists visiting the track, it’s no longer a cool novelty but a serious safety concern.
Following a series of near misses, the government ordered all trackside cafes be shut down starting October 12, 2019.
All makeshift coffee shops were shut down and barriers have no been set up to prevent tourists and curious locals from going into or gathering on Train Street.
(Some cafes have reportedly reopened on the quiet, so try your luck.)
Before The Ban
You could actually hear the train before you saw it, with a low roar of screeching metal and blaring horns warning people to get off the track.
The train hurtled through the narrow alley, sending people scattering up against the buildings.
Tourists pressed themselves against the walls, camera phones at the ready, as the carriages rattled past.
The spectacle was over almost as fast as it began.
The tourists dispersed, the families resumed their daily chores and life on the line returned to normal.
How To Get To Train Street
There are a number of spots along the track where you can watch the train pass by, both north and south of Hanoi station. The easiest stretch of track to reach if you're staying near the Old Quarter is between Le Duan and Kham Tien Street. Standing at Ngo 224 Le Duan, the train approaches from the south.
Blog updated October 10, 2019 following a crackdown on trackside cafes.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved
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