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.
NOTE: IN OCTOBER 2019, THE GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN MAKESHIFT CAFES AND ERECTED BARRIERS TO PREVENT TOURISTS FROM ENTERING TRAIN STREET.
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 was this offbeat site for visitors that scooter companies and other tour operators started including Train Street on their daily itineraries.
Locals also cashed in with makeshift cafes like Hanoi Train Track Cafe (pictured below) doing a roaring trade trackside as tourists sat and waited for the train to pass through.
Given the vast number of tourists visiting Train Street it recent years, it was no longer a cool novelty but a serious safety concern.
Following a series of near fatalities, the government ordered all cafes and other vendors along the track be shut down, starting October 12, 2019.
Barriers are now in place to prevent tourists and curious locals from going into or gathering on the tracks at Train Street.
Before The Ban
Visiting Train Street was a unique experience before the ban took effect.
You could hear the train well 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
Due to a government ban in 2019, you are no longer able to enter Train Street. But you can still visit the general neighbourhood where the train passes, 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
You Might Have Seen Our Work In These Publications