Update on September 15, 2022:
To ensure safety on the rail line that has recently been packed with tourists again, the Railway authorities urged Hanoi to shut down selfie hotspots and makeshift coffee shops along its train street.
Reacted promptly to the concern, local police were deployed by the city to guard the entrances with barriers to temporarily stop visitors from entering the train street. Therefore, visitors are no longer able to walk into the train street. But if you got to see the place and the passing train, you can still do that at the entrance to it at 5 Tran Phu Street.
Perhaps, the Maekhlong Train Market in Thailand could be an ideal model for Hanoi Train Street, the train should run very slowly to ensure the visitors’ safety and help the city draw more tourists.
Ms. Lan, a friend of us, whose family lives in one of the houses where century-old trains pass just a meter away from their door steps. From the late 2017, her community, with the incredible juxtaposition of train tracks and residential housing, suddenly became worldly known as Hanoi Train Street, a must-see for Hanoi visitors.
Prior to the fame, nobody paid attention to the poor train street. Since the railway was built by the French in 1902, narrow houses there filled by railway workers and their families, each shelters up to three generations at the same time, while the train literally rumble on their threshold several times a day. It was dangerous, miserable, loud, and inconvenient.
Our Recent Visit to Hanoi Train Street
During a Hanoi food tour in April 2022, we took our clients to visit Lan at her home. The train street, once shine with the glamour shown on Instagram, was like still sleepy. There was no sign of other visitors, no local police blocking the access (meaning visitors are free to walk in), while most cafes sprung up to serve the bustling tourists remain closed due to the lack of tourism.
But, like any other street in Hanoi, life was always fascinating. After visiting Lan’s family, we walked along the tracks and chatted with elders playing chess, the woman washing vegetable, and the man sitting between the tracks giving himself a pedicure… There were a few teenagers playing badminton right on the tracks, while other having snacks and laughing… the railway is truly their courtyard.
Then, all at once, as the distant ‘Choo Choo…’ filled the air, they all quickly moved back into their door steps, making sure that everyone lean back against the wall, and any belongings had been kept away from the lines. In just a matter one minute, we saw the train street goes from a bustling hive of activity to an eerie ghost street.
As the clanking and cranking passed, they emerged again from their homes into the trail of smoke, ready to carry on with their day, and young students bound back towards the centre of the street to continue on playing amongst the sleepers. The community just carry on with their day as if nothing had happened, right in front of our eyes.
It was that spectacle that urged tourists to flock to the train street, hoping to capture that perfect Instagram pose while walking the tracks, and especially, witness the hoary train with its reckless speed dashing just centimeters from the houses. The train still comes and goes as it’s been in the last 120 years, but Lan and her neighbors rarely see a tourist these days.
Where is the Train Street & How to Visit by Yourself?
The railway run north-south through the western fringe of both Hanoi Old Quarter and the French Quarter, cutting many streets where visitors can walk in. Following are four ideal points where you can start walking along the tracks, the first two offer more attractive views as the spaces are most narrow with houses and cafes on both sides.
- 5 Tran Phu Street (Find it on Google Maps under the name Hanoi Train Street): from here you can either head north or south, each offers about 300m attractive train street.
- 165 Phung Hung Street: cross the street and take a small staircase to approach the train street, walk south toward the point at 5 Tran Phu Street. You may want to stop for a drink in one of the cafés here.
- 3 Dien Bien Phu Street: walk north toward the above two points.
- 222 Le Duan Street (this part of the train street is in the south of Hanoi Train Station): walk north, trains going to Ninh Binh, Hue, or Saigon are seen here.
When & How Long to See the Train?
It’s best to be there when there is a train passing by, following is the train time schedules for the first two points (north of Hanoi Train Station) mentioned above, 30 minutes before the expected schedule is suggested. Keep in mind that a 15-minute delay is normal for Vietnam train.
- Monday – Friday: 19h15, 20h00, 21h15, 22h00
- Weekend: 6h00, 9h30, 11h30, 15h30, 16h30, 18h00, 19h15, 20h00, 20h45, 21h15, 22h00
* Note: if you’re visiting the train street from 222 Le Duan Street, train times are: 6h00, 9h00, 11h55, 13h15, 14h30, 15h30, 19h10, 19h30, 20h10 (check the update at train schedule).
If you just want to look at the street quickly, about 15 minutes is enough. However, if you’d like to see the train passing by and have a sip of coffee while you’re there, count on one hour or more.
Exclusive Access to the Blocked Off Train Street
From the late 2019, while the train street was receiving a massive influx of tourists, local authorities suddenly ordered to block off its access, citing safety concerns as railway cafes violated the railway transport law, and there were too many tourists standing on the trackswhen the train is coming.
Though there was no accident reported so far due to the tourists visiting the place, it had gotten out of security and safety control in the eyes of the local authorities. When our clients asked what is the future for the train street once the tourism is back? Honestly, we don’t know yet.
For a while, there is a temporary measure we’ve been using, where somebody like us having connection with a local family like Ms. Lan’s could have an exclusive access to the Hanoi Train Street. So maybe that’s the way to do it, as it would ensure there are not too many people on the tracks at once.
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