The overnight star of the capital, the train street of Hanoi, became a sensation through Instagram, for good or for worse who could tell, but for you, it means one thing, a new experience! A strange addition to so many bucket lists, this street is actually a thing in old quarters where original railway tracks run in between houses hardly a few yards apart.
Sometime in the late 2010s, when one coffee shop opened up its doors in the ‘once-only-residential’ street, suddenly people started loving their coffee sitting on a lowkey wood or plastic stool as a train gushes right in front of their faces, and since then, it’s been the new big thing to do in town!
The train timings are 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, and 10 pm. But while we were there, the 7 pm train never arrived. On weekends, there are some morning trains at 6 am, 9 am, 11:20 am, and then evening trains around 3:20 pm, 5:30 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm, 7:45 pm, 8:30 pm, 9, and 11 pm.
Due to increased tourist activities in the area, there were a few incidences where the train drivers had to use emergency breaks. Also, with the hike in footfall, several illegal cafes popped up in the area. The trains were stopped on this route around October 2019 to tackle the issue, but it didn’t last long.
How we ended up at the Train street of Hanoi?
But how we ended up here was a different story altogether. While strolling past the Mural street, we came across a road with a railway track running parallel on the right-hand side and some roadside shacks where people were selling snacks and fruits. Walking past them, you can see these pedestrian crossings below small bridges for the train tracks.
After crossing one such small bridge, we saw a couple of stairs going up towards the train tracks. We took it and started walking on the rail track. Since the houses were so close to the train tracks, I never thought that there would be an actual train running across these tracks. After walking a few meters, we heard a sharp whistling sound from behind, and we thought it could be because we were walking on the tracks, and as soon as we got down and started walking alongside the tracks, the whistling sound faded away.
Walking past a couple of houses, the whole area changed pretty quickly. An array of small restaurants replaced the quiet backyards, and the dim street lights changed to bright bulbs and fairy lights all over the place. It took us quite some time to discern what has just happened—colorful seating on the rooftops and alongside the track, shining in the bright lights. Restaurant owners were trying to call customers in for a drink and repeatedly saying, ‘The train is about to come.’ And in no time, we got to know we are at the train street of Hanoi.
The Train Guard on Duty – Real or Fake?
Since the train street and the cafes around it were once closed due to the increased tourist traffic, they now have a different arrangement as we gather. On the other end, opposite from where we entered the train street, there stands a man in uniform, and he would allow tourists inside the train street only when accompanied by a restaurant owner. This way, the responsibility of the tourists lies with the restaurant’s owners.
On the one hand, this minimizes the tourist’s frenzy for seeing the train up close, but on the other hand, it restricts your choice to sit in a restaurant you like. And that’s when it clicked us that the whistles were for the same reason. Luckily we got to choose.
Restaurants on the train street
The restaurants on Train Street are moderately priced for a drink or snacks, but I won’t recommend having a proper meal here. About which one is the best, our advice is to look at the menu and see if you can find something of your choice, because as for the ambiance, they don’t have much scope to change. Almost all the restaurants have small plastic chairs and stools as standard furniture; few have first-floor seating.
Waiting for the train with a good company
We arrived at the train street at six, and luckily we had an excellent company while waiting for the train. Rodica and James are avid travelers from England. They were traveling from the North of Vietnam towards the South. And since we were traveling the opposite, we had a lot of stories and recommendations to share. The first train arrived at 7:45, and while discussing the food and Banh Mi’s, the second train arrived after 45 minutes at 8:30.
The train passes few inches away from the houses, and there is a yellow line (now faded and difficult to see at a few places) to keep the tourists and locals away.
Since the train track is curved on both sides of the train street, one can only see the train when it is a couple of blocks away. But before the train arrives, you can feel the vibrations on the track. That’s when you can see tourists putting their GoPro and cameras on the train track. You would see restaurant owners whistling for warning if they see people on the train tracks, and soon afterward, you hear the rumbling of the train passing in front of your faces and blowing the deafening horn to whomsoever still wandering around the train tracks.
Though we have seen trains up close (we are from India), the whole experience of seeing a train passing by so close was fascinating. The atmosphere is so vibrant with nice lighting and hot snacks & drinks. We saw people singing songs while waiting for the train to come. Sadly, the whole show is for tourists, and since the place got Insta-fame, every small corner of the backyard of these houses on the train street has converted into a make shift restaurant.
So would you keep the Train Street of Hanoi in your must-see places in Hanoi?