Hanoi Train Street is back on business – after it was shut down in October 2019. Police authorities said it was dangerous so they decided to close the cafes along the rail tracks. Why such a decision? Because a bad tourist nearly died that the train captain had to push for its emergency brake. Don’t be that kind of a tourist, please!
And now, for whatever reasons, the cafes are back and it’s business as usual. And perhaps, the big change is that there are policemen at the gate. They will prevent you from going in unless you are escorted by a cafe owner. Yep, that’s how they do it here now. You just can’t get in the rail tracks for free because you have to sit in a cafe and drink.
I screamed that question – why??? Well, in this age of social media, nothing escapes. Instagrammers, in particular, are the ones that made it like it’s a tourist attraction in Vietnam. And why famous? Perhaps, it’s the thrill and the experience to be too close to death when the train passes by? One false move and you’re dead! Like, flat dead.
Go beyond just taking photos. Observe the neighborhood and you might be able to find beauty in how the locals live.
At the gate, a cafe owner would tell you that if you will drink/stay in her cafe, she will ask the police officer to allow you to enter. Say yes, and follow her. When you reach her cafe, pretend that you don’t like the ambiance, so you want to go to another cafe. Walk a bit further while still pretending you are looking for a perfect spot. But, of course, you can take photos along the way, and exit on the other side/block.
No, this is not what I did because no one told me about this trick. I only learned about this when I talked to fellow backpackers in my hostel two days after I visited.
The first question you have in mind is: When exactly the train passes by these cafes? You will thank me for this – see the timetable below.
I’d recommend that you sit and stay at one of the cafes you like. When I arrived, the waitress told me that the next train was arriving in 45 minutes.
I chose a table and she handed me a menu. I had an avocado smoothie for CAN$2. She gave me the cafe’s wifi password and did a bit of remote work.
Ten minutes before the train arrived, cafe owners were announcing and telling everyone to get off the track.
We moved our chairs and tables closer to the wall. They even moved potted plants and flowers.
Remember that the rail track is in a narrow street between rows of connected houses.
And here comes the train. All cameras are set and everyone was waiting with the much-bated breath.
So you really have to lean on the wall if you need to because you might easily be swayed in towards the train.
The noise can be really deafening so you might have to bring your headphones or earphones.
And when the train is gone, it’s business as usual. Chairs and tables are back in their original places.
But for most tourists, it’s time to pay the bill. The experience they’ve been wanting to do has just been fulfilled.
Life along the railway resumes – like this father who plays with his son.
When a crowd leaves, another crowd arrives.
I stayed at Little Hanoi Hostel in the Old Quarter. They have bunk beds and rooms for those who want privacy complete with a bathtub. Take note that you are in the Old Quarter so you don’t expect 5-star quality accommodation. Most buildings are old and the pipes are rusty. This hostel, however, looks fine to me – though it would have been better if I were assigned in a room with a window. The staff members are nice and they helped me book an airline ticket and taxi to the airport. You can find everything around the hostel and it is walking distance to everything you want to see in Hanoi. You can also book it via Booking, TripAdvisor, Expedia, and HostelWorld.