A child of Instagram’s travel influencers, ‘Train Street’ in Hanoi is rapidly rising to fame as a quirky tourist attraction. Nestled deep within Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the narrow street is flanked by cafes and houses but essentially is just a train track. Children play ball over the sleepers, dogs wander contently and locals just go about their everyday business. The routine arrival of a hurtling train at around 7pm is the complete norm.
We arrived via Grab, an app similar to Uber in Asia, to find barriers at the end of the street. Post visit, I did some light research and found that there is actually a controversial ban on entry – something you may want to look into before visiting. We were met, however, by a smiling man of slight stature who motioned us for a chat. “If you wish to enter,” he explained,” it is ok. But you have to purchase from my café.” My boyfriend and I exchanged a glance; it sounded like a scam. But in the drizzle and cold, we figured if the scam just involved buying a coffee and drying off we would risk it.
Following our new-found guide, we picked our way along the street – slipping slightly on the track ballast that covered its width. Within 100m, we had reached The Red Train Cafe. The lower level is open plan, with a chalkboard displaying the train timetable and a white L shaped coffee bar. I’d recommend heading straight upstairs for views from the gorgeous balcony. Here, there is floral decor and plenty of greenery, which makes for fresh atmosphere to take in the tracks from above.
The menu itself was reasonable, I opted for a touristy meal of a vegetarian Banh Mi and an egg coffee. Both of which are must tries in Vietnam and differ greatly between the north and south. Hanoi is the birthplace of egg coffee, which was developed during the French War when fresh milk was scarce – sampling it overlooking train street proved an enjoyable introduction. The service was also excellent, with the staff happy to chat and very approachable. Despite the presence of the barriers, the waiter told us laughing “Business is very good, social media has brought many customers!”
The beauty of the café stems more from the tasteful décor and incredible location. Although the main factor you should consider is the timing of your visit, as this is crucial depending on the experience you wish to have here. Should you wish to witness the train squeeze miraculously past, visit just before 7pm or at one of the few alternative times (which can be found online and differ for weekdays and weekends). For pictures, it is best to avoid these times to beat the crowds and safely explore the length of the street.
Once you have accessed the street, you are free to explore it’s length and the plethora of cafe’s that line it. We treat the experience as a bit of a ‘coffee crawl’ which, if you can hack the caffeine, is a relaxed way to take in life on the track sides.
For artlovers or avid instagrammers, there is plenty of artwork to snap pictures of and admire between coffee stops.
Although a more modern addition to traditional tourist attractions in Hanoi, such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Hoan Kiem Lake, train street is a notable contender for your itineraries. It retains an authentic and unique atmosphere – offering a glimpse in to a fascinating lifestyle with welcoming arms.