In Vietnam, the fight that was interrupted by the pandemic has resumed again – the authorities of Hanoi are trying to protect the well-known informal attraction from tourists. We are talking about the “Street of Trains”, where trains rumble just a couple of meters from ordinary life, where tourists willingly take pictures and take seats in cafes. The official goal is safety, accidents have already occurred here.
The railway, built by the former French colonial rulers of Vietnam in 1902, runs through the heart of the bustling quarters of Hanoi's Old Quarter. In the pre-Covid era, in just a few years, the road has become one of the city's most iconic tourist attractions. However, the authorities tried to protect tourists – but then the closure for a pandemic struck. Once again, Train Street is suffering from overtourism, the Hanoi authorities say they have issued a document requiring tougher penalties for businesses operating along the street, and travel agencies are ordered not to organize group tours to this place.
The main reason is safety. Even local travel agents confirm that “forgetful tourists constantly teeter on the brink of disaster” and accidents have already occurred. The owners of shops and cafes have to take care of the safety of visitors who do not know how far to stand safely. “Sometimes you just have to yell at them to get inside,” the guides say.
According to the authorities, over the past few years, when foot traffic in the area has increased dramatically, trains have had to apply emergency brakes many times because of the tourists who came dangerously close, including standing next to the tracks and even sitting on the rails. There were also accidents – for example, a train hit a Korean tourist – fortunately, there were no fatalities.
Amid growing fears of accidents at the crossing, authorities ordered the site to close as early as 2019. But once Vietnam opened its borders last year, visitors have returned to Train Street in droves, and once again the authorities are forced to intervene. Among other things, they revoke business licenses from the owners of local enterprises and try to barricade the most dangerous sections of the street. We will not trade the safety of people for any financial benefit,” local officials say. But Train Street residents, many of whom depend on tourism for their livelihood, are begging to be allowed to continue legal work. And tourists recognize the “secret paths” and gather in the open areas of the “Streets of Trains”. As a result, tourism and the authorities will have to find some kind of “golden mean,” local travel agents assure.
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