Hanoi’s Train Street – a Surreal Urban Oddity

The train street during nighttime

photography by: Omri Westmark

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More often than not, railroad tracks are part of a highly restricted zone, where pedestrians are kept out for obvious reasons. That is, unless you are talking about a narrow alley in Vietnam’s capital that seemingly defies any shred of common sense. Every couple of hours, the aptly nicknamed Train Street offers a rather unusual sight of dozens of railcars crossing merely inches away from the homes and businesses along the way. Over the years, this somewhat hazardous curiosity became a pilgrimage site for visitors, a source of income for locals as well as a real headache for the authorities.

As any globetrotter knows, many cities across the world boast a large-scale tram system which comprises streetcars, moving alongside vehicles and pedestrians. Full-fledged railway, on the other hand, often entails a wide buffer-zone where trespassers are not allowed. But as the saying goes, every rule has an exception, including the aforementioned one.


Stretching across Hanoi’s historic core, Ngõ 224 Lê Duẩn is a narrow alleyway that seemingly violates any safety regulation, building code and logic, all at once. With an operating railway line running right through its confines, the alley earned its widely-known moniker, the Train Street. Several times throughout the day, a train speeds along the narrowly-spaced houses on its way to Ho Chi Minh City.


Given the alley’s limited width, the locomotive and wagons pass only few centimeters away from the doorsteps of actual homes, while moments before and after people go about their daily lives. In fact, the horn and crank sounds which echo throughout the area every time a train is about to cross the street are immediately followed by its complete evacuation.


In the blink of an eye, the bustling alley becomes eerily empty, as people rush back to their premises while any object that might obstruct the movement of the train is removed. Once the surreal spectacle is over, the rail tracks are instantly transformed back into a pedestrian street, where residents play checkers, wash their dishes, cook a traditional dinner and so on and so forth.


Originally constructed by Vietnam’s French colonial rulers in 1902, the street gradually evolved into a quirky tourist attraction, flocked by masses of foreign visitors. For residents, what was up until then an utter hazard became the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs. To cater the incessant influx of tourists, tens of shops, cafés and restaurants were opened along the route of the train.


For a moment, it seemed as if this silver lining will last forever. However, these hopes were short-lived as the increasing number of incidents where foreigners were nearly trampled by the hurtling locomotive prompted the police to seal off the street during much of the day. As of 2023, there are several spots where visitors can catch a glimpse of the train as it moves along the narrow alleyways, including Trần Phú Street and P. Phùng Hưng Street.


Visitors who wish to watch the train as it passes through the narrow street, must bear in mind that the timetable is far from being accurate and subjected to frequent changes.

Weekend: 6:00AM, 9:30AM, 11:30AM, 3:30PM, 4:30PM, 6:00PM, 7:15PM, 8:00PM, 8:45PM, 9:15PM, 10PM.

Monday – Friday: 7:15PM, 8:00PM, 9:15PM, 10PM.