Meet the Vietnamese Families Living on Hanoi's Train Street

Life on Train Street | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Life on Train Street | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Photo of Matthew Pike
Writer1 November 2017

In the Old Quarter of Hanoi, a short walk from the landmark Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a street unlike any other you will ever see. Most people refer to it simply as Train Street. For the Hanoians who live along this slice of track, it is their home. It’s where kids play, laundry hangs, men shout and moms gossip as they hover over pots of steaming broth. It’s a normal Vietnamese community—well, almost.

A Day in the Vietnamese life

If you ignore the two steel tracks weaving a parallel arch through this neighborhood, you’d have a hard time distinguishing it from any of the dozens of other narrow alleys cutting jagged paths through the cement landscape of old Hanoi. Lush trees dangle over head, while uneven stones leave you staggering every couple of steps. Delicious aromas waft from kitchen windows, while smog hangs in the air and leaves a faint taste of exhaust on your tongue. Train street is just like many other similar streets throughout Vietnam.

Street life | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Balancing | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Preparing food | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Doing the washing up | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Street life | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Family time | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
A normal day | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Weighing in | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip

When the trains come

The trains come rumbling through twice a day, at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. There’s no warning siren, and certainly no wild panic as residents flee the oncoming behemoth. Rather, the community seems to operate on an internal clock of routines. As the time approaches, everything crowding the tracks just disappears into the tall homes and businesses lining the way. By the time the train actually arrives, there’s usually just a few curious foreigners left outside to brush noses with the iron beast.

the tracks are clear | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip

Life goes on

Even during the hours when there’s a risk a train could fly around the corner any second, life still happens. The people living along Train Street still have errands and jobs to do. The tracks stay cleared, but the sides are tiny lanes for motorbikes and bicycles. They’re also an overflow area for when the kitchen runs out of space.

Motorbike track | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Outdoor kitchen | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip
Life must go on | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip

And then comes the train

You can feel the tracks vibrating long before you see the train. It approaches in a low roar of screeching metal and blaring horns to shoo away the last few stragglers who’ve grown accustomed to the train and no longer fear it, or those moronic tourists who play chicken with the train for a bit of adrenaline. The train itself is long, painted blue and red. When it goes by, the train leaves gusts of smoke and dust. It’s a wild sensation to be on a tiny street next to a rumbling giant.

Here comes the train | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip

Back to normal

And then, like water behind a boat, life spills back onto the tracks. The kids are let outside to play again, and watchful grandmas perch on their stools to keep an eye on the comings and goings of daily life. The people who live on Train Street have developed a harmonious coexistence with the dangers inherent to their community. Resilience is synonymous with Vietnamese, and this unique street is one of the best showcases.

The train disappears and street life returns | © Scott Pocock/Culture Trip

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