As safety considerations gained urgency, Hanoi authorities began shutting down makeshift coffee shops on its famous Train Street Wednesday.
Tourists sit and enjoy their drinks at a coffee shop along the famous Hanoi Train Street. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
The safety issue was highlighted Sunday when a train had to apply its emergency brake in the face of visitors crowding the section that has become a popular tourist attraction.
The Ministry of Transport had already ordered the city to take urgent measures to remove street vendors and illegal businesses that have sprung up along both sides of the tracks that form the Train Street.
Local authorities had been ordered to "strictly handle" coffee shop owners violating rules by this Saturday.
Ha Van Sieu, deputy chairman of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said at a press meet Tuesday that railway coffee shops along the Hanoi Train Street attracted large crowds of locals and foreign tourists alike, but these were ‘spontaneous’ and ‘violated safety regulations.’
The Train Street is formed by railway tracks running alongside Dien Bien Phu and Phung Hung streets, with residential buildings just a few feet away on either side. The highly unusual sight of a train running several hundred meters on these tracks charms and fascinates hundreds of thousands of tourists from within and outside the country every year.
The thrill of being so dangerously close to a passing train has been described by some tourists on the U.S.-based travel review site TripAdvisor as "unique" and a "must-do" while visiting the Hanoi.
Last Sunday afternoon, a train leaving the Hanoi train station was forced to make an emergency stop while passing Phung Hung Street in Hoan Kiem District for the safety of tourists who had thronged the place fearing it might be closed soon.
Nguyen Huu Nam, the train driver, said the memory of the incident was clearly imprinted in his mind. As the train moved alongside Phung Hung Street, he saw a foreign woman standing close to the rail and taking pictures. He sounded the horn repeatedly, but she did not move out of the tracks. Nam was forced to stop the train just three meters away from her. Nam’s assistant had to shout at the woman to off the tracks.
Nam said it was the third time the train has had to stop on this section. A few months earlier, he had seen a male tourist sitting on a rail to take photographs, causing him to stop the train.
Another driver, Ngo Van Hoan, who has 37 years of experience on the Hanoi-Hai Phong route, said curious travelers were always interested in watching the speeding trains.
"When the train comes near, they get very close to the tracks, or lean out from balconies to hold the phone close to the train. Some people ignore safety warnings and sit back on the tracks and take selfies as the train approaches," he added.