Full steam ahead! Old Hanoi railway a hit with tourists

HANOI, Vietnam (AFP) — In the heart of Hanoi’s busy Old Quarter, French-built railroad tracks have become a hotspot for tourists seeking the perfect Instagram selfie and café owners serving up hot coffee and cold drinks.

Though picturesque, they are also perilous: the tracks are still in use and most days visitors must scramble for safety as the daily train rumbles through.

But for many the thrill of dodging a speedy train is part of the appeal.

“It was amazing but scary in the same sense, a little bit overwhelming being so close to the train,” Australian tourist Michelle Richards told AFP.

The tracks were first built by former colonial rulers France who used the railway to transport goods and people across Vietnam, then part of Indochina along with Laos and Cambodia.

Later during the Vietnam War, parts of the railway were badly damaged by American bombs that rained down on communist-ruled land in the north.

Today the original meter-gauge tracks are still a central mode of transport for tourists and travelers seeking a cheaper transport option.

But in the past few years, visitors to Hanoi found a new use for the tracks: the perfect backdrop from postcard perfect pictures from their travels.

Hemmed in by houses and cafes, the tracks offer a unique charm for budding travel photographers — and a business opportunity for makeshift cafe owners who have set up shop.

“It got a really weird charm. You got flowers from the balcony coming down, you got buildings which are very old and close to each other.

You see people people here living close to the train tracks,” Hong Kong tourist Edward Tsim said.

Soon, the train rumbled by and everyone pulled their phones out to capture the frenzy.

“It felt like waiting for the December holiday… and when it arrived, wow, it was something else,” British tourist Paul Hardiman said after the train rumbled past.

“Well worth the waiting.”

© Agence France-Presse