There’s a very unique place in Hanoi that attracts tourists but its opening times are governed by train times and if you are visiting Hanoi, it really is worth a look.
Hanoi railway winds through the city like many cities and towns, but when it reaches Train Street, the tracks and train pass within a few feet of open front doors to buildings and people’s homes.
Recently cafes have sprung up to cater for the thirsty selfie takers and the hungry traveller. People live and work on these tracks, some now make a living selling their goods between train times, and when the train horn is heard, tables, chairs pets and children move out of the trains path before it thunders past.
What was once a street where it was cheap to live and mainly known by locals, has now become popular tourist hot spot to experience something that is unique and only found in Hanoi.
There are two sections of Train Street in Hanoi where you can watch the trains pass and have a surreal experience.
Lê Duẩn – this section is further out of town with just one cafe to view the passing train from. It’s between Lê Duẩn and Khâm Thin street. You can locate it in Google Maps as Ngo 224 Le Duan.
The Old Quarter section – this part of Train Street has cafes, a homestay and shops along the tracks. Enter Hanoi Street Traininto Google Maps and you’ll find two sections to explore either side of Tran Phu main road.
What are the times that the trains run along the tracks?
Through the Lê Duẩn section:
It will be dark during the second passing so try for 3.30pm.
After returning to the UK from Vietnam, I read that recently access to Train Street has been restricted to tourists, not sure if this is enforced 24 hours a day, but I doubt officials would be around that area at 6am in the morning?
Travel two hundred and nineteen miles north west of Hanoi and you will encounter stunning rice terraces that have been sculpted over centuries. Mu Cang Chai is a rural district of Yen Bai Province and a photographer’s paradise.
During the summer, the terraces bulge with ripening rice stems that blanket the hills in a vibrant green and by early autumn, the rice plants have turned a bewitching golden yellow, ready for the harvest. In wintertime, the lonely terraces fill with water, creating cascading rows of reflective infinity pools and then once spring arrives, the terraces are transformed into anthills of activity, as the farmers plant a new crop.
Mu Cang Chai is a six to eight-hour road journey from Hanoi with stretches of hazardous roads through infinite and primeval landscapes, grandiose ranges of mountains and in my opinion the most amazing landscapes of rice-terraced fields to be found in Vietnam. Unlike Sapa, the area of Mu Cang Chai and it’s mountain culture remains raw and untouched, although as the area becomes more popular, tourism will no doubt have an impact, I just hope a balance is found for everyone.
Hiking is by far the best way to see the beauty of the rice terraces and encounter local people, such as the Black H’mong, so unless you speak Vietnamese, hiring a guide will enable you to interact and learn about the culture and you will see some great locations that you may otherwise miss out on.
With the heat and humidity we encountered in September, keeping the photography gear light was a priority, lens wise I took a 24mm – 70mm f/2.8 and a 85mm f/1.4. I found the 85mm the best option as I could use it for portraits (especially in low light inside people’s houses) and the 85mm worked for a lot of the landscapes too. Despite having a good travel tripod, I decided to ditch the tripod to help save weight which enabled me to carry more liquid and some food which I shared with the locals.
On reflection did I get all of the images I envisaged? No, but I enjoyed the experiences which is what I think travel is all about. The weather and time were also out of my control, but I grabbed every opportunity I could photographically. If I were to return to Mu Cang Chai would I do anything differently? I think I would spend more time in the area, but I would still have little control of the weather.