Despite an indefinite ban from Hanoi authorities, foreign tourists still flock to Hanoi’s Train Street, prompting tourism experts to urge the government to consider reopening the attraction to boost tourism.

Hanoi Train Street, famous for its makeshift coffee shops along the train track, runs for around two kilometers from Le Duan Street through Tran Phu, Cua Dong and Phung Hung streets in the heart of the capital’s Old Quarter.

While one part of its was blocked off last September due to safety concerns, another part between Tran Phu and Dien Bien Phu streets is not and foreign tourists have continued to visit the area’s coffee shops to watch the train run.

On the morning of Aug. 28, droves of tourists were observed at the Phung Hung Street section of Train Street drinking coffee and walking on the rail track to take photos.

The main Phung Hung entrances to Train Street are guarded by one or two people from the civil defense force. But cafe owners openly invite customers and inform them of other ways to enter the area without passing the guards.

Thus, regardless of the ban, activities along Train Street have continue to operate normally for several months now.

Travel companies still arrange tours for foreigners to visit Train Street.

Some groups of tourists have been transported to a level crossing on Tran Phu Street in Hang Bong Ward where the train passes, causing heavy traffic jams, posing a high risk of traffic accidents, and putting pressure on railway guards.

Phan Dinh Hue, director of Vietcircle Tourism Company, said prohibiting tourism along the train street is “impossible,” as proved by the many travelers still visiting the site despite its shutdown.

Therefore, Hanoi should consider developing the area into a tourist attraction and selling entry tickets for visitors, he said. In addition, the number of visitors to the street during the day should also be limited to avoid causing inconvenience when the train arrives, he added.

“Businesses also need to pay money to maintain security forces and must comply with railway safety regulations,” Hue said.

Nguyen Tien Dat, general director of Hanoi-based tour operator AZA Travel, also believed that opening the train street would be a good way to develop tourism in Hanoi.

Dat said he had always had a relationship with the train street ever since lived on Hang Bong Street as a child.

His memory of the former train street was that it was a “smelly, dangerous and a bit unkempt” place. But since household businesses opened coffee shops along the railway, the area has completely changed, and that is a positive sign brought by tourism.

“I think it is necessary to pilot the opening of the train street. Business households are still operating, but under a lack of management and this is even more dangerous,” Dat said.

Nguyen Cong Hoan, general director of Hanoi-based Flamingo Redtours, said that “railway coffee” is “new and interesting,” and should be developed to attract international tourists.

“Relevant parties should sit together to think about measures to ensure safety. If they find it unsatisfactory, they should ban it completely,” Hoan suggested.

“If banned, Hanoi must consider how many households will be affected by the decision. They have invested so much, who will support them if it is banned?” Hoan said.

For many international tourists, Train Street is a unique destination, with almost no similar place in the world. Some said it was “difficult to understand” when the train street was banned.

Byron, an Australian tourist who visited the train street on August 28, called the place “unique” and said he had never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.

The tourist hoped the government would soon turn Train Street into a safe destination. Byron and his group of friends refused invitations to “enter secretly” from cafe owners due to concerns about being swindled.

Daisy Hayer-Markos, a Dutch tourist, said that the train street is a special attraction for foreigners.

Most foreigners comply with instructions of the cafe owners as soon as the trains arrive, she said. Therefore, there is “nothing dangerous” nor a good reason to ban such a tourist attraction, according to Daisy.

Evaluna Perez Guillen, an Italian tourist, said the train street is one of European travelers’ favorite destinations in Hanoi.

“This is a unique destination in Vietnam, I have never seen anything like it. This neighborhood will help Vietnam attract a huge number of tourists from around the world,” she said.

Train streets have long existed in Asia and are often tourist gems.

In Thailand, Maeklong Market, which spans for over 100 meters along the railway near the Mae Klong Railway Station, has become a famous tourist attraction with trains running at fixed times.

Shifen Old Streets in Taiwan is famous for its collection of lanes and alleys in and around the Shifen railway station area.

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