Twice a day, residents along a narrow alley on the edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter scoop up the kids, pull down drying laundry and duck inside doors or alcoves as a freight train rumbles by, just inches from stacks of plates waiting to be washed.
They innately know what time the train comes, so when the locomotive incessantly blows its horn, it’s not for them, but the tourists pirouetting to the rails to get a selfie, leaving themselves seconds to avoid getting flattened. (See one hair-raising video by some dumb tourist below.)
Welcome to Hanoi’s “Train Street”.
Thailand may have the Maeklong Railway Market, but it has nothing on Ngo 224 Le Duan, between Le Duan and Kham Tien streets. Much as at Hong Kong’s Monster Building, Train Street has been taken over by Insta-tourists, selfie snappers all eager to collect likes by replicating snaps they’ve seen on Instagram. Meanwhile, life goes on for those actually living there.
Of course, Insta-fame begets Insta-businesses, and the locals have adopted their lower-class neighborhood to suit the nón lá cone-hat wearing Koreans and braided and bearded Aussie backpackers. Up and down the alley they sit at rail-side cafes, but have to move their chairs when the engine rolls through at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.
It’s hard to deny Train Street’s appeal for photographers, who are instinctively drawn to the leading lines of steel rails and crossties, not to mention to tall, narrow shophouses crowded so close to them.
Folks here have no backyards and, these days, even less privacy. Most try to go about their business, men walking around shirtless, women washing their hair in buckets and housewives hanging laundry.
But for all its photogenicness, Train Street is not all that pretty. It’s hard to know if it came from the tourists or locals, but trash litters much of the grounds, trash cans over flow, junk is tossed haphazardly about.
Before Instagram, Ngo 224 Le Duan was nothing but a slum. Today, it’s a sensation.