Hanoi is being recommended to pilot the concept of the ‘railway coffee street.’ Many travel experts suggest that Hanoi should consider opening a trial version of the “railway coffee street” after this street continued to operate despite being officially banned.
According to local media, on August 27 hundreds of tourists flocked to the new railway coffee street in Dien Bien Ward to watch the passing trains. On the morning of August 28, the Phung Hung railway street section was also active, with numerous visitors sitting to enjoy coffee, strolling along the railway to take photos. The entrances to the Phung Hung railway street had one or two people from the local militia stationed there to provide security. If visitors inquired, they would be informed that entry was prohibited. Nonetheless, cafe owners openly invited guests and indicated there was a detour to access the area.
In 2019, the “railway coffee street” was banned due to safety concerns regarding the railway corridor. The Hoan Kiem District authorities also rejected the business applications from residents in this area in October 2019. Despite the ban, the “railway coffee street” continued to operate openly or covertly. Occasionally, when authorities tightened their control, businesses would resort to “guerrilla operations.” However, from Lunar New Year until the present, the railway street has been operating openly, attracting a large number of visitors.
The Director of a local travel company and a destination development expert, has suggested that considering the current situation, completely banning the railway street is “unfeasible.” Therefore, Hanoi should contemplate developing this area into a tourist spot with regulated entry and supervision. Additionally, the daily number of visitors should be restricted to ensure safety when trains arrive.
“Business owners should also contribute towards maintaining security personnel and adhere to railway safety regulations,” he said.
Given the current dilemma of “neither completely closed nor fully open,” Duong Ngoc Dung, Chief Marketing Officer at Vietnam Maritime Bank (MSB), believes that opening the railway street would be a more viable choice for tourism development.
Mr. Duong has a personal connection to this area as he lived on Hang Bong street as a child. The memory of the former railway street in Mr. Duong’s mind was a place of “smells, danger, and somewhat shabbiness.” Since cafe businesses started operating, the appearance of the street has undergone a complete transformation, indicating a positive change due to tourism.
“I believe it’s necessary to trial the opening of the railway street and implement safety measures. The residents are still active, but the lack of management makes it even riskier,” Mr. Duong mentioned, although he acknowledged that openly enticing customers in front of authorities is “disregarding the law.”
Nguyen Thanh Binh, CEO of a international travel agency believes that the railway coffee street is an “unconventional and dramatic” attraction that appeals to international tourists. “All relevant parties should convene to brainstorm safety measures. If they prove inadequate, then a complete ban could be considered,” Mr. Binh proposed.
He believes that dealing with the railway street issue is not as straightforward as simply “allowing or disallowing.” From a sociological perspective, people have lived in this area for generations. Hence, it is essential to determine whether their living area falls within the railway safety corridor and whether their land is encroaching or legally acquired. If it constitutes encroachment and violates the railway safety corridor, the authorities should take steps to rectify it. However, if the land use is legal, their livelihood in that living area is “justified.”
“If a ban is imposed, Hanoi needs to consider the impact on how many households. They have invested so much, so who will support them if they are banned?” Mr. Binh questioned.
From the perspective of international tourists, most find the railway street to be a unique destination with very few similar places worldwide. They find it perplexing to learn that the railway street is under a ban.
Byron, an Australian tourist who visited the railway street on August 28, expressed that he had never seen such a “distinctive” place worldwide. He hopes that authorities will regulate it to ensure the railway street becomes a safe destination. Byron and his friends declined the “underground invitation” from cafe owners due to concerns about scams.
Daisy Hayer-Markos, a tourist from the Netherlands, believes the railway street has a special allure for foreigners. Tourists are highly conscious here. They promptly follow the instructions of cafe owners when the train arrives. Consequently, Daisy stated that there is “no peril” justifying a ban on such an appealing tourist spot.
Evaluna Perez Guillen, an Italian tourist, described Hanoi’s railway street as a favored destination for many Europeans. She visited the railway street in September of the previous year and noted that the trains move at a leisurely pace, with regular whistle reminders for visitors. Evaluna believes that this area could only pose a danger “for the hearing-impaired.”
“This is Vietnam’s unique destination; I’ve never encountered anything similar. This street could help Vietnam draw in an immense number of global tourists,” she said.