Andre Akito


January 25, 2022

Hanoi Railway Café – The Blooming of Train Street

After spending his whole childhood nearby the Hanoi railway line, Mr. Tuan had the idea of opening a coffee shop in front of his house, so people could have a coffee while waiting to catch the train. Initially, however, this didn’t sound like a good idea since the area wasn’t popular and it was even a place known for drug addicts to stay. Most of his neighbors didn’t believe in his idea and some even laughed about his project.

The railway system was first introduced in Vietnam during the French colonial period in the 1880’s. The North-South railway, also known as the Reunification Express, is the most important line, connecting the two biggest cities in Vietnam: Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. The line was constructed between 1899 and 1936 by the Vietnam Railways, the state owner operator of all railway system in Vietnam.

During that time, the Vietnam Railways also owned a considerable amount of land nearby the railway in Hanoi. Those lands, just a few meters away from the railway lines, were given to the company workers in order for them to build houses and to live in. Within a few decades, many houses were constructed on both sides of the railway and many families moved in to start a new life.

Over the next years, many children were born and raised with rails and trains as part of their everyday life. Mr. Tuan is one of these children. Both of his parents worked in the train company in the past: his father worked as a captain and his mother worked as a railroad crossing guard. They both built their house and moved in the train street in the year of 1959.

Despite all the challenges and doubts, Tuan finally decided to open the Railway Café five years ago, which was the first coffee shop in the now famous “Train Street”. Initially conceived for people to have a coffee and wait for the train, he unexpectedly started to receive different types of customers. For instance, people started to stop by just to have a coffee, watch the train or relax in the area, since the street is slightly more peaceful than other places in Hanoi old quarter.

Eventually, other residents from the train street started to notice the early success of the new coffee shop and started to open their own coffee shops. It didn’t take long and the Railway Street became a popular destination for tourists and one of the most visited landmarks in Hanoi. Within the next years, the region was becoming so crowded with tourists that in October 2019 the municipal government decided to block tourists from entering the Train Street due to safety concerns and because incursions onto the tracks were forcing the trains to stop.

However, following the outbreak of COVID 19 in the beginning of 2020, restrictions have eased in the absence of tourists. As a consequence, businesses in the street quietly reopened. Most shops remain closed, but a few are operating on a limited scale, like Railway Coffee. Nevertheless, most owners face a dilemma since they may be ordered to close again if tourists return in numbers.

These days, the area is very quiet and despite the lack of tourists and the different atmosphere that surrounds, Railway Café is still great place to connect with people, enjoy good food and drinks and spend time with the local community. Most of Mr. Tuan customers are long term regulars who eventually became good friends and are now also becoming part of Railway Coffee story.


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