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Nov 17, 2022 / 17:03

Hanoi needs creative ways to turn old places into attractive sites

The train street, a spontaneous activity, may provide a hint for Hanoi authorities to develop new tourism products and services for international visitors.

Hoan Kiem District's Train Street suggests that proper and creative development can turn Hanoi's unexpected places into popular tourist destinations after the street's closure in mid-September made many tourists regret it. 

Tourists enter the train street area before the ban on September 15, 2022. Photo: The Hanoi Times

The term “train street” refers to several neighborhoods along the railroad that runs through Hoan Kiem District's northern side to provinces in the North of Vietnam.

The very first foreigners found about the train street in the early 2000s, and for the last two decades, the area has attracted a large number of visitors.

Seizing the opportunity, local households turned into service businesses to meet the demand of tourists who wanted to enjoy snacks and drinks while seeing the train going through the area.

An increasing number of tourists in the area led to safety and security concerns as business activities were too close to the railway and the moving train.

On September 15, the Hoan Kiem District People’s Committee asked local authorities to shut down shops along the train street.

The decision was too upset to residents and visitors, but after all, it was a right call that upholds the law and guarantee safety for the people, specialists said in siding with the authorities over the issue.

"The Hoan Kiem District People's Committee will not sacrifice community safety for economic interests," said Nguyen Anh Quan, vice chairman of the Hoan Kiem District People's Committee.

Stone tablets display the best contestants in ancient examinations during Vietnam's feudal period. Photo: The Hanoi Times

"It is important for people to do business to make a living and for the city to attract tourists. But nothing and no one is above the laws," he said.

“Walking, lying, drinking, and dining on the rail tracks are hazardous actions that hinder railway transportation”.

Cultural researchers Nguyen Hung Vi said that the ban on the train street is necessary to clear away potential dangers in the neighborhoods, and people should not feel sorry about it.

According to him, the Law on Railway Transport and sub-law documents state that people, vehicles, and infrastructure must be at least 8.6 meters from the railway track. Due to unregulated development in the past, local houses are only a few meters away from the railroad. Any business and social activity here will be a danger for the people and the moving train. 

Any activity must be law-abiding, he stressed. "Doing business in the train street area is not a culture of Hanoi, but an unpermitted and illegal action. It must be eliminated."

Former director of the transport publishing house, Nguyen Xuan Thuy, shared that the existence of businesses on the railway street is unacceptable. “International visitors come to the train street only because they are curious about the outdated railway and poor awareness of the residents,” he said.

Proper development and exploration of cultural and historical sites

Following the ban of businesses from Railroad Street, tourists have flocked to the Long Bien Bridge for sightseeing and photo opportunities, unaware that the bridge has become too degraded and carries potential hazards.

Bird view of Long Bien Bridge that spans across the Red River in Hanoi. Photo: Ngoc Tu/The Hanoi Times

There is clearly a great demand for visits and explorations of ancient sites in Hanoi, but the city's authorities have not done enough to meet it.

Nguyen Viet Chuc, deputy head of the Cultural and Social Advisory Council of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee, said Hanoi has the largest number of relics in the country, with nearly 6,000 recognized relics, including a world cultural heritage, 21 special national ones, 1,160 at the national level and more than 1,400 at the city level.

“Diverse and valuable relics and heritages are the resource for Hanoi to develop a wide range of tourism products such as cultural and spiritual tourism, craft village tourism, and festival tourism,” he said. “However, we have not made the best use of such resources due to shortcomings in administration, maintenance, and preservation.” 

Thuy, former director of the Transport Publishing House, said that Hanoi needs to detail a plan for preserving cultural and historical heritages if the city wants the relics to propel its socio-economic growth.

Hanoi also needs to make further investments in the conservation of heritage sites, improve the quality of human resources, and link heritage conservation with tourism activities to sustain the socio-economic growth, Thuy said.

“We have to promote the images of local relics. People and local authorities of Hanoi must get involved in the job,” he added.

Architect Nguyen Hoang Phuong said that Hanoi needs some creative solutions to attract more tourists, and more importantly, the authorities must listen to visitors.

For example, the Temple of Literature has recently hosted several creative activities such as “The Storytelling Tablets” and “Calligraphy – Graffiti Dialogue”, which are exciting events for tourists, he said.

"It is good that we can meet customers' demands, but their requirements must be subject to existing laws and regulations and Vietnamese traditions," he said.

"I think the train street is 'phenomenal,' so we should think how to make other places similar," Phuong said.