If parents in Hanoi feel comfortable letting their children play on the train tracks, you can probably safely take advantage of a quick photo opportunity.
Question: Where in the world are train tracks treated like sidewalks—until everyone gets derailed?
Answer: Hanoi, Vietnam
One of the most popular photo-taking locales in all of Vietnam is also one of the most unlikely: the city train tracks. Not alongside, but on them.
The Hanoi railway threads through the densely-packed city just inches from the back doors of homes and businesses. To make the most of it, residents have gotten used to thinking of the tracks as a kind of temporary workspace and living space. Shopkeepers set up goods on the tracks, and families let the children play there.
The railway has now become an attraction for visitors wanting to photograph themselves standing on the tracks, with the local buildings framing them on either side. It’s become so common that the most well-trafficked sites (the Old Quarter section and the tracks between Le Duan and Kham Thin street) now come with signs listing the passing times and warning folks to be off the tracks 30 minutes prior to arrival, just to be safe.
Locals will point out that safety is nearly (though not perfectly) guaranteed. The trains only run a few times each weekday (and a few more on weekends), and there’s a two-minute warning in which access to the tracks is forbidden. Parents scoop up their kids, shopkeepers move their goods, and doors to the tracks are closed. As a result, just this November, CNN named the Hanoi train tracks “Selfie Central.”
9 Best Photo Ops in Hanoi
- The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (2 Hung Vuong, Dien Ban, Ba Dinh) is a landmark at any time of day, but when you go it at night, its massive upper level is lit red or gold, making for a more dramatic shot.
- Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in the city, sits atop a small island on West Lake; follow the shore-hugging promenade away from the temple far enough and the path curves to allow you a shot with the temple reflecting in the water behind you.
- Start at Yen Phụ road in the Old Quarter and follow the Hanoi Ceramic Mural, the longest in the world, in either direction until you find the colorful section you like best.
- On Hoan Kiem Lake, there’s no shortage of scenic settings, but one of our favorites is Cau The Huc (the red bridge spanning the lake), which is equally photogenic from atop the bridge or from shore.
- There’s no single spot to pose in Dong Xuan Market (Hoan Kiem) but the vibrant market is ripe with great visuals, from the fruit and vegetable stalls to the flower-carrying cyclists who squeeze through its lane.
- Founded as a university more than a millennium ago, the gorgeous Temple of Literature (Quoc Tu Giam, Dong da) offers terrific backdrops both inside and out, with interior red-and-gold Buddhist shrines and five ancient courtyards.
- If you’re in Hanoi on a weekend, don’t miss the Night Market (Hang Dao from the lake to Dong Xuan, Friday to Sunday), where the night sky contrasts with the yellow awnings, glowing light strings, and lanterns.
- The Imperial Citadel (9 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien) built in 1010 offers a vivid backdrop, especially from inside the courtyard, where the elegant pale-yellow royal quarters peek above the military stonework.
- One the most romantic streets in Vietnam, Phan Dinh Phung Street is long avenue lined with ancient dracontomelum trees that lean in from either side; it’s especially dramatic in autumn as yellow leaves carpet the ground.
Witness all the beauty of Hanoi during O.A.T.’s Inside Vietnam adventure.