Hanna Dumlao
Hey everyone! My name is Hanna, a Filipino Interior Designer and Visual Merchandiser in constant pursuit of all things creative, inspiring, humble, and positive. This is my avenue of sharing these pockets of inspiration and thoughts to all of you.

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EXPLORING THE RAILROADS OF HANOI

You'll see it on Instagram, on Youtube, and on a lot of travel blogs. Truth be told, seeing these two places in Hanoi is definitely a must. Beyond the 'gram-worthy shots, the Long Bien Bridge and the Hanoi Train Street is a testimony of resilience, hard work, passion, and patience.

Coming from our Bat Trang Adventure, Dennis and I decided to come and see the top two tourist-heavy destinations in Hanoi to better understand the hype only to come home with a very personal life lesson.
Our first stop was the Long Bien Bridge located at the Long Bien Train Station right across the Long Bien Bus Interchange. To give you a back story, the bridge was designed by French Architects Dayde and Pille Company Paris in 1898, built by skilled Vietnamese workers, and opened to traffic in 1903.
This cantilevered bridge was designed to connect the districts of Hoan Kiem and Long Bien and was known as one of the longest bridges built in Asia around that time. Originally known to have 19 spans and the first steel bridge to be built in Hanoi, the Long Bien Bridge is very much famous for withstanding a couple of bombing occasions during the Vietnam war and has faced a lot of repairs and refurbishing to keep operating. 
Reading about the rich history of Long Bien strengthened our desire to see this testament of survival and history face to face. We were fortunate enough to see the afternoon train parked at that time, waiting for passengers and its time to be deployed. Since Hanoi considered one of the developing cities in Asia, it is understandable to see the lack of a contemporary rail system. I have, however, seen the start of the construction of a Light Railway System - something to look forward to in the next few years to come.

In the meantime, the Long Bien station serves as one of the main stations in Hanoi if you wish to take the train to certain parts of Vietnam. Depending on your destination, there are four trains that depart from the Long Bien Station (click the links in pink for more details on stops and schedule) - the YB3 Train, which has the most number of stops (16), LP5 TrainLP7 Train, and LP3 Train which runs in 8 stops. Aside from the trains that operate daily, the bridge also serves as a passage for motorbikes and bicycles.
I have never been this scared of being close to a train as I am discounting those that have barricades and safety rails. It's a good kind of fear - to best describe it, it's like meeting someone you look forward to meeting for the very first time. Cautiously and making sure that the train will not run anytime, we went to the station's waiting area to ask if the train will be running anytime soon and we were told that we had 30 minutes to spare and see the Long Bien Bridge by ourselves!
To be honest, standing within these rails gave me a bittersweet glimpse of what this bridge and Hanoi in general went through. If you were to watch the Vietnam War documentary on Netflix, you would truly understand and respect the bravery, tenacity, and relentless spirit Vietnamese people have. Much like this bridge that withstood a test of time, warfare, grief, and victory, the Vietnamese spirit is indeed something we can all admire and learn from. Currently, the bridge is on a fragile state and being able to walk within the creaking metal and wooden platforms, seeing the oxidation from the trusses and the frames made the designer in me wish for a call of action to preserve this testament of bravery, hard work, and craftsmanship. I do hope to come back to the good news of restoration efforts for this national treasure.
There are a lot of cafes that offer another view of the Long Bien Bridge if you wish to take the safer route of viewing and admiring it from afar. Another way to experience the bridge up close and getting to know more about it from a local's perspective is by booking a walking tour or experience through Airbnb like this.
Make sure to explore the neighborhood around Long Bien as well to discover pitstops for Vietnamese coffee, Banh Mi, and more. Since we were already physically beat from our day trip in Bat Trang and the summer heat was adding up to the drain, we decided to take a Grab Car from Ga Long Bien to the Old Quarter. It took us around 10 minutes and around VND 30,000 / PHP 65 to get to our small pitstop before the Train street. Honestly, if we weren't too tired, the Old Quarter is just a 15-20 minute walk away from Ga Long Bien so if you have the energy and the weather permits, I encourage you to walk. Don't worry, Google Maps work really well in Hanoi and it has navigated most of our walks around the city!

The hubby was on a Banh Mi hunt and one of the places on his list would be Banh Mi 25, which has a joint located along the Old Quarter. 
 As we temporarily recuperate from the walking and the heat, our view rewarded us with these beautiful scenes
One of my most unforgettable encounters while traveling in Hanoi would be this particular scene along the Old Quarter. It was pure magic - me, the age-old trees enveloping the streets, and the golden hour sunlight peeking through every possible opening. You will find a lot of these beautiful moments in Hanoi, all you need to do is walk around and have an open heart and mind to look beyond the usual scenes.
We knew we were already approaching the Hanoi Train Street the moment I saw a huge number of tourists along a railway. For a Filipino like myself, seeing a residential area along the railroad is not a new sight as I am very much familiar with it growing up. So when I heard about this place being coined as a 'must-see' puzzled me.
All the trains that come from the Long Bien station pass by this railroad. What made this famous to tourists would be the row of cafes that opened and allowed the visitors to witness that short period where the train passes by - allowing each who witnesses it a very close and thrilling encounter. As the number of tourists grew through the years, the residents around the area were allowed to open up a source of livelihood for them while allowing people to get to experience what is already mundane for them.
'Smile like you're having fun!'
exclaimed one tourist commanding her group posing in the middle of the railroad. This was the common scene in the Hanoi Train Street - people on their OOTD's posing the middle of the railroad or along with the cafe facades. And while the hype opened up an opportunity for the neighborhood to thrive and earn, it posed a lot of danger as the volume of visitors in the area doubled by the day. As beautiful photos of the street get posted daily, inviting more and more people, less and less of them were truly interested to interact with the locals and understand why the neighborhood exists or how this kind of cafe culture even started. People were obviously more about the photos and to be able to witness that saddened us.
While everyone was busy with their ootd shots, we walked the whole stretch observing each cafe and I found a small store that sold postcards. If there's one thing that I make sure to get for myself every time I travel, that would be postcards - usually those that were handpainted or drawn on. Needless to say, I take my postcard choices seriously ;)
This to me was a beautiful sight. The deeper we got in the train street, the fewer people were busy taking photos and instead, they were sitting down, talking, and interacting with some locals who either live around the area or work in the cafe they were staying at. 
Each house or cafe had a story, it had its own aesthetic - whether intentional or unintentional, it spoke of creativity, locality, and resourcefulness. Continuing where Long Bien Bridge has left me off, the neighborhood in the Hanoi Train Street taught me about how one should find every opportunity to see the better side of life. It was a perfect time to be there as I was at a point in my life where I questioned a lot of things about myself. Being able to stay here for 3 hours to just interact with a local, a few tourists, and my husband while seeing the rest of the evening unfold gave me a whole new perspective of how we should face our challenges in life. I was glad that we ended our day here despite my skepticism toward overhyped tourist spots. It was the perfect place to learn something and let go of other things I was still holding on to.
We encountered two trains passing by on 30-minute intervals. As the night got deeper and people came and go, I have come to realize that this place holds a lot of memories for people who live there and pass by. I realized the possibility of people passing by initially for photographs eventually staying longer and interacting with the locals and the place and turn out to fall in love with the place as a whole. 

The Hanoi Train Street in this writing is now closed down to tourists as the local government authorities saw the danger that came along the volume of tourists along the railroad. To avoid any incidents and to preserve the place, I would actually have to agree with the closure.

For me and the rest of those who were able to visit the place, I'm pretty sure that this place is definitely one of the best memories of Hanoi. Personally, I will always look back to this to remind me of how it has taught me to be creative and rise above any situation in life.
This is Allen, the owner of the cafe we stayed at. He was a former tour guide who saw an opportunity to earn a living by opening his own place along the railroad. He was very friendly and hospitable, just like every Hanoian we met at grew fond of. Now that the train street is closed down, I truly hope that Allen and the rest of the people in the neighborhood are doing well and still continue to thrive despite the change that happened in the area.

Writing this made me realize how much tourism can affect people and places. I realized how much responsibility one should carry while traveling, we should always be conscious about the actions that we will be making and while most of them are well-meaning, it would not hurt to take a step back and think about the long-term effects of the actions that we will be making.

Beyond these rails, people live and try to live each day with hope and resilience. Beyond these rails, a whole generation awaits for a better and brighter future. It is our role to look beyond these rails and posted photographs and try to do our own little act of kindness by becoming aware and spreading that awareness to preserve and strengthen a certain culture.

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