Addressing the popularity of problematic tourist attractions

October 04, 2022 | 11:16
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A fortnight ago, Hanoi’s famous train street made the news again after it was closed down for tourists. Despite the popularity for people to visit and take photographs, authorities have shut the area in the name of safety. Etienne Mahler talked with Julia Heuser, a German exchange student currently living in Hanoi, about her thoughts on the topic.

The recent train street closure caused a renewed discussion about whether the street should be a tourist attraction, and if so what measures should be taken to keep it safe. What are your thoughts on that?

I was there once already and I think the people there are looking out for everyone pretty well. They have whistles and warning vests, and as soon as the train is approaching they make sure that everyone is out of the way.

The train is not very fast but very loud. So, if you go in there, you should know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared to just step aside as soon as you hear any train noises.

Addressing the popularity of problematic tourist attractions
Addressing the popularity of problematic tourist attractions. Illustration photo

So, do you think that tourists are responsible for themselves?

Yeah, I actually do. I mean, there are activities that could be potentially very harmful as a tourist attraction, but this is definitely not one of them, because as I said, it felt pretty safe.

There is enough space for everyone to go into the street. It’s not like you have problems stepping to the side because there are too many people. However, I don’t know how it is when there’s tourism season and everyone’s going there. In that case, maybe there’s not enough space for everyone.

The street was initially closed down even before the pandemic, but clearly there is a desire for tourists to venture there and take a look. What could be a good solution to tackle the issue?

There could be measures like ticketing people getting in, so you could control the influx of people and wouldn’t have too many people in there. This would seem smarter because I think tourist attractions such as the train street are unique and valuable.

Tourists have something to talk about, and the city will attract more people. Just straight up closing something down, which seems to work most of the time, is a bit of an extreme measure and I think there should be ways to work around it.

It’s not like an old theme park where the rides could probably break down any second. It’s a street where people just have to step aside for maybe once every two hours and then they’re safe. Nothing will happen. And, there are so many train tracks in Hanoi where you just walk over all day and nobody thinks about that.

Even if people are getting distracted because they want to take pictures, I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to close down the shops in the street because trains are quite slow and loud – and there are people taking care of the pedestrians.

The ticketing system might even pay for a few guards that take care of people.

In case of an accident, who would be responsible If something was actually to happen?

If I’m walking on other train tracks and get injured? Probably I am the one who’s responsible. You don’t have to walk on the train tracks but can still walk on the side, even if it’s a bit more crowded. If I step on the train tracks and get hit, I would probably think that I was stupid.

There are other streets a bit further outside, where there are also train tracks right next to shops, but maybe not as pretty, so tourists don’t walk there. But, people living here walk on those all the time and that’s probably no issue.

Coffee shops on 'train street' must close by September 17 over safety concerns Coffee shops on 'train street' must close by September 17 over safety concerns

The sections of track along the Hanoi-Dong Dang railway line, where trains pass close to residential houses, have been popular with tourists for many years, but also pose a major safety hazard.

Tourist hit by train while trying to get into ‘train street’ Tourist hit by train while trying to get into ‘train street’

He suffered very minor injuries and left the area before receiving medical treatment. After the accident, the train was brought to a halt causing traffic congestion.

By Etienne Mahler

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