They’re probably the most prestigious name in adventure travel and photography, but even the guys from National Geographic had to admit that our Hanoi Explorer photo tour was a special experience. Aziz Abu Sarah (TED Fellow and founder of Mejdi Tours), Boyd Matson (veteran presenter of Nat Geo Explorer) and Richard Cornelius (photographer and explorer) joined our very own Nguyen Duc Linh on a tailormade wander through the Old Quarter, culminating in a photoshoot on the tracks as the first locomotive of the night came screeching down ‘train street’.
Like true adventurers, the guys weren’t shy of getting involved in local life, whether it was a game of badminton or football or even a couple’s wedding shots on Hoan Kiem Lake. And the locals just loved making fun with (and of) these happy-go-lucky foreigners – especially with the translation of our man Duc Linh.
The guys said they had ‘a lot of fun’. But their main fascination with Hanoi was the now famous ‘train street’ running between Hang Co and Long Bien Stations. We were the first to bring guests to this part of town for our Hanoi On the Tracks tour back in 2013. In those days, it was a quiet, low-rent area, and the lack of vehicle traffic and shopfronts made it feel like a throwback to the Hanoi of yesteryear. We’d bring small groups of photographers down to capture shots of this special place, and portraits of the many friendly people we got to know so well. But, sure enough, word got out – and now train street is booming with colourful cafes serving the growing numbers of foreign visitors.
For now, it looks like the area is being well-managed, and tourism has certainly brought much-needed investment. So, although it’s lost some of its original charm for us, we can’t complain. And anyway, we still know the best times and spots to explore and photograph on the tracks away from the crowds. Clue – it means you have to get up very early!
The Nat Geo guys had their own schedule to keep, so we had to go for the evening train. It has its own thrill too – the expectant trackside audience, brightly lit cafes, and a dark void up ahead from which we keep looking for that train light… Right on the dot, at 7:20pm, through she came, roaring between the houses, and everyone got their shots. Once the noise had died down, there was even a round of applause from the crowd!
All in all, it made for a great ending to the tour. Thanks very much to the guys for joining, and great job, Duc Linh!