A historical landmark, a story captured in the rust, lines and planes of the structure, we knew we couldn’t miss visiting Cầu Long Biên [Long Bien Bridge] despite having only mere hours in the city of Hanoi.
With a local guide to lead us to this historic landmark, we traipsed through the streets of Hanoi into the heart of where the locals reside and trade, through the now forgotten Long Bien Train Station, with each step taking us closer to the historical icon.
Originally named Paul Doumer Bridge, Cầu Long Biên is a showpiece of colonial infrastructure and an engineering feat of the time. Built in 1903 by the architects of French company, Daydé & Pillé, Cầu Long Biên lies in the same league as French icon – the Eiffel Tower. Why do i say that? Both icons share the same birth father – Gustave Eiffel, the very same man who crafted the Eiffel Tower.
Cầu Long Biên is a bridge built using cantilevers – a structure that projects horizontally into space, supported on only one end – connecting two banks of the city of Hanoi and cuts across the Red River. Spanning 2,500m in length, it was one of the longest bridge in Asia at that time.
A bridge that connects the past and present, the people of Hanoi view Cầu Long Biên as a symbol of immortality having played witness to the unfolding history of Hanoi. Every time a train rolls through the bridge and the whistle resounds, seemingly to remind the people of the past and the stories and secrets the bridge has kept over the years.
Today, the bridge stands like a war veteran with a trace of the original structure barely visible under patches of numerous attempts to repair the damage that the bridge has suffered.
Mid-way through, our guide took us down a steep stairway to the undergrowth that loomed under the bridge. I’ll admit i was hesitant – who knew what laid under? Step after careful step, we discovered an all new community under the bridge.
According to our guide, the city’s poor and destitute have congregated under this bridge trying to make ends meet as they are unable to pay rent and have a proper roof over their head within the city centre. Another reason why they have selected to live here is the bridge’s close proximity to the Red River and the vegetation the river feeds along the banks – a treasure trove of sustenance for them.
Through our guide, we also learnt that the underground of Cầu Long Biên comes alive every night as locals set up stores to trade their wares. It is apparently a lively sight to take in and we regret missing it to catch our flight.
Today, the dilapidated bridge still sees heavy activity from trains, bicycles, mopeds, hawkers and pedestrians while all other traffic has been diverted to other newly constructed, nearby bridges.
Our walk through and under the bridge felt almost like an exposè of Hanoi’s well-kept secrets. Go ahead, take a walk and experience it for yourself.
Fascinated with my visit to Cầu Long Biên, i hit Google post trip to look up its history and the travel logs of others who have visited the icon. One site that really caught my attention was 360 Cities, a piece put together by Martin Broomfield that offers a 360° view of the bridge under different settings. The shots are breathtaking and i wish i had the luxury of time on the bridge to witness it’s different looks as the day passed on.