Landing in Hanoi was like landing in a fantasy shaped by the explosions in Apocalypse Now and the positive feedback of fellow travellers.

My idea of Vietnam was silly, because I inevitably thought about the words of Lieutenant Bill Kilgore in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie.

Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

For years, this was my only true reference on Vietnam, until I travelled to Thailand in 2016 and met many backpackers that referred to the country as the best they’ve ever visited in Southeast Asia. This contrast stuck with me, and carried on until landing at Nội Bài at the same exact moment that the Air Force One. Donald Trump delayed my flight for five minutes, so now I can say he personally bothered me too, huh.

Trump was a funny coincidence and something else, since Vietnam’s history shares a lot with the United States that he presides. War battered a whole generation of Vietnamese from 1955 to 1975, a heavy load that defined the country in our contemporary world.

How come had they become, according to a great deal of backpackers, one of the best destinations to go? The answer is simple: its people. Wealthy or not, healthy or not, almost everyone in Hanoi greeted me with a broad smile and kind words. The public bus driver personally indicated me where to stop and where to go to find my hostel, an amazing spot with everything you need in life: a comfy bed, huge breakfast servings, free beer and a hot shower. And well, the prices multiplied that sense of comfort overall.

Coffee porn, skaters and chic propaganda

Hanoi is a perfect portrait of contemporary Vietnam, a country that has fully recovered (with a lot of inequalities) from two decades of war. Motorbikes swarm the streets, every single one of the Vietnamese living there seem to have an occupation* and the hassle indicates how fast and well the economy is going for them.

The capital city of Vietnam is a stunning city. The old quarter is as hectic as the traffic arteries, but this time people is occupying the narrow streets filled with colourful French styled houses. The atmosphere is magical at nights, with the locals grabbing Tigers and chicken feet (not wings, feet) while sitting in tiny stools that for Europeans would represent sitting in the floor. The rowdy noise, in a couple of days, disappears from your senses, but not in reality.

Hanoi is just a great place to be. It’s crazy in a controlled way, not like Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest metropolis. It is dirty but in a good way, it is contemporary just in the right amount to not loose any of its charm. Walking the streets and enjoying the delicious local sandwiches (Bánh mì) and Vietnamese Coffee (try egg coffee, a feast of creamy sweetness) could provide you with weeks of unlimited pleasure.

Walking around will never disappoint, and it can get tricky. The street markets are huge and virtually streetless, the parks are lush green and the Hanoians are just fans of outdoor exercising, be that joggers, skaters or jianzi lovers. Oh, and to the streetless markets you can add up streets that are, in fact, railroads. Definitely gotta check that out!

All in all, after a few days in the city you will forget about the bomb flashes in Hollywood movies and will understand Vietnam as a completely different thing: a huge and densely populated country with way too many things to offer for a conventional holiday visit.

We’ll get there later, though.

*The meaning of jobs in Southeast Asia is quite different from the Western world. An occupation can consist in the most absurd thing, like standing in front of a shop to attract customers by not moving a single finger or directly sitting in the clients chairs in a Restaurant without making an effort to move out of the way when someone finally enters the local…