Perhaps it was naiveté or a case of denial and wishful thinking. But from the second we stepped into the searing humidity and choking smog of Hanoi, there was no way to experience Southeast Asia without it dredging up deep memories of different times.
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have embraced tourism for about 20 years, which coincides with the first period of real peace in the region after literally centuries of continuous carnage. Economies are booming. Development is everywhere, moving so fast that neither the infrastructures nor the cultures can keep up with it.
There is color, cacophony, conspiracy, and cabbage on every corner. Smiles are everywhere, especially when that $2 cab fare becomes a $15 romp around the city. Hands are always out, angles are played and while there is no sense of physical danger, there is every sense that what you see is not what you get.