President Clinton on Thursday became the first U-S president to visit Hanoi, capital of the communist country that America could not defeat 25 years ago.
Although the official welcoming ceremony would not occur until Friday, thousands of Vietnamese gathered on the road from the airport and thousands more convened in front of his hotel to get a glimpse of their American guest.
People in the crowd - most seemed to be under 30 - waved and applauded as Clinton's limousine passed just before midnight.
At the airport, about a dozen military officials lined a fringed red carpet to greet Clinton.
With his wife already in the city, Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, were each handed a bouquet by a woman in a traditional tunic and pants outfit called an ao dai.
The president chatted with Pete Peterson, a former POW who is America's ambassador to Vietnam, and his wife, Vietnam native Vi Le.
Clinton was accompanied on his three-day trip by scores of American business executives eager to open plants and sell goods to this country of 78 (M) million.
He also was welcomed by Vietnam's foreign minister Nguyen Dy Nien and trade minister Vu Khoan.
During his stay, Clinton planned to discuss the Vietnamese-aided effort to recover the remains of Americans missing in action, the improvement of human rights in Vietnam, and U-S investment projects.
Talk of trade would be mixed with memories of the Vietnam War.
As a young man, Clinton believed the war was wrong and he demonstrated against it, writing in 1969 that it was a conflict he "opposed and despised."
He avoided the draft, although he ultimately accepted it and drew a lottery number that spared him induction.
The war itself ended with America's withdrawal in 1973, followed two years later by the collapse of the South Vietnamese government the United States had sought to preserve.
En route to Vietnam, Clinton said the best way to honour the Americans and Vietnamese who died in the war "is to find a way to build a better future and that's what we're trying to do."
Clinton is the third U-S president to visit Vietnam, and the first since the fall of the South and reunification under communist rule.
Lyndon B. Johnson went to Vietnam twice as president and Richard M. Nixon once, in 1969.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had arrived in Vietnam earlier in the day from Israel, where she delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Leah Rabin, widow of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
She toured an art gallery and went shopping on Hang Gai street, famed for a string of shops offering everything from souvenirs to high-quality silk products.
On Friday and Saturday, she planned to meet with women's groups in and around Hanoi and to deliver an address in Ho Chi Minh City in the south, formerly known as Saigon.
President Clinton arrived from the sultanate of Brunei.
He spent Thursday in conferences with Pacific Rim leaders, who closed out the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum by calling for a new round of global trade talks.
He also held separate, private meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Chinese