President Bush has completed a tour of Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City following the APEC summit in Hanoi, and praised the strides America's one-time enemy has made over 20 years of economic reforms.
The U.S. president sounded a gong three times to open a session of trading Monday at Ho Chi Minh City's six-year-old stock exchange.
With its gleaming new high-rise buildings and heavy traffic, this bustling city, formerly the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, showcases Vietnam's transformation from a war-battered, impoverished backwater to one of Asia's fastest-growing economies.
Speaking to business leaders, Mr. Bush praised the economic prosperity that has come with reforms enacted by the Communist government over the past two decades.
"When I read about the recent economic history of Vietnam, I am amazed at the size of the growth and the fact that people are beginning to realize dreams," he said.
The stop in Ho Chi Minh City capped a four-day visit to Vietnam. Mr. Bush earlier attended a summit of the Asia-Pacific leaders in the capital, Hanoi, before heading to Indonesia.
President Bush said he is "unbelievably grateful" for the warm welcome he received in this city, with people lining the sidewalks - some smiling and waving - as his motorcade passed. His visit is part of a new chapter in relations between Washington and its former communist foes in Hanoi, with whom the U.S. fought a long and bitter war in the 1960s and '70s.
In a country where the vast majority of the population was born after the war ended in 1975, however, or is too young to remember it, the prevailing attitude appears to be one of looking ahead, not back.
A group of women waiting on the sidewalk giggle as a member of the U.S. leader's entourage hands out photos of Mr. Bush. Among them was Thuy, a 32-year-old office worker at the local Communist Party headquarters. She was asked whether she harbors any ill will toward Americans.
"Before, they made a war in Vietnam but now we like [them]," she said. "The war is the past."
Now, both sides seem more interested in talking about doing business with each other and boosting cooperation in areas such as health. The president and Mrs. Bush visited the city's Pasteur Institute, where they heard about research on bird flu and HIV/AIDS that is partly funded with U.S. aid.
Last stop, a drumming performance by a group of children at the Ho Chi Minh City History Museum - and then the Bushes were off for a brief stop in Indonesia.