'I felt as if I had been dropped into a page of history,' writes Kenneth Murphy in the opening pages of his haunting new book Unquiet Vietnam. Growing up with the war, Murphy, like all Americans of his generation, has certain indelible associations burned into his consciousness about Vietnam. Iconic images of 'naked children running from flames' and wounded GIs being air-lifted out of war zones are what Vietnam has conjured up for Americans since the 1960s. There was something about the impenetrable jungles that young Americans fought in, against an enemy that seemed to appear and vanish like an apparition, in a culture that couldn't be more foreign from what those soldiers have known. Halfway across the world the US subconscious was locked in a Heart of Darkness struggle with itself as much as the phantom enemy. In writing that recalls Michael Herr's essential war memoir Dispatches, Murphy, who lost his brother in the war, takes us to 'the highland villages where the fiercest fighting of the Vietnam war took place' and sketches scenes of battles and locations that have been the collective nightmare of many Americans for the past four decades. But rather than finding only ghosts and heartbreak, Murphy's book is also a record of the surprises found by Americans who journey to Vietnam. Along with the searing epiphany of the war's futility, the other consistent reaction from US visitors to Vietnam is astonishment at the welcome they receive. More than three million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians died in the American war - as it's known in Vietnam - yet the Vietnamese seem to bear no grudge against US visitors. Veterans are sometimes even honoured for their valour. Vietnam's history of war is long. They were fighting the French before the Americans were there, and the Cambodians and Chinese after they left. And that's just in the 20th century. Vietnam is a developing country and hasn't had the luxury of introspection. The Vietnamese have needed to put the tragedy of war behind them and get on with the business of surviving. As Murphy puts it: 'For most people I met the past was blank; history began with their memories. That vacuum may have accounted for the tolerance the Vietnamese felt towards Americans nowadays.' These days - as newspapers flash retrospectives on the 30 years since the fall of Saigon - tourists and government policies are leading the US and Vietnam on a path towards reconciliation. The two countries now exchange money and goods to the tune of more than US$6 billion annually. Vietnam, with an annual growth rate of about 7 per cent, is slowly reforming its centrally planned economy. Bilateral trade has experienced a steady increase over the past decade with the US now one of the leading markets for Vietnamese exports. Vietnam sends the US shoes, shrimp, furniture and clothing, while the US sends Vietnam tractors, airplanes, computers and cotton. Significantly, next month marks the 10th anniversary of US-Vietnamese relations. The number of US tourists is rising with more than 200,000 - many veterans - visiting the Southeast Asian nation every year. Former US president Bill Clinton was among these visitors in 2000, a watershed moment in relations. There has been another breakthrough this week with Vietnamese Prime Minster Phan Van Khai's visit to the US. Mr Khai is the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit the US since the war. Both countries are eager to put the past behind them and concentrate on common concerns. Vietnam is seeking entry to the World Trade Organisation and will be looking for US support. Meanwhile, the US covets a return to the deep-water port at Cam Ranh Bay, where its marines used to be headquartered, not far from Danang's famed China Beach. Both countries have become wary of China's 'peaceful rise'. The US is alarmed about the ebbing of its influence in the region due to the mainland's assiduous diplomatic charm offensive, and it remains concerned about a possible conflict over Taiwan. Vietnam has reservations about the rise of its enormous historic adversary to the north. As Murphy tours through Ho Chi Minh City, he notes the forlorn reminders of US involvement in the country's past. The 'rusting US Army cavalry helicopters, baking in the sun' and the amputees serving as rickshaw drivers are all visible scars that link the US to Vietnam. While Mr Khai will not see 'America's walking wounded' on the streets, perhaps he will get a sense of how profoundly the US has been changed by the conflict. The Vietnam era represents a loss of innocence in the US, a period where its citizens lost faith in their government and began to question what it means to be American. Mr Khai may not scratch the surface of the complex social repercussions of what that conflict wrought. He is sure to be less interested in the US' psychological wounds than he is in doing business. But it's hard not to note the symbolism of the anniversaries surrounding his visit. And it's hard not to see a visit by a former nemesis as a profoundly hopeful moment in a relationship that has thus far brought mostly sorrow.