But Vietnam could be heading on that track.
In 2016 more than 60,000 deaths were linked to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.
The city’s liveability ranking is 107 out of 140 cities on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual index, behind Bangkok, Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
Hanoi’s standing is at “risk” because of its lack of action on environmental issues, said Pamela Qiu, Economist Corporate Network’s Southeast Asia director.
Business could also be hit. Dezan Shira warns in a report this month that “alarming” air pollution levels could turn off potential investors and recruiters who may find it hard to attract talent.
The reputational risk could be a problem for Hanoi authorities, eager to brand it as a cosmopolitan capital open to global leaders and world travellers, with the city’s first F1 race set for next year.
But for some hazy skies, garbage-strewn rivers and polluted tap water have already rendered Hanoi unrecognisable.
“Hanoi is no longer our Hanoi,” said Nguyen Vinh, a 65-year-old veteran born in the city.
“It is polluted — air, water, everything.”
VIDEO BY QUY LE BUI. PICTURES BY MANAN VATSYAYANA AND NHAC NGUYEN.
Jenny VAUGHAN and Tran Thi Minh HA