1 - Dong Khoi Street
Start with a stroll down the wide boulevards of the city’s main commercial thoroughfare and admire the heady mix of old and new. At the beginning of the street stands the 130-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral, featuring classic neo-Romanesque architecture with its red brick façade and stained-glass windows.
Opposite the ancient basilica is the Saigon Post Office; though it functions as a modern post office, the magnificent colonial French architecture inside and out will transport you back to French Indochina. Continue walking down the street and you’ll pass the Saigon Opera House on your left, another example of flamboyant French architecture and home to a number of cultural performances.
Interspersed with these historic marvels are plenty of high-end shopping malls, boutique outlets, kitsch book stores and, of course, numerous cafés brewing aromatic coffee and food stalls offering up the lauded Vietnamese baguettes and steaming bowls of pho.
2 - Galerie Quynh
After enduring a bombardment of the senses, step off the busy streets and into the calm interior of Galerie Quynh for a moment of respite, where you can ponder over an eclectic collection of contemporary Vietnamese art. The spacious gallery is housed in a former industrial factory and regularly hosts rotating exhibits from some of Vietnam’s up-and-coming talent as well as international artists. Admission is free; open 10am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday.
3 - Ben Thanh Market
Once you’ve recharged, it’s time to step back into the fray. Turn left down Le Loi Street and head to the iconic Ben Thanh Market, one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most famous landmarks and a great place to find local handicrafts.
The cavernous building houses a warren-like maze offering everything from lacquerware and bamboo goods to textiles and electronics amidst a raucous bustle of haggling and the heady fragrance of local spices. In the evening, numerous food vendors set up shop to fuel busy shoppers with a delightful array of classic noodle dishes such as bánh canh and bún bo Hué. Open 6am-6pm daily.
4 - Ho Chi Minh City Museum
When you’ve emptied your pockets purchasing souvenirs, head back along Le Thanh Ton and delve deeper into the city’s history. Ho Chi Minh City Museum (on the corner of Ly Tu Trong and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) is another beautiful landmark in its own right, and inside a carefully curated exhibition offers an evocative glimpse of Vietnam’s development to the present day. Antiques, ceramics and city maps tell the story of the city’s struggle for independence. Open 8am-5pm Monday-Sunday; admission 15,000 dong (US$0.50).
5 - Purple Jade at Intercontinental Saigon
After tramping the tourist trail, its time to reward yourself with a well-earned beverage. Continue along Ly Tu Trong and turn left on Hai Ba Trung to reach the sleek interiors of the Intercontinental Saigon’s buzzing Purple Jade bar. A chic design blends the illicit allure of old opium dens with a cool, contemporary vibe. Meanwhile, slick bartenders whip up a constant array of innovative tipples, from the signature Ductini cocktail to a variety of Shoaxing and Maotai rice wines. Open 10am-2am.