You’ll find there are many sides to the vibrant Vietnamese metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City—still often called Saigon by visitors and locals from the North.
Start your trip by exploring Ben Tanh Market, in central Ho Chi Minh City.
Here, you’ll find piles of popular handbags, jewelry, and—of course—food vendors. Your best bet is a sinh to stand, which serve up icy Vietnamese smoothies.
In Cholon (on the fringe of the city) is An Dong. Its distance from the main tourist stops means lower prices on everything from bolts of fabric and wholesale clothing to handicrafts and traditional desserts.
If boutique shopping is more your speed, peruse the storefronts on Dong Khoi street. French-colonial architecture houses some of the city’s most upscale stores, including Yves Saint Laurent. For vintage bikes or chic, casual clothing, visit the industrial, light-filled L’Usine.
Around the corner, you’ll find Tricia & Verona, one of the best tailors outside of Hoi An for made-to-measure garments.
No trip to Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without a history lesson. Start at Reunification Palace, where you can tour the presidential quarters and the treasure trove in the basement (radio transmitters, war-time tunnels).
Later, pass through the Museum of Vietnamese History—highlights include Imperial Vietnamese jewelry and ancient bronzes—and the War Remnants Museum.
Equally important stop at the 100-year-old Jade Emperor Pagoda, which honors the Taoist god with statues, incense, and elaborate woodcarvings. Even more ancient is the Notre Dame Cathedral: an ornate brick basilica completed in 1883.
Even the Saigon Central Post Office has the distinct French flair. After all, it was designed by the famed architect Gustave Eiffel.
When sunset begins to settle over the city, head out for rooftop cocktails. When Saigon Saigon (atop the Caravelle Hotel) was born in 1959, it was the highest point in the city. If you arrive after 9, you’ll also find the live entertainment equally enjoyable.