Fine Arts Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. All photos by Christian Berg.
9 a.m.: Wake up with a fresh banh mi packed with pickled vegetables and succulent pork to prepare yourself for a solid day of exploring. Check your maps and sip on a ca phe sua da in one of HCMC’s many hidden cafés. Here's a tip: Most of the good stuff is happening down an alley or up a stairs. There are many old classics sprinkled around District 1, but chances are you'll find a worthy candidate right on your street corner.
10 a.m.: Start your sightseeing with a walking tour of District 1. The Notre Dame Cathedral is at its best in the early morning, and right across the street is the old Saigon Post Office, a worth-while stop with photogenic tiled floors and ancient phone booths. Cut a path through the park on your way to the Reunification Palace to see how young Vietnamese enjoy their downtime. After scoping out the Reunification Palace, let your legs carry you back toward Dong Khoi st., the city's main shopping throughfare, toward the Saigon Opera House.
TIP: Lune Production stages riveting contemporary circus and cultural shows at the Opera House several nights a week. Score a ticket for an hour of fascinating entertainment right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
12 p.m.: Ready to eat like a local? Nha Hang Ngon serves up dishes from all over the country in a large, open-air villa. Chi Hoa offers an expert take on southern Vietnamese fare. And countless small eateries and stalls on the sidewalks serve everything from noodle soups, to banh mi, to broken rice (com tam.) Take your pick.
2 p.m.: Nguyen Hue is one of the only pedestrian streets in Ho Chi Minh City. Spend a few hours of your afternoon strolling this broad throughfare, and stop in at Apartment 42 to check out the eclectic assortment of cafes, boutiques, and shops that have sprung up in this former residential block. Afterward, you might like to do a mini-shopping spree along Dong Khoi Street, wander the stalls of Ben Thanh Market, or cool off with a coffee at L'Usine.
5 p.m.: For your first evening in the city, have a classic Saigon experience at one of the city's historic rooftop bars. The Rex Hotel Garden Bar, overlooking a crucial junction of roads, rose to fame as a favourite haunt of journalists during wartime. Another hidden gem is the rooftop bar at The Majestic Hotel, a well-preserved relic of colonial times. The bar faces the curving Saigon River and is blessed with cool breezes come sundown.
7 p.m.: Feeling adventurous? Venture out for a shellfish-themed spread at Oc Oanh at 534 Vinh Khanh in District 4, for an immersive experience of streetside fare: an assortment of crab, scallops, mollusks, and freshwater snails cooked in butter, garlic, lemongrass, and chili. A little more subdued? Take a table alongside the locals at Quan Bui for a delicious and authentic Vietnamese dinner.
9 p.m.: Beer connoisseurs would be crazy to miss the craft brews at Pasteur Street Brewing Company (144 Pasteur Street) -- known for some of the best beer in town. If you're in the party mood, PIU PIU will take good care of you, as will The Observatory, an underground dance club populated by the cool kids of Ho Chi Minh City.
TIP: Ho Chi Minh City is awash spas and wellness centres, with options to fit every budget. If you're looking to de-stress for less, finish your day with a Vietnamese foot or body massage.
8 a.m.: Start your Sunday with an insider view into everyday life at Tao Đàn Park in District 3. Every morning Vietnamese gather here to exercise, chat, and play hackeysack under the trees. A small Buddhist temple adds to the park's charm. You'll even find a corner where gentlemen from all over bring their caged birds to socialise. Continue the local exploration at Tan Dinh Market on Hai Ba Trung in District 3. The morning markets in Ho Chi Minh City are a great photo opportunity, with bright vegetables, intriguing streetfood snacks, and just-picked produce at every turn. Come hungry.
10 a.m.: After exploring the local markets, make a peaceful pilgrimage to Thien Hau Pagoda, or Chu Van Phat Temple -- both in District 5. These off-the-beaten track havens are a wonderful place to find a sense of calm within the city. Stay as long as you like.
12 p.m.: You're in Vietnam, so don't miss the chance to sample some of the city's famous dishes. Propaganda Bistro on Han Thuyen is a colourful spot by the park where you can order mango salad, sweet and sour fish soup, and com tam and other Vietnamese staples from a set lunch menu.
1 p.m.: Ho Chi Minh City boasts an incredibly colourful history. Spend an afternoon checking out some of the better museums within the city centre. The War Remnants Museum is chock-full of exhibits and photos that will give you deeper insight into the American War. For art lovers, the Fine Arts Museum is a graceful old mansion with a wealth of gorgeous pieces. And for those who just want something different, FITO Museum consistently earns rave reviews for its unusual portrayal of traditional medicine in Vietnam.
5 p.m.: Round out your Ho Chi Minh City weekend with a taste of modern Ho Chi Minh City. Deep inside a wet market in District 1, the rooftop bar at Anan Saigon serves delicious cocktails from entirely original recipes. If you feel like celebrating, the stunning views, cool DJs and smiling bartenders at Glow Sky Bar create the perfect atmosphere to do just that. Cheers!
7 p.m.: For your last dinner in Ho Chi Minh City, treat yourself to authentic Vietamese food at Mountain Retreat, or Cuc Gach Quan -- a family-style restaurant tucked away in a beautiful old house. Both restaurants are popular, so book ahead. Or, if you’re ready to go out with a party, book a table on the legendary Bonsai Cruise.
This classy dinner cruise departs from the Nha Rong pier every day just after dark, for two hours of fabulous feasting, mesmerizing views, and great entertainment on the Saigon River. Dine on delicious Vietnamese and international dishes, freshly grilled seafood and enticing desserts as you take in the sparkling city lights and soak up cool river breezes. Live Vietnamese music and dance performances will make your last night in town all the more memorable.