If you have just a day in Saigon — before the next meeting, or before your trip to the Mekong begins — you can see much of its highlights by foot in the center. Start in the shopping-district of Dong Khoi ‘downtown’ area, at the start of Dong Khoi Street outside the Majestic Hotel. Stop into Nguyen Freres (2 Dong Khoi St) for water puppets or Lotus (25 Dong Khoi St) for real communist propaganda posters. Duck right onto Dong Du St for a look at Saigon’s central mosque (66 Dong Du St), then retrace your steps to Dong Khoi and head north to Le Loi St at Lam Son Square.

Here, the crux of old Saigon, you’ll see the Caravelle Hotel (19 Lam Son Square) to your right (its top floor Saigon Saigon bar has good burgers and Saigon views); across the street is the old Opera House. Go left (west) on Le Loi, walking past the fountain to Nguyen Hue St. To the right, Uncle Ho’s statue (Le Loi & Nguyen Hue Sts) looks over the traffic madness, with the golden Hotel de Ville colonial administration building behind. Also here is the (overrated) Rex Hotel Rooftop Garden (141 Nguyen Hue St), where you can get a view of the area — or try the Highlands Coffee (Le Loi & Ngueyn Hue Sts) in the ‘Russian Market’ at the southwest corner of the intersection.

Keep walking on Le Loi St to the west a couple blocks till you see the gold Ben Thanh Market to your right. Stalls hawking t-shirts and fresh Mekong Delta fruit stuff the giant market — one of Saigon’s most famous attractions. Exit in the back and walk north on Huyen Tran Cong Chua St to Ly Tu Trong St, then left on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. The Ho Chi Minh City Museum (65 Ly Tu Trong St) occupying a giant gray French colonial home, has displays of Saigon history — plus old aircraft in its lawn. If time’s short, press on north to the Reunification Palace (entrance at Nam Ky Khoi Nghia & Le Duan Sts), where the VC tanks crashed the gate at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. If you’re hungry, the hugely popular Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St, just south) surrounds an atmospheric colonial home with open-air stalls serve up classic Vietamese ’street dishes’ like bun thit nuong and banh hoi to a loyal crowd of locals.

After lunch, walk north on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia — past Le Duan St’s parks to the right — to Vo Van Tan St, then turn left a block to reach Saigon’s most infamous museum, the War Remnants Museum (28 Vo Van Tan St) – a no-punches-pulled recount of the wars against France and the USA.

Grab a motorcycle taxi or car taxi here to reach Saigon’s best pagoda, the turtle-guarded, rose-colored Jade Emperor Pagoda (73 Mai Thi Luu St), a dozen blocks northwest, half a block north Dien Bien Phu St.

In the evening, eat at Tuan & Tu’s (28/38B Tran Cao Van St), or the Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep St). Club-goers will enjoy Lush (2 Ly Tu Trong St); sidewalk bars with lots of life (and travelers) abound in the Pham Ngu Lao St area. Or go for live rock music at the more subdued, local-student hang-out Yoko (22A Nguyen Thi Dieu St).

Sure you don’t have a second day to spare? If so, check out Cholon for starters.