Welcome to Con Dao
Remote Con Dao is an island archipelago located approximately 230km from Ho Chi Minh City and just 80km from mainland Vietnam. The only way to get here is either by taking a 45 minute flight from Saigon via Vietnam Airlines or by taking a 15 hour ferry from Vung Tau, an option only available if the seas are favorable.
At Con Dao you will find peace, tranquility, and plenty of nature as 80% of the island archipelago is a protected national park. Most come here to escape the crowds of Vietnam’s other top vacation destinations like Phu Quoc, to dive some of Vietnam’s most stunning coral reefs, watch sea turtles come to shore to lay eggs, or to pay homage to some of Vietnam’s most famous war heroes and liberators. Unlike party towns such as Nha Trang, at Con Dao you will find order as it is still very much a military island, one of the few where foreigners are actually allowed to visit. As such there are no real nightlife options here, no girlie bars, and no casino’s. Con Dao’s charms lies in its natural rugged beauty and it is blessed with having some of the best (and cleanest) beaches in Vietnam if not Asia.
Con Son Island
The largest of Côn Đảo’s 16 islands is called Côn Sơn, also known as Côn Lôn and it is the center of all tourist activity in the archipelago. Originally called “Poulo Condore” during the French colonial period, Con Son is home to approximately 6,800 permanent residents, a plethora of hotels and resorts, and the island archipelago’s only airport (Côn Đảo Airport or Cỏ Ống Airport). Despite it being a short flight from Saigon, Con Son seem like a step back into time, a place far away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City, and a world away from Vietnam’s well beaten tourist trail. Frangipani and Magnolia trees line the wide streets and Casuarina trees line the beaches. A single main road wraps around the island, which is best experience by renting a motorbike for a day or two. There are ponds inundated with lotus flowers, mountainous scenery, and calm turquoise seas. From 11:00am to 2:00pm Con Son is deserted as locals head indoors to escape the heat.
At Con Son, you can arrange for all your diving, snorkeling, and turtle watch expedition needs. You can also find hotels/resorts at all price points dotted along its beautiful coastline, the most famous one being the ultra luxurious Six Senses Con Dao – a resort where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed at. Con Son also has a variety of restaurants from upscale dining to street side eateries. Although Con Son remains laid back today (2016), the island is being developed rapidly. More luxurious hotels are set to open and there are plans to extend the runway to allow for international flights.
Con Dao, The Devil’s Island
Apart from the tranquility, occasionally interrupted by government broadcasts over loud speakers, there is also a dark and terrifying history here. Prior to liberation, Con Dao was known to Vietnamese as “Hell on Earth“, an island prison camp where many medieval punishments (e.g. Tiger Cages) and tortures were carried out. Côn Sơn hosts monuments to over 21,000 Vietnamese who died or were executed by occupying French and American forces. Relics of Vietnam’s dark past can easily be seen around the island and a visit to the free Con Dao Museum is must in order to get your bearings. With so many deaths to be had here, locals believe that the islands are haunted with ghosts and spirits and even CNN has listed it as being one of the 10 scariest places in Asia.
Besides having a terrible history Con Dao has now transformed itself into a top tourist destination and an island renown for its immense natural beauty with lush forests, deserted beaches and healthy coral reefs.
An Overview Of The Con Dao Islands
Con Dao is an archipelago of sixteen islands with a total area of 76.78 square kilometers and with a coastline of 200 kilometers. 88.4% of its natural land area consists of rugged mountainous and hilly regions. There are no river systems on the islands but rather really small streams. Underground water is the main source of fresh water used for locals and visitors. The islands are under the administration of the Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu province and the largest city of the archipelago is Làng An Hà.
Flora & Fauna
The biodiversity of Con Dao’s flora and fauna tend to be high. The Con Dao National Park is built on 5,998 hectares over 16 islands – 14,000 hectares at sea, and 20,500 hectares of the marine buffer zone. There are 882 forest plant species, 144 animal species, and 1,300 species of marine animals. Well known marine animals include sea turtles, macaques, dugongs, nicobar pigeon, and some endemic species such as the Finlayson squirrel.
Turtle Nesting Season On Con Dao
If you are planning on coming during Con Dao Turtle Season, then keep these months in mind: From May to October, turtles nest on beaches around the Islands. During the high season (July and August), 10 – 20 turtles are recorded nesting on beaches on Bay Canh and Big Hon Tre Island every night. More than 87% of the eggs laid here successfully hatch, resulting in more than 120,000 baby turtles being rescued and released to the sea. Turtles are tracked via GPS and last year alone, around 57,000 young turtles were hatched and returned to the sea.
When To Go To Con Dao Islands?
The weather on Con Dao is unique and is affected by the monsoon. During September to December, the island can be very windy. Like in Nha Trang and Danang, in Con Son Island huge waves crash against the coast making swimming impossible. However the temperature during this time is very comfortable. From Late January to June, temperatures are higher, sometimes reaching as high as 38C, and the seas are more calm making it the ideal time to visit Con Dao. The best months to come are from April to May as there is less wind and is also the ideal time to go scuba diving as the visibility around the various diving spots can reach up to 30 meters.
Con Dao Weather & Climate
Located in the oceanic climate region, Con Dao has a rainy and dry seasons. Its average temperature is 26.9C. The rainy season is from April till October where average daytime temperatures are about 30 degrees Celsius (86.0 degrees Fahrenheit). During the night temperatures are 23-24 degrees Celsius (73.4-75.2 degrees Fahrenheit).
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Top 5 Things To Do On Con Dao Island
1. Discover Con Dao’s Beaches
Con Dao has some of the best beaches in all of Vietnam. Most of the beaches here have soft white powdery sand, and crystal-clear water making it the perfect spot to spend the day. From remote jungle beaches to resort beaches, Con Dao has it all!
2. Visit Con Dao Prison & See The Tiger Cages
Con Dao’s dark past can be observed on Con Son Island. There are numerous prison complexes to explore, museums to get informed, as well a few engineering marvels to discover. Majority of these historic buildings have been restored and are open to the public and serve as a stark reminder of the horrors of war.
3. Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Con Dao has a reputation of being one of the best destinations for scuba diving in Vietnam! The regions corals are untouched, the underwater life is diverse and the flocks of fish are colorful and impressive! Con Dao is the only place in Vietnam where you might encounter a green or hawksbill turtle, whale shark, and manta ray while diving.
If snorkeling is your thing then you will be pleased to know that Con Dao has both reefs located close to shore as well as off shore with plenty of marine life. You can either snorkel on your own or join a tour.
4. Exploring Con Son By Motorbike
Con Dao is undoubtedly a place for exploring. Rent a scooter and drive along the two roads around the island, discovering beaches as you go along. Roads are still mostly quiet here, aside from the occasional “rush hour” when a plane lands and a few minivans and taxis make their way to the airport. Your main road dangers are the strong winds around the capes of the island and the occasional wild animal – we came across chickens, cows, a whole family of monkeys and a lone wild pig standing on the road during our rides.
5. Hiking Through The Con Dao National Park
Almost 80% of the land area of the Con Dao archipelago is a protected park. On Con Son Island and Bay Canh Island you can hike through lush rainforest and have an encounter with numerous wildlife, some endemic to area.
Where To Eat & Drink
Besides eating at your resort or hotel, there are a few other options available to you and all of them are located around the town center on Con Son Island. For seafood lovers, you can sample a variety of seafood dishes at the half a dozen or so live seafood restaurants found in the center, for the budget traveler visiting Con Dao there are many street food options such as Com Tam, Banh Mi, and other popular Vietnamese street food dishes found scattered throughout that won’t burst your wallet (food starting at 10,000VND), and for the less adventurous traveler, you can even find steak, pizza, pasta, and hamburgers at some of the tourist targeted eateries also found on Con Son Island.
For those looking to by fresh produce or souvenirs, head on over to Cho Con Dao or the Con Dao Market where you find fresh fruits and vegetables, live seafood, beef, and pork. The Con Dao Market is a great place to buy fresh coconuts at a reasonable price, as well as delicious boiled corn on the cob. Street side vendors can also be found next to the Con Dao Market.
On Con Son Island there are many mom and pop stores selling beer, water, coke, etc at a very reasonable price and there is also a small supermarket located at the corner of Le Duan and Tran Phu selling toiletries, wine, canned food, soups, detergent, cookies, etc. As everything is imported to Con Dao, expect a premium on all products.