Con Dao Island Travel Guide
The utterly beautiful Con Dao Island is situated off the southern coast of Vietnam and gives travellers a dazzling experience that isn’t found elsewhere in the country. Con Dao Island is an isolated area that is made up of sixteen islets and island. This archipelago is surrounded in sublimely turquoise-azure sea with pristine coral reef, and thick mountainous rock that is covered in dense forest.
Beyond the stunning beaches at Con Dao Islands there is plenty more to see. One day on the Vietnam adventure tour can be spent on the seafront promenade drinking cocktails, driving the deserted coastal roads, walking the sandy beaches and swimming in the clear waters. The next can be more about the past of the island and visiting the prisons and learning about the former inmates and witnessing the telltale signs of forced labour which lead to the death of hundreds of prisoners.
The largest of the 15 islands in the Con Dao Archipelago is Con Son, which are about 225 km from Ho Chi Minh City and 85 km from the mainland Mekong Delta region. Most of the island (nearly 80%) is still thick forest and was formally used as a penal colony (between 1862 and 1975). This forested region is home to a variety of exotic animals common to the local area, such as the Con Dao black giant squirrel and Con Dao bow-fingered gecko. Most of the islands are very mountainous and rugged with peaks that reach up to 557 m in height. Other wildlife like the sea turtles is witnessed from March to August when they lay their eggs.
The weather in Con Dao is mild year-round with a dry and tropical season. With the majority of the island blanketed in rain forest, there is on average 2 m of rainfall each year. The rain is heavy and comes in short bursts, which means most of the day is fine for travelling and sightseeing. High humidity (80 - 90%) should be expected, so travel with comfortable and light clothing, but still include sun lotion and hats to give protection from the strong sun.
The warmest months of the year run from June to August with temperatures in the region of 37° C, but the constant breeze makes things feel cooler. Travelling to Con Dao Island in March to May will present less wind, but the temperature on average is slightly less at 33° C. For the tourist that prefers the cooler travel on the Vietnam private holidays, the temperature range from September to January is about 28° C.
The climate for the winter months is mostly dry, but with the strong winds and rough seas that arrive from a northeast direction can make Con Son feel quite remote. The monsoon rains may arrive in the summer months, but the bays stay tranquil and beautiful with seas that are clear and calm.
How to get there
The most practical travel option to reach Con Dao Island is via air with a flight from Ho Chi Minh City taking approx 45 minutes. But, there are a limited number of flights which means it is not so easy to reach this place of paradise. So, to increase the chance of getting a seat on the plane, it benefits to book early. Plus, the daily flight schedule is subject to change with little warning and flight costs about $210 for adults and $155 for children.
Most of Con Son town is very flat and well laid-out which makes it practical to explore by bicycle or on foot. A great place to walk is the Ton Duc Thang Boulevard, close to the water’s edge. Plus, the historic sights, such as the Chua Van Son Pagoda, museum and prisons, as well as the beaches are easily reached on a bike. But, for those travellers planning to travel further afield it is more practical to use a taxi or motorbike because the roads outside of town are quite hilly and steep.
Where to stay
The places to stay on Con Dao range from the budget friendly to the most luxurious. There are plenty of inexpensive guesthouses and hotels that can match the needs of the backpackers on the Vietnam travel. But, remember that the cost on this island is more than most mainland destinations. Any decent quality guest house is likely to start in the region of $13.50. Most of the guest houses and hotels have rooms available throughout the year, except for June to August, which is the Vietnam summer holiday season. Some of the most cost-effective hotels are located near the western end of Nguyen An Ninh or Ton Duc Thang streets.
A stay at Con Dao Sea Travel Resort is quite charming with the well featured rooms that cost in the region of $70 per night (includes airport pick up and breakfast). Plus, the resort is very useful for helping to organize a boat trip to the local islands.
Elsewhere, the Saigon Con Dao Resort is at a similar price which is located quite close the ruins of the Phu Hai Son prison.
For the travellers in search of the luxurious stay, the high-end resort of Six Senses makes it possible to stay in a plush seafront villa with a private beach and personal butler. Plus, extras include a lavish open-air spa, cooking lessons and a dive school. The cost of a one bedroom villa is approx $600 per night.
Eat and drink
The food served in the restaurants is more expensive than mainland Vietnam because most is imported with the exception of some meat and vegetables and seafood. But, there are still plenty of great places to visit for the tasty eats.
Con Dao Island is seeing an increase in dining options. A visit to the Tri Ky restaurant, on Nguyen Duc Thuan St., is great for its high-quality seafood at the affordable prices with an English-based menu available. Other great restaurants serving the tastiest seafood to experience on the Vietnam holiday packages include ATC Resort Restaurant, Saigon Con Dao Resort Restaurant, and Phuong Hanh Restaurant.
Things to see and do
The major attraction to visit this region of Vietnam is to spend lazy days on the beautiful beaches. Beyond, the chance to relax, there are still plenty of other things on Con Son Island to see and do.
An Hai Beach has a calm, gentle surf and long stretches of white sand. It is a very scenic beach, but is the most remote in the local area. There are a few hotels that border the beach on the northern end. But, with a beach that stretches for quite a distance, it isn’t too difficult to find a peaceful and quiet area that gives the desired privacy.
Lo Voi Beach is located to the north of town and does not have any hotels that directly border this long stretch of beach. The white sand is flat and empty and at low tide it even feels as if you could walk out to one of the closest islands. This is a lovely spot to visit for a completely relaxed time, especially with its gentle and shallow waters.
Dat Doc Beach
Bai Dat Doc is where the resort of Six Senses Con Dao is located. Most of the beach is restricted to the general public, except for a small area at the edge. The beach is surrounded by mountains and consists of white sand to make it quite pretty. For the travellers on the Vietnam family vacation with the money, it may be worth entering the Six Senses resort to use their restrooms and sun loungers while relaxing with a drink on the beach.
Ong Dung Beach
Ong Dung Beach is a relatively easy walk to reach and located at the northern end of town. It is a great destination for snorkelling with plenty of diving shops in the local town that offer the various bits of snorkel gear to hire. But, be careful with leaving anything unattended, as it can soon be pinched by the local monkeys.
Dam Trau Beach
One of the best beaches on the island is Dam Trau Beach (Bai Dam Trau) with its glittering turquoise water and stretches of soft, clean sand. This beach is mostly blissfully quiet but is directly underneath the airplane landing path – although that isn’t too much of an inconvenience. Dam Trau Beach is naturally well-protected with its location on the west coast, which makes it possible to go for a swim throughout the windy months (November-February).
Phu Hai Prison
Built in 1862, the Phu Hai Prison had the intended use of housing the first anti-colonial agitators. Today, the prison is open for tours with visitors coming from around the world to see this historical site. Many of the prisoners kept here died because of the terrible conditions. Also, nearby is the Revolutionary Museum, which is best appreciated by taking a guide tour at a cost of about $1.
A special turtle tour can be booked on the Vietnam tour packages for travellers interested in wildlife. This tour is best taken between June and September when the turtle season is taking place, and makes it possible to see the natural occurrence of turtles laying eggs.