The Con Dao archipelago has a dark past, its main island Con Son used to be a prison island on which many prisoners lost their lives. Many Vietnamese visitors to the island come to pay their respects to these prisoners, and if you’re going there, I encourage you to read up on it. But Con Dao is also a national park boasting stunning jungles and marine life, gorgeous hidden bays and secluded coves. If you’re tired of mass tourism and crowded beaches, Con Dao is for you. The beauty of this place is difficult to put into words. So images it is.
Landing on Con Dao is memorable
Landing on the archipelago’s main island, Con Son, is an experience by itself. The only way to fly to the island is from Ho Chi Minh City or, a few times a week, from Can Tho on the southern mainland of Vietnam. It’s a short hop from either of those cities and you’ll have an amazing bird’s eye view of the green island and turquoise waters as your propeller plane makes its descent towards the island’s tiny airport, flying right over one of its top beaches just before reaching the runway. I’d say take out your camera, but the windows on the old planes are so scratched up you’re better off just enjoying the view.
“Airport beach” is way better than it sounds
Dam Trau beach aka “airport beach” is way more picturesque than its nickname would suggest. A long stretch of powdery sand, surrounded by jungle, and only accessible by a dirt track requiring a true sense of adventure from those making their way there on a rented scooter, this is a great place to chill out. Two wooden shacks offering beach chairs, hammocks and food & drink mean you can stay on the beach all day long.
Of course, the cafés/wooden shacks will also happily sell you the quintessential fresh coconut for that true island feeling.
A little luxury has arrived
Con Dao is slowly developing itself into a tourist destination, and while there isn’t much infrastructure yet, there are a few good local restaurants selling seafood, soups and banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes) in the main town of Con Son, as well as two more upscale restaurants/bars – Bar200 and Infiniti Café – selling western food and ice cream for when you miss home. A must try is Infiniti’s coconut smoothie, so good we came back for it three times during our five day stay.
If you want total luxury, there’s also the Six Senses Con Dao resort which became famous a few years ago when Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt visited.
There are still unspoiled beaches to be discovered
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. The beach in the picture is Nhat Beach on the southern end of the island, a completely unspoiled beach where you’re likely to be alone amongst hundreds of crabs hanging out on the rocks.
Ready to find out more? I’m working on putting together more info, but until then, I highly recommend Tom’s resources on Con Dao at Vietnam Coracle for everything you need to know about Con Dao.