Con Dao

The Con Dao Islands (also known as Poulo Condore) are an archipelago of 15 islands situated in the South China Sea, around 250 kilometres, or a 45-minute flight, from Ho Chi Minh City. The island is famed for its grizzly past: due its remoteness, the French used the main island of Con Son (the largest island in the group) to keepcon dao anti-colonial protestors prisoner.

The South Vietnamese continued the tradition, sending political dissenters and activists to the 11 prisons which were also used in the American War. One third of the current 6,000 population are Vietnamese soldiers based in barracks dotted around the island.

Con Dao

Con Dao Overview

Con Son in Con Dao is largely mountainous and covered in forest, with ample opportunity for hiking through the jungle and looking for wildlife. The island is also home to a coastline of steep, rocky hills and long sweeping coves, boasting some excellent spots for swimming and snorkelling.

The best source of information is the National Park Headquarters, located about five minutes’ drive from Con Son town on Vo Thi Sau Rd. From here you can organise trips to other islands in the archipelago, hire a guide for trekking (required) and get permits to enter certain parts of the forest. Three tourist hotels are available on Con Son in Con Dao, all on Ton Duc Thang Rd which follows the beach and the harbour around Con Son town.

One of only two terrestrial and maritime National Parks in Con Dao, the Con Dao archipelago became a national park in 1993 and five years later the park was expanded significantly into the surrounding waters. Because of this protective status, the waters escaped some of the destructive fishing practices that have marred many other marine areas in Vietnam.

Con Dao

Con Dao National Parks

With quaint colonial-era seaside promenades, manicured hedgerows and the occasional loud speaker issuing forth Communist slogans, Con Son, the main (and only inhabited) island, feels like a forgotten corner of Southeast Asia, as if it is stuck in a time warp.

That’s more than partly true. Until 1975, the island was used as a prison colony by the French colonial administration and later the US-supported South Vietnamese government to house political captives. Nowadays, Con Son is a far less gruesome site, but the ruins of the sprawling prison complex are still in place for visitors to stroll among.

It’s a haunting walk, especially the harrowing ‘tiger cages’, which are enough to make even the most fearless traveller claustrophobic, but also a fascinating insight into the captivity of some of Vietnam’s celebrated national heroes, including former Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in Con Dao. The Prison Museum in the former Governor’s House (Ton Duc Thang Road) is a dry, but worthwhile introduction to Con Dao’s past and also where you can arrange tours to all of the island’s prison sites.

Con Dao

Con Dao Sea Travel Resort

On the lighter side, and one of the island’s main draws, Con Dao also boasts some of the most spectacular beaches in the region. Even Bai An Hai, the easiest public beach to reach and the first you’ll likely walk along if staying in one of the bungalows at Con Dao Sea Travel Resort, feels wild and untamed. Occasionally strewn with flotsam and jetsam from fishing boats, it may not have postcard-worthy immaculate white sands but you’ll probably have the rugged strip of coast to yourself most of the time and are more likely to pass neighbourhood trawlermen heading out to sea than fellow tourists.

For guaranteed privacy, hire a motorbike and head east past Mui Ca Map (Shark Cape) to Nhat Beach for some of the island’s clearest waters. You can also charter a boat from Con Son to one of the smaller outlying islands, uninhabited spots where you’ll find the islands’ native endangered turtles.

Con Dao

Nhat Beach

Bikes and boat trips can be organised through local scuba shop Dive! Dive! Dive! (36 Ton Duc Thang Road, www.dive-condao.com), who were enormously helpful and provide English-language maps as well as excellent suggestions on places to visit. We take around 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao Island.

Con Dao

Travel Con Dao

Con Dao Island

Vietnam Beach Travel

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