Imagine Survivor meets Prison Break meets the undiscovered Maldives. It seems impossible and a very unlikely combination? But lo and behold, this guide to Con Dao Island, Vietnam will make it possible. There is a rich history in the islands of Con Dao, southeast of Vietnam. It might be a bit grim to the Vietnamese, as this island was their Devil’s Island (sort-of Alcatraz) under the French rule, but this is also an island that just screams paradise waiting to be discovered.
There are two sides to every story and this guide to Con Dao Island, Vietnam will try to cover both. The good thing is that the prisons have long been gone. They have been replaced by museums and memorials for all the war prisoners and persons of interest that went against the French (and then the Americans) during those years. And, Con Dao Island has been in the limelight since Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s family went to the lavish Six Senses Resort. So it’s all uphill from here.
When to Visit
Like most Southeast Asian countries, March to June is the best time to visit an island lathered with beaches everywhere. Con Dao Island is no different, this period is generally hot and dry.
If you’re from the snow-laden countries and want to go during winter (November until February), while it is generally hot in Con Dao Island, it is also really windy. It won’t be ideal for just relaxing on the beach as the sand will be found caught in your eyes or on your tongue.
Don’t waste your time going in October, as its rainy season and most boat trips would be canceled.
How to Get There
If you have more than a hundred dollars to spare for a flight, Vietnam Airlines is the way to go. You’d be there in 45 minutes from Tan Son Nhat International Airport. There are at least 10 flights daily.
But if you prefer to travel by sea, a fast ferry (about 2-3 hours, depending on the sea conditions) can get you there for only $15. This ferry leaves Tran De Port (40 km southeast of Soc Trang) daily.
See & Do
The beauty of Con Dao Island is that you can have the best of all worlds. Whether you like history, architecture, nature and trekking, fresh markets, a great motorbike ride, or the beach – it has everything for everyone. This guide to Con Dao Island, Vietnam will give you a little bit of everything.
You go to island getaways for the lazy beach stays, and surely, the main island of Con Son has enough beaches for you to explore. But because most of Con Son is still underdeveloped (picture wild, rocky beaches with a lot of greenery), don’t expect pristine sandy beaches that go for long stretches. Expect small plots of sand and serenity.
Nhat beach is a sight to see, with its fine white sands and rocky background, while Dam Trau beach is lined with foliage and greenery (imagine the TV show Lost). If you want to be able to have dips in the water, head to Lo Voi beach, the water is clear and shallow. An Hai beach is the only one with a seafront hotel, so if you want to be able to hop and skip to the shore, this is the place for you. There are also diving spots and boat trips available for the water baby in you.
Now here is a surprise for avid turtle lovers. Did you know that Bay Canh Island is host to the largest number of egg-laying sea turtles in Vietnam? And you have a chance to witness this, see Chelonia Mydas sea turtles laying eggs at night – of course, you’ll be camping out in tents by the beach, and it becomes a worldly experience you will never forget.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the whole island, it’s time to get your Prison Break attitude on. Paying VND 60,000 ($2.6) can get you inside Phu Hai, Phu Son and the rest of the prisons open to the public, plus a museum.
Hiking and trekking, or simply going on a motorbike drive to see the island, is also a must while in Con Dao Island. There are a lot of safe trails and you wouldn’t even need a guide, especially in Con Dao National Park. Plus there’s a good chance of bumping into wildlife while doing so. You can get a trail map from the national park HQ and pay an entrance fee of VND 60,000 ($2.6) and off you go. You’d think that since it’s an underdeveloped island that roads are not good for motorbike rides, but in fact, you’re wrong. The infrastructure here is really good, even better than most of Vietnam.
There’s always a place to unleash your inner shopaholic, even though it’s a fresh food market. The Con Dao Market is best visited in the early mornings until noon when it’s bustling with new catch and freshly chopped meat. Another interesting shop is the Con Dao gift shop, especially if you’re eyeing for souvenirs like local handicrafts to bring home.
Whether you’re looking for a luxurious place to stay in or a mid-range or a budget hotel, Con Dao Island has got you covered. For luxury (as of 2019) you have two options, the Six Senses Resort (where the Jolie-Pitt clan stayed, the price range is $400-$2000) and the Poulo Condor Boutique ($200-$500), which is newer and very French Colonial in design.
Most of the hotel selections are mid-range in price (all less than $100/night). Con Dao Resort on An Hai beach (literally on it), Villa Maison Con Dao Boutique Hotel is charming but it’s not going to offer you a seafront view, Tan Son Nhat Con Dao Resort is beside Con Dao Resort, but with a very different vibe. It has islandy decor and a few bucks cheaper.
For the budget traveler, expect really basic accommodation, and spend $20-$40/night. It’s still not as cheap as you’d want it to be, but that cash you save can get you something else. Lighthouse Boutique Hotel, Uyen’s House Homestay, Con Dao Camping hotel are a few of these budget accommodations.
Eat & Drink
This guide to Con Dao Island, Vietnam won’t be complete without letting you know the food scene on the island! There are also a lot of street food vendors and seafood restaurants available to the foodies out there. Not to mention the cafe culture and hip bar scene is also making its way into Con Dao island.
Where else will you find good and fresh street food but in the Con Dao Market! They offer everything from pho to banh mi and some seafood too. The area around Pham Van Dong Park also becomes a foodie haven in the afternoon, and so does Nguyen An Ninh Street. There are a couple of rice eateries along the Nguyen Hue boulevard, all you have to do is to point which food items go with your rice.
If you don’t want to explore the street food scene, there are also a bunch of restaurants on Con Son. Hotels usually have their own restaurants, especially if you’re staying in a mid-range one. Thanh Huyen Restaurant is highly recommended for its grilled snakehead fish,Nguyen Duc Thuan Street has a lot of seafood restaurants to choose from. But if you feel like you need to tone down your palate exploration a bit, head on to Thu Ba Seafood Restaurant. They have an English menu and traditional Vietnamese dishes (apart from the extensive seafood list). Bar 200 and Inifiniti Cafe are your go-to for pizzas and Western cuisine.
Fear not, exploration comes hand in hand with vigilance. Con Dao Island is generally safe, but if you have a seafood allergy or any kind of allergies, let it be known. You can only do so much when you’re ordered to have a bed rest, and don’t let that precious time on the island slip away.