This post was last updated on May 6th, 2020 at 11:09 am
The Con Dao islands are one of the best-known highlights of Vietnam. It used to be called Devil’s Island because the island held many prisoners. Today, it is a beautiful area with white beaches, coral reefs, beautiful bays, and dense forests. Hiking, diving, and spotting wildlife are some of the activities that you can do on this island.
The Tropical Con Dao Islands
The islands can be found in the South China Sea about 185 kilometers from Vung Tau. Con Son is the largest of the 15 islands in total. This was also the island that was once hell on earth for the thousands of prisoners who languished here during the French and American war. Today, it is very different.
The island group is one of mother nature’s greatest works of art. It is a place where travelers plan to stay for three days but end up staying for three weeks. Snorkeling, diving, hiking, or just lazing on the beach are everyday activities on the islands here.
Culture and Nature
About 80% of these islands belong to the National Park. In this park, you will also find the most important sea turtle nesting area of Vietnam. Besides the turtles, the waters around the islands are a place where the Dugongs live, the family of the manatee. Unfortunately, these animals are threatened by the increasing destruction of nature.
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In addition to the beautiful nature, the buildings on the islands are still very small. Of course, there are houses, hostels, and hotels to be found, but there are few buildings with more than two floors, so the islands keep a quiet and peaceful vibe.
Because it’s relatively expensive to come to the islands and because of the inaccessibility of some islands, mass tourism concentrates (for the time being) only in popular places. However, the number of tourists is increasing due to the arrival of international hotel chains. It seems only a matter of time before these small islands become a major tourist attraction.
The island’s history dates back to 1703 when it was founded as an outpost of the British East India Company. After a long time, however, this island became a penal colony of the French. The island was then known as Devil’s Island because of the thousands of prisoners who languished here during the war.
Prisoners here were held in terrible conditions; in pits under the ground.
Best Things to Do on Con Dao Island
There is quite a lot to do on Con Dao. You can easily stay here for a few days.
One thing many people do is turtle watching at night. This costs around 1,500,000 Dong (about US$64.50) per person but is definitely worth it! The best time to go turtle watching in Con Dao is from late June to early September.
Diving & Snorkeling
The crystal clear waters around the islands of Con Dao are among the very best places for snorkeling and diving in all of Vietnam. The coral is still intact here and underwater you will find turtles, stingrays, and barracudas.
There are a number of diving schools at Con Son where you can get your PADI and book diving excursions. If you prefer to go snorkeling, you can snorkel in some places directly from the beach, but the most beautiful coral can only be reached by boat. Therefore, join the divers or arrange a boat on Con Son that you want to take to these spots.
Trekking on Con Dao
About 80% of Con Son Island is part of the Con Dao National park. The best time for a trek through the park is from February to November. April and May are sweaty weather. There is a nice little museum and here they give you a ticket to the park. Follow the directions and instructions and continue your way in the park.
The interior of Con Son consists of high mountain peaks and a dense rainforest where monkeys and special tropical birds live. Are you sporty and do you want something other than lying down on the beach? Put on your hiking boots and book a trek at the National Park office.
You can climb the 260-meter high mountain on your own, but not all hiking trails are equally well signposted. It may be wise to go out with a guide. Not only do the guides know how to find their way back, but they can also point out the most beautiful waterfalls and viewpoints. Places that you probably would not have found on your own.
During your trek, keep your eyes open for rare plants and animals.
Con Dao Prisons
During French rule, opponents of the colonial regime were imprisoned on Con Dao island, often under miserable circumstances. On the island, you will find the remains of the notorious prisons, of which the Phu Hai prison was the largest.
The complex is huge and shows the horrors that the prisoners had to undergo. In the vicinity of this prison, you will also find the notorious tiger cages, a detention center where horrible practices took place until the United States discovered this place in 1970.
In the Prison Museum, you can book guided tours to the remains of the different prisons.
Tomb of Vo Thi Sau
Vo Thi Sau was a young guerrilla fighter who had been fighting French rule from the age of fourteen. The young schoolgirl became the symbol of the Vietnamese revolution and was imprisoned on Con Dao at the age of nineteen.
Vo Thi Sau was the first woman to be executed here and is still considered a national resistance hero. Visit her tomb at the Hang Duong cemetery on the island of Con Son, preferably around midnight, so you can witness a special ritual.
The Vietnamese people gather here around midnight to burn incense and offer a variety of items.
Explore Con Dao by Scooter
Far away from the bustle on the Vietnamese roads of the mainland, this is the perfect place to go out with a rented scooter. The roads on the island are good and you can rent a scooter at your hotel or resort. Getting lost is almost impossible and with a little planning and a map you have a fantastic day ahead of you.
During low tide, you come across many deserted beaches so don’t forget your swimsuit. Please note that there are only 3 gas stations on the island. Two in Con Son and 1 in Ben Dam.
The Con Son Promenade
In the afternoon the locals come to the promenade for a snack, a drink, and a dip in the sea. This is a very nice spectacle and a good place to stroll around for yourself.
Con Dao Museum
The new museum houses an impressive collection of photos and information, which deals with the turbulent and bloody history of the island. You will also find a small collection of flora and fauna that can be found on the islands.
Hang Duong Cemetery
Hang Duong Cemetery contains a large number of prisoners and independence fighters who died in one of the Con Dao prisons. Former prisoners, veterans, and family members travel to the island to pay tribute to the deceased. Next to the cemetery, you will find a new temple complex.
The Best Beaches in the Con Dao Islands
Con Son, Con Dao’s largest island and also the island where most tourists stay, has a variety of beautiful beaches. However, most beaches can be found outside the town where you will stay. The best way to explore the beaches is by renting a scooter and without the chaos of the mainland, you have no reason not to.
Bai An Hai / An Hai Beach
Bai An Hai is a perfect beach for swimming and is located just southwest of the town of Con Son. Part of the beach is private, so to visit the beach you have to drive to the very south of the beach.
To visit Bai Nhat, drive to the southeastern tip of the island and head west. This beach is spectacular, and there are no words for how you feel when you are enjoying it all by yourself. However, if you come during high tide, there is no beach to be seen.
It is best to check the tides before you go, but in general, the morning and the afternoon are low tides and you can enjoy this beach.
Bai Dam Trau
Another beautiful beach can be found near the airport on the north-west side of the island. There are a few places to have a drink and you can enjoy peace and freedom here. From the road, you will have to drive a short distance on a sandy road to reach the beach.
If you find this scary, you can simply leave the scooter at the start of the dirt road and walk the rest. You don’t have to be afraid of theft here. Always just put on the steering wheel lock.
Bai Ong Dung
One of the most idyllic beaches can be found on the north side of the island. To reach this beach you will have to take a short hike through the National Park. After you have your ticket for the park you continue until you see the stairs to Ong Dung (this is well indicated).
A descent of 700 meters takes you to this special rocky beach. Take your snorkel set with you because 300 meters off the coast is a coral reef.
Bai Dac Dot
This is the beach where the ultra-luxurious Six Senses resort is located. On the north side of the beach, you will find the public access road to the beach.
Best Time to Visit Con Dao Islands
If you have to believe the online weather forecast there’s always bad weather on the Con Dao Islands. This is, of course, not true, but due to its location, it’s impossible to get an accurate weather forecast. No worries and don’t be put off by the weather forecast. There are plenty of beautiful days on the islands and you would do yourself no good by not going.
The Con Dao islands have a tropical climate which means that there is roughly a dry and a rainy season.
Dry Season from November to May
The dry season on the islands runs from November to May. The months of December to February are delightful, but the sea can be wild. For the best beach and diving conditions, come in or after March.
Rainy season from June to October
The rainy season is the best time to visit the Con Dao islands if you want to see the sea turtles. These animals come to lay their eggs on the many beaches in the island group. There is considerably more rain but the days are still mostly sunny with a shower at the end of the day.
The cloud coverings and rain can greatly deteriorate visibility underwater, so it’s not ideal for divers. Also, not all dive sites can be reached due to the rougher sea.
Sea Turtle Breeding Season
Between May and October, the turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches of Bay Canh Island. This is a mighty spectacle and is unique in Vietnam. You have the best chance of seeing the turtles from June to August. A good place to get information about the turtles is at the Con Dao National Park headquarters.
Flights to Con Dao
If you travel to Vietnam, chances are that you will land in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Where you land depends entirely on where you start your journey through Vietnam. There is an airport on Con Dao but you will still have to fly via Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
Con Dao Island Accommodation
Con Dao is a cluster of 16 islands, including Con Son Island, the largest and most populated island in the area. Most tourist attractions, historic sites, and local spots can be found here.
Con Dao City and Con Son Bay have the most interesting sights. You can also find plenty of hotels here. Other parts of the island are peaceful and quiet, with expensive resorts here and there.
An Hai Beach, located in the south of the city, is a sandy, naturally beautiful beach. It is good to book a hotel in this area if you want to enjoy peace and nature.
That Doc Beach is on the north side of the city. The luxurious Six Senses Resort is located here that owns half of the white sandy beach.
Dam Trau Beach, located a few kilometers west of Con Son Airport, is also an interesting place to stay. From here you can enjoy glorious sunsets.
Nhat Beach, a few kilometers northwest of the Shark Nose has a picturesque area with a series of small beaches. There are a few hostels in this area which makes it ideal for budget travelers.
The Best Homestays on Con Dao
1. Eden House & Coffee Con Dao – US$30 a night
2. Little Home – US$20 a night
3. Bao Hoang HomeStay – US$15 a night
4. Homestay Thanh Son – US$20 a night
5. OGGY House – US$22 a night
The Best Hostels on Con Dao
Unfortunately, there are not many hostels (yet) on Con Dao, but here is the best hostel that’s available right now:
1. LoCo Home – US$20 a night
The Best Hotels on Con Dao
1. Six Senses – US$800+ a night (The Best Luxury Retreat of all the islands)
2. Con Dao Resort – US$80 a night
3. Hotel de Condor – US$30 a night
4. Red Hotel – US$20 a night
5. Villa Maison Con Dao Boutique Hotel – US$65 a night
Food and Drinks
There are a number of great restaurants located on Con Son, the largest island of Con Dao. As is the case with most islands, you spend more money on food and drinks on Con Dao than anywhere else in Vietnam. The nightlife on Con Dao is not very spectacular, but there are some nice bars where you can have a drink.
Con Son Market
The Con Son market can be found on the corner of Vo Thi Sau and Pham Van Dong. Here you will find some stalls with cheap but tasty food.
Beautiful decor and a good menu with western and Vietnamese dishes. A wonderful place for a smoothie or coffee in the afternoon. You should avoid the morning because of the bright sun that burns at the cafe.
Excellent Vietnamese restaurant. This place is incredibly popular with Vietnamese tour groups and for a reason. A small word of English is spoken and the menu also has an English translation.
Those who have been to Phu Quoc can probably remember the lively night market with all the restaurants. Con Dao also has a night market, but this is not nearly as popular. You will find mainly shellfish and snail restaurants here. Perhaps in the future, this market can grow into a tourist attraction.
These are our favorite restaurants and bars on Con Dao:
- Quan An Gia Minh – Our favorite on Con Dao, take the handmade noodles.
- Chay Con Dao Healthy – An attractive restaurant with delicious vegetarian food.
- Bar200 Con Dao – A cozy bar with reasonable Western food.
- Infiniti Cafe & Resto – Also mainly western food, a good option for lunch.
How to Get to the Con Dao Islands
For now, the best way to get to Con Dao is by plane. Vietnam Airlines flies daily from Ho Chi Minh City and a few days a week from Can Tho. Vietnam Airlines has a fixed price for the flight to Con Dao. At the moment this price is US$150, which is approximately VND 3,500,000.
Many travelers complain that they cannot get this price when using a comparison site. To get the right price you will have to book on the official website of Vietnam Airlines.
It is also possible to reach Con Dao by boat. The boat departs from Vung Tau, which is 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. However, the boat trip takes a very long time and the boat is far from comfortable. For the budget traveler who loves adventure, it is an option but for most travelers, it will not be a good choice.
Vung Tau to Con Son by Boat
Depending on the season and the situation at sea, the boat leaves every day at 5:00 p.m. and takes about 12 hours. However, sometimes the boat only goes a few times a week and it is difficult to get the correct information about it. Costs vary between 145,000 and 300,000 Dong (US$6.20 – US$12.90).
The boat departs from Vung Tau port at this address: 1007 D 30/4. Make sure you are present at least an hour in advance. Also take some pills against nausea if you’re prone to seasickness.
New Boat Route From June 2017
Good news for those who want to visit the island but do not want to pay the high price of the airline tickets. From Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta (70 kilometers from Can Tho) you can now take the Superdong Ferry to the island. At the moment there is one boat a day but this will be expanded to two in 2018.
For bookings see the information below. Reserve on time and ask the staff at your hotel if they can make a reservation by phone. The trip takes almost 2 hours.
- Price for an adult: VND 310,000
- Book by phone: 0299 3843 888 or 0299 3843 999
- From Soc Trang to Con Dao: 8:30 a.m.
- From Con Dao to Soc Trang: 1:00 p.m.
After arriving at Con Dao it is wise to arrange a transfer at your hotel because the airport is a good distance away. Once in Con Son Village, you can go a long way on foot, but if you want to see more of the island it is advisable to rent a scooter.
Con Dao Archipelago in Pre-historic Times
Based on archaeological results, researchers believe that Con Lon Island (the biggest island of the Con Dao archipelago) had a presence of humans in prehistoric times. They found artifacts that were identified to come from the middle of the Iron Age (700-1 BCE). The artifacts also have a close relationship with early Sa Huynh pottery relics in South Central and Southeast Vietnam.
Located far from the mainland, but due to its favorable location on the maritime route linking Eurasia, Con Lon Island was soon known to the West. The original records of a ninth-century Arab merchant, Soleyman (or Sulaymân), were quoted by French documents, talking about an archipelago called Sender-fũlát (or Cundur-fũlát), located in the South China Sea.
According to the French scholar Gabriel Ferrand: Cundur-fũlát is an ancient reading, Sundur-fũlát is a modern reading (meaning pumpkin islands in Malay). He also asserted that it was Poulo Condore Island, located at a site forty miles south of the Mekong Delta; corresponding with the location of the Con Dao archipelago today.
Hon Ba Island
Legend has it that when emperor Nguyen Anh was pursued by the Tay Son army, he fled to Con Lon Island to hide. Here, he created a plan to take revenge on the Tay Son army, with the power of the French. One of his concubines, Yen (known as Ram), appealed. Nguyen Anh was angry and banished her to Little Con Lon Island, after which they called it Hon Ba Island.
Hon Tai Island and Hon Trac Island
Legend talks about the origins of the twin brothers Dang Phong Tai and Dang Trac Van. Both were fighting for Ham Nghi against the French colonialists. In 1899, the French exiled Dang Phong Tai to Con Lon; There he married a girl named Dao Minh Nguyet.
Later, younger brother Dang Trac Van was also exiled here. The sister-in-law developed an interest in her brother-in-law, which made Dang Trac Van gradually worried and he decided to leave for another island.
When Dang Phong Tai came to the island to look for his younger brother, Dang Trac Van wasn’t there anymore.