Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao Islands are one of the star attractions in Vietnam. Long the Devil’s Island of Indochina, the preserve of political prisoners and undesirables, this place is now turning heads thanks to its striking natural beauty. Located in Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, this island has many unspoiled beaches communing with nature, therefore, it always attracts numerous visitors especially in the summer. Being one of 21 national tourist areas of Vietnam, Con Dao now is chosen to be the paradise of relaxation and exploring nature. It was also voted one of ten mysterious and best islands in the world by Lonely Planet Magazine in 2011.
Con Son is the largest island in the archipelago, known as “Poulo Condor” and regarded as a Southeast Aisan Devil’s Island. It is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in thick forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring empty coastal roads and deserted beaches, there are some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities such as the black giant squirrel and the endemic bow-fingered gecko.
A beach on Con Son Island, one of the Con Dao Islands off the southern coast of Vietnam
Although it seems something of an island paradise, Con Son was once hell on earth for the thousands of prisoners who languished in confinement here in no less than a dozen jails during French rule and the American-backed regime.
Roughly 80% of the land area in the island chain is part of Con Dao National Park, which protects Vietnam’s most important sea-turtle nesting grounds. For the past decade, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has been working with local park rangers on a long-term monitoring program. During nesting season (May to November) the park sets up ranger stations to rescue threatened nests and move them to the safe haven of hatcheries. Other interesting sea life around Con Dao includes the dugong, a rare marine mammal in the same family as the manatee.
Con Dao National Park
A cute dugong
Many visitors to Con Son are package-tour groups of former soldiers who were imprisoned on the island. The Vietnamese government subsidises these jaunts as a show of gratitude for their sacrifice.
The service in Con Dao is sometimes not much appreciated but is improving. Good supply depends on shipment from the mainland, therefore, the price is relatively expensive and many activities at night are restricted. You should prepare boots, anti-allergy drugs, and some fast foods if you want to explore the forests. Here, there are only a few shops; you can choose Thu Ba or Tri Ky restaurants, 2 famous one on Con Dao to enjoy your meals. Especially, if travelers want to save money, they had better reach to wharf at 6h00 am or 2:00 pm to buy seafood with very cheap price and then have hotel staffs cook for them.
Leaving Con Dao after beach vacation, you’ll always keep the images of wooden swings, the smell of sea, smell of the wind, smell of grass and the sound of waves, birds around forests. In Con Dao, you will live and sharply feel real life of people here, not in a dream.