First published October 2022 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.
A fast passenger ferry connecting the largest city in the Mekong Delta with the largest island in the Côn Đảo Archipelago, this route links Cần Thơ with Côn Sơn. A four-hour voyage along the broad brown waters of the Mekong River and across the open ocean of the East Sea, the Cần Thơ→Côn Đảo ferry is the newest of the sea connections between the mainland and the archipelago. This route is a good way for travellers to combine a trip in the Mekong Delta with a visit to the Côn Đảo Islands. The boats are modern, comfortable and booking tickets is fairly easy. However, sailing schedules change regularly depending of weather conditions and passenger numbers.
CAN THO→CON DAO EXPRESS FERRY
On this page, I’ve written a complete guide to taking the express ferry between Cần Thơ and Côn Sơn Island, in the Côn Đảo Archipelago. I’ve included a map and all relevant information for travellers on this ferry route. Click from the contents below:
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Can Tho→Con Dao Express Ferry
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About this Ferry:
This route, operated by Mai Linh Express, is the latest of the ferry crossings linking the mainland with the Côn Đảo Islands. Cần Thơ is one of Vietnam’s largest cities. It’s the commercial and tourist hub of the Mekong Delta. As such, it’s hoped this ferry route will boast tourism and commerce between the Delta and the archipelago. While it’s possible to fly between Cần Thơ and Côn Đảo, taking the ferry is more of an experience, especially for travellers, like me, who love a good journey.
Ferry connections to Côn Đảo have proliferated over the last few years due to the archipelago’s rise in popularity. However, another reason is to facilitate travel to the islands when the airport closes for a major upgrade for several months in 2023. During that time, the ferries will be the only way for travellers to get to the Côn Đảo Islands. The other ferry connections are from Vũng Tàu and Trần Đề. The latter is also in the Mekong Delta, but far in an remote corner of Sóc Trăng Province. The Cần Thơ route should prove to be a popular crossing because Cần Thơ has good transportation connections with the rest of the nation: its international airport has regular flights to all major Vietnamese cities, and its interprovincial bus station serves destinations throughout Vietnam, with quick, easy, regular services to/from Ho Chi Minh City.
Times & Prices:
Although ticket prices and departure times are stable, the frequency of sailings fluctuates according to high-low season and weather conditions. Broadly speaking, the calmest seas and the highest tourist season runs from April to September, during which sailings are frequent (often daily). But, the roughest seas and lowest tourist season runs from October to March, during which sailings are reduced to as little as one per week. Ticket prices are higher on weekends. The boat has capacity for around 350 passengers. Cars, motorbikes and (as far as I know) bicycles are not permitted on board. Check the Mai Linh Express website for current sailing schedule:
|Cần Thơ→Côn Đảo
|7.30am or 8am
(high season=daily; low season=Saturday)
|Côn Đảo→Cần Thơ
(high season=daily; low season=Sunday)
|Monday to Thursday
|Friday to Sunday & public holidays
*There’s also a VIP ticket option (1,100,000vnđ) for a larger seat in a private cabin with more leg room (not worth the extra cost, in my opinion). In addition, there are reduced rates for children (550,000vnđ/600,000vnđ). To check the latest schedule and prices go to the Mai Linh Express website.
Booking tickets should be a fairly straightforward process. Passengers can book online or in-person (see below). Remember that you need to have your passport with you when making a reservation. Try to book at least a few days in advance, especially if travelling on a weekend or during a public holiday. Most forms of payment are accepted:
Online: You can book tickets online directly through the Mai Linh Express website. On the site you can toggle between English or Vietnamese language. The website is fairly good and easy to navigate. If there’s nothing showing for your date of departure, that’s either because there’s no sailing on that particular day or because tickets are sold out. The booking platform supports most forms of online payment and you will be issued with an e-ticket with a QR code. However, as with other booking sites for Vietnamese transportation, there are occasional glitches. Sometimes your booking doesn’t go through. If this happens, just try again later – eventually, in most cases, it works.
In Person: Tickets can also be purchased in-person at any of the Mai Linh Express offices: In Cần Thơ there’s a kiosk near the Ninh Kiều port (map); on Côn Sơn Island, there’s a ticket office on the seafront near the new ferry pier (map) and inside the terminal building at Bến Đầm port (map). Remember to bring your passport when making a booking.
Departure & Arrival Ports:
In Cần Thơ, the Ninh Kiều ferry pier is conveniently located on the riverfront walkway in the heart of the tourist area; on Côn Sơn Island, Bến Đầm port is rather inconveniently located, but utterly spectacular. However, the latter is due to change very soon, because the new Bến Tàu Khách ferry port is scheduled to open in late 2022, right on the bay that fronts Con Son town – a much more convenient arrival and departure point and equally scenic to its predecessor. See below for more about all three ports:
Cần Thơ: Ninh Kiều Port [MAP]
On the west bank of the Cần Thơ River, Ninh Kiều ferry pier is diminutive and unassuming, but very central and convenient. A simple concrete pier leads over the water and onto a metal gangway onto the boat. The pier is located on the Ninh Kiều riverfront walkway, a pleasant, green, waterside promenade with tourist boats huddled together on the quayside. Because this is the central tourist district, many hotels are within walking distance of the ferry pier; otherwise, just arrange a taxi from your accommodation. (As the boat leaves at 7.30am or 8am, you will need to spend the night before in Cần Thơ.) Apart from the ticket kiosk and some wandering food vendors, there’s not much in the way of facilities at the ferry pier. Just turn up 30 minutes before departure and board the boat.
Côn Sơn Island: Bến Đầm Port [MAP]
Way down in the southwestern corner of Côn Sơn Island, Bến Đầm port is spectacularly located in a lagoon of blue water enveloped by jungle-clad hills. It’s a magical introduction to the Côn Đảo Islands. However, Bến Đầm is over 10km from Côn Sơn town, where most of the island’s accommodation is. Arrival and departure from the port is pretty straightforward, although it’s quite a long walk up/down the pier if you’re carrying a lot of luggage in the heat or rain. Taxis, motorbike taxis and electric buggies meet the boats. Prices for the ride along the stunning coast road to Côn Sơn town should be between 100,000-300,000vnđ depending on the transportation method and number of people. But, if you’ve booked a hotel in advance, they might be able to arrange a pick up for you (for an added charge). Alternatively, you can rent your own motorbike directly from the stores around the ferry terminal. There are snack shops clustered around the port entrance and an echoey ferry terminal with indoor seating and ticket counters. Overall, Bến Đầm port is functional but not really a place to linger. Just as well that the new ferry port will be opening soon (see below).
Côn Sơn Town: Bến Tàu Khách [MAP]
Scheduled to open in late 2022, the new Bến Tàu Khách port is located right on the seafront of Côn Sơn town, at the centre of the east coast of the island. The port has been under construction for many, many years. Generally, this is good news for visitors, because the new port will be so much more conveniently located: walking distance from most of the accommodations on the island, which are clustered along Côn Sơn town’s pretty seafront road or quiet backstreets. However, the new port is a bit of an eyesore compared to the low-key, low-rise, colonial-era structures that characterize much of the rest of the town. Another concern might be that with more and more, bigger and bigger express boats arriving on the island, there’s a risk that relocating the port to the town might result in a rise in water pollution in this beautiful bay. Anyway, when it opens, ferries will dock at the end of a very long pier stretching into the sea with a stunning backdrop of mountains and jungle. The terminal building – a modern ‘wavy’ structure – will have seating, ticket kiosks and snack shops.
The vessels used for the Cần Thơ→Côn Đảo route are high-speed catamarans. Painted green with the Mai Linh livery, the boats are modern and, although they appear quite small for the outside, inside they are surprisingly spacious. Coach-style seating on soft, reclinable chairs across several rows is comfortable and there’s plenty of leg room, even when the passenger in front puts their seat back. Electrical sockets on each row of seating are handy for charging laptops and phones. ‘Economy’ class is downstairs; ‘business’ class is upstairs. The toilets are at the rear and they’re kept clean. Refreshments are very limited: cans of soda, coffee, and a few unappealing sandwiches and snacks. However, you can bring your own picnic aboard. A stairway at the boat’s stern leads to the upper deck where there’s a large, open (and rather bare) space on which to sit and watch the scenery glide by.
The cabins are air-conditioned and clean. Although music is sometimes played on the large screen, it’s generally pretty quiet on board. In fact, the general ambience on this ferry is more pleasant than the other ferries connecting Côn Đảo Islands to the mainland. The ship’s capacity is around 350 passengers, but it doesn’t feel crowded. The 4-hour voyage is comfortable, quiet and pretty serene: a chance to rest, read, work on your laptop, or chat to your fellow passengers.
Early morning on the riverfront in Cần Thơ is a busy time. In the streets, the market is bustling; on the water, long boats flit across the surface carrying goods and tourists to/from the nearby floating markets. Joining the queue and boarding the Mai Linh Express ferry up a steep gangway, the sun is already hot above the brown river. Out on deck is a good place to observe the riverine morning traffic and get a sense of how vital Cần Thơ is as the commercial hub of the region. The engines start, the boat drifts silently away from the quayside. In a swirl of chocolate-coloured water, the vessel turns and ploughs up the Cần Thơ River a short distance before its waters converge with the Hậu Giang River, one of the largest branches of the Mekong. Immediately picking up speed on the major waterway, the boat passes beneath the colossal pillars and ramp of the Cần Thơ Bridge which spans the entire width of the mighty river.
Passengers assemble on deck to breathe the fresh air and watch the Mekong scenery go by. However, the river being so wide and the Delta region so flat, there’s not much to see, save for the lush banks, broken occasionally by large factories. The provinces pass by one after another – Hậu Giang, Trà Vinh, Sóc Trăng – but without any discernable difference. Finally, the boat slows for a brief inspection by the sea border police, before exiting the Mekong River at its mouth and starting out on the open ocean.
It takes a while for the silty waters to be diluted by the East Sea, turning from brown to grey to green to blue. Riding the crests of the choppy sea, the ship keeps its course due south, until the faint outline of islands can be seen on the horizon. The sea’s colour becomes richer, the air sweeter and the light sharper as the islands come closer and into focus. The last 15 minutes of the voyage brings tantalizing glimpses of the archipelago’s deserted islets. The engines cut and the boat drifts the last dozen metres to Bến Đầm pier, enclosed by vibrant green mountains covered in jungle that falls all the way down to the deep blue bay.
*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this ferry and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page