Last updated August 2018 | Words, photos and film by Vietnam Coracle
This post was last updated 4 years ago. Please check the comments section for possible updates, or read more on my Updates & Accuracy page.
INTRODUCTION | TRAVEL GUIDE | MAP | VIDEO
The Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. You’re likely to experience two sides to the islands when you visit: one day spent swimming in the clear sea, walking upon white sand beaches, hiking in the jungle, riding a scooter along deserted coast roads, and drinking cocktails on the seafront promenade; another spent visiting the colonial-era prisons, learning about former inmates (many of whom are celebrated national heroes) and witnessing remnants of their forced labour, which caused thousands of prisoners to die. The former is the future of the Con Dao Islands as a tropical paradise; the latter is its past as a brutal penal colony. Personally, I have always felt deeply attached to the Con Dao Islands: a feeling which gets stronger each time I visit. But, the Con Dao isn’t for everyone. Some people lament to the lack of nightlife and complain about the relatively high costs, for example. However, if you’re a regular reader of this website, the chances are you share my general feeling for travel destinations, and you too will fall for these islands. On this page is my full guide, annotated map, and short film of this dazzling archipelago.
GUIDE: THE CON DAO ISLANDS
This is an extensive (i.e. long) guide to the Con Dao Islands: I love this place and I want everyone who reads this guide to love it too. I’ve included all the information I can, and categorized it in a way that makes it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for. Click an item from the contents below and use the navigation buttons within each category to find your way around this guide.
*Please support this website by using the relevant links in the following guide to book your accommodation & transportation on the Con Dao Islands. Thank you.
The Con Dao Islands:
View in a LARGER MAP
A short film exploring the Con Dao Islands:
Watch this video on YouTube
LOCATION & HISTORY:
The Con Dao Islands are fascinating, both for their geographical location and the history and legend that surround this archipelago in the East Sea. Click an item below to read more about it:
Con Son is the largest of 15 islands that make up the Con Dao Archipelago, 80km from the mainland Mekong Delta region and 230km from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The island’s remoteness and former use as a penal colony have kept it in relatively pristine condition: even today, 80% of Con Son is still forested. The thick canopy provides a habitat for all sorts of exotic-sounding animals endemic to the archipelago: the Con Dao bow-fingered gecko and Con Dao black giant squirrel are just two examples. The islands are rugged and mountainous, with the highest peak reaching 557m. The ocean is home to dugongs (sea cows) and sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches from March to August. The winter months on Con Son Island are generally dry, but rough seas and strong winds from the northeast make the island feel fantastically remote at this time of year. The summer months bring occasional monsoon rains, but the seas remain calm and clear, the bays beautiful and tranquil. (For more details about weather and when to go click here.)
The Con Dao Islands are only a short flight from Saigon. Just forty-five minutes after taking off from the dust and bustle of the city, the propeller aircraft glides between a few tiny green dots in the East Sea, heading towards the short runway squeezed in at the eastern point of Con Son Island. To the right, the island’s jagged, sea-beaten north shore stretches to its western tip. The glowing dawn light haloes around the edges of the forested mountains, and crashing rollers break near the end of the runway. Saigon is already a distant memory. (For more details about transportation to the Con Dao Islands click here.)
From the airport, a road winds its way around a high, blustery cape. During the winter months, the East Sea slams against the face of the rocky cliffs. There is only really one road on the island. It follows the coastline from the small airport in the north to the small fishing port in the south, passing through the small town of Con Son, clustered around a bay, in the middle. In the summer months, the sea is often perfectly calm, the translucent water so motionless it looks as though you could walk across it to the little islands that pop up around the bay, like giant whales coming up for air. Everything is still and quiet. (For more details about transportation on Con Son Island click here.)
The Con Dao Islands has a population of about 7,000, most of whom are fishermen or part of the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam. According to some locals, men outnumber women 7 to 1 on the island. However, you’re unlikely to encounter anyone, male or female, as you walk along the seafront promenade. On one side, the glass-like ocean stretches to the horizon, on the other, French colonial villas crumble on street corners beneath the shadows of tropical trees, their roots twisted around the brickwork. It feels like an abandoned outpost of French Indochina. I’ve travelled all over Vietnam, but the first time I arrived in Con Son town I felt I’d really made it to the ends of the nation. As late as 2002, the only link to the mainland was a helicopter, which ran three times a week, carrying 24 passengers, most of whom were army personnel.
At the centre of the seafront promenade is the old French customs house. The small, perfectly proportioned building is flanked by two, century-old tropical almond trees. The building opens onto a jetty, where supply ships used to dock and unload provisions and prisoners from the mainland. This pier is known as Wharf 914, after the number of prisoners who died constructing it. The customs house is sometimes open as a cafe, which is a great place for a coffee in the mornings or a cocktail in the evenings. It’s also where French composer, Camille Saint-Saens, lived in 1895, while completing his opera, Brunhilda. (For more details about cafes and bars on the island click here.)
Chợ Côn Đảo (Con Dao Market) is located away from the seafront, in amongst the small, sleepy streets of Con Son town. Inside, dozens of food vendors pack themselves into the shade of the market. In the mornings, locals sit at wooden benches, slurping all kinds of breakfast foods and beverages: noodle soups, rice pancakes, rice porridge, iced coffees, fruit juices, sticky desserts. There’s a constant hum of voices as customers share stories with food vendors. Outside, fish, fruit and vegetables are hacked and packed. Perhaps all the men are in their barracks or out at sea, because the market belongs to the women at this hour: here, the gender ratios are reversed. (For more details about Con Dao Market click here.)
In 2011, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took a family holiday at the luxurious Con Dao Six Senses Resort. Their visit marked the massive shift in Con Son’s image from prison island to glamorous getaway. But, as long as the prisons are preserved as a memorial to those who suffered, the dark past of the Con Dao Islands will always live side-by-side with the beaches, palms trees and, no doubt, dozens of luxury resorts and residences that are bound to be built in the coming years. Once a place of malnourishment and disease, it seems inevitable that soon it will become a place for fat cats and superstars. But, for now at least, the Con Dao Islands are quiet and gorgeous. All travellers can enjoy the islands, from budget to mid-range to luxury. Come now, before trucks clutter the small island roads and construction shatters the silence and serenity of peaceful Con Son. (For more details about accommodation on Con Son Island click here.)
Prisons & Early History:
Between 1862 and 1975, tens of thousands of political prisoners were held on Con Son Island. The prisons, set up by the colonial French and later run by the South Vietnamese and Americans, became known as ‘university’ for a generation of independence activists from all over Vietnam. Many, who were unaffiliated to political groups when detained, were hardened by the treatment they received in the prisons, and left as members of one party or another, particularly the Indochinese Communist Party, predecessor of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. Some prisoners were famous independence advocates before entering the prisons, others grew to fame after being released from Con Son, having learnt much in the ‘Schools of Bolshevism’ on the island. Many, however, never left the island: they died from malnourishment, mistreatment, hard labour, or were executed. They became martyrs for their cause, commemorated on the island and throughout Vietnam today. An estimated 22,000 prisoners lost their lives on Con Son Island. Most of the dead were dumped in the shadow of a mountain behind Con Son town. In 1975 their remains were collected and buried in Hang Duong Cemetery, which occupies the site today. (For more details about the prisons and cemetery click here.)
The prisons closed in 1975. Since then, Vietnamese come on sombre pilgrimages to remember national heroes or relatives who were imprisoned or died on the island. Perhaps the most famous of all the victims of the Con Son prisons is Vo Thi Sau. Involved in anti-colonial activities from the age of 14, she was eventually captured by the French and imprisoned on Con Son. In 1952, at the age of 19, she became the first woman to be executed on the island. Today her grave is the sight of a nightly vigil where Vietnamese come to pay their respects with offerings, including combs and mirrors which symbolize her youth. But, as Vietnam becomes more popular with foreign tourists and flights to Con Son more regular, it is the natural beauty of the island that most visitors come to see. For tourists, it’s impossible to ignore the island’s grim past, but for pilgrims too, it’s equally impossible to ignore the scenic surrounds of the former prison island. Vietnam today is a youthful country – over 50% of the population is under the age of 25 – and most of them are increasingly likely to think of Con Son Island as a place of relaxation and recreation, rather than one of sober reflection. (For more details about visiting Vo Thi Sau’s grave click here.)
The prisons belong to the relatively recent past, but history and myth on the Con Dao Islands goes back centuries, and is often just as harrowing and macabre. Both the Malays and the Khmers held the islands for a time. Contact with the West started with Arab traders in the 9th century. After that, came the familiar succession of European colonial powers: Spanish and Portuguese mariners in the 16th century, the British East India Company in the 18th century (who set up a fort in 1702, but abandoned it a few years later, when they were massacred by their own mercenary workforce), and the French from the 19th century onwards. It is even said that Marco Polo, on his way back from China, took refuge on the islands during a storm in 1294. A visit to the new Con Dao Museum is a good way to get an overview of the history of the islands.
The Legend of Phi Yen:
One story, part history, part legend, took place on the islands in the late 18th century and marks the advent of French colonial ambitions in Vietnam. The heroine is Phi Yen, or ‘Flying Swallow’. Phi Yen was one of the wives of Nguyen Anh, the last remaining prince of the Nguyen Lords, who ruled southern Vietnam from the 17th century. In 1783 Prince Nguyen Anh escaped capture from his military and political rivals, the Tay Son brothers, by retreating to the Con Dao Islands. He and Phi Yen took refuge in a grotto on the island of Hon Ba. Nguyen Anh sought the help of Pigneau de Behaine, an influential French missionary in the Mekong region. The Prince agreed to cede the Con Dao Islands and the port of Danang to the French, in exchange for their military support in defeating the Tay Son brothers and returning him to power.
Phi Yen’s son, Prince Cai, was to be sent with Behaine to the court of Louis XVI in France, as insurance for the deal. But Phi Yen refused to let her young son undertake such a dangerous and uncertain journey. Nguyen Anh was furious. He ordered Cai be thrown into the sea and drowned. In Cai’s place the son of one of Nguyen Anh’s other wives was sent to France instead. Phi Yen was left on the islands to die. (Today, there’s a small tomb and shrine to Prince Cai on the road to Dam Trau beach, on Con Son Island.)
In 1787, Louis XVI agreed to the treaty with Nguyen Anh, but was overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789 before the treaty could be realized. However, some military support and supplies still got through to Vietnam, allowing Prince Nguyen Anh to wage war on the Tay Son brothers. In 1802 he was victorious and declared himself ruler of all Vietnam. He took the royal title, Emperor Gia Long, and moved the imperial capital to Hue, beginning what would be Vietnam’s last imperial dynasty. But the stain of French assistance would haunt Gia Long and his successors, until the dynasty became nothing more than an impotent arm of French Indochina. Today, Nguyen Anh is a much-maligned figure in Vietnamese history, a fact attested to by his lonely, seldom-visited tomb on the banks of the Perfume River, outside Hue.
Phi Yen remained on the Con Dao Islands, until one day she was courted by another man. Traditionally, a good wife never betrays her husband, no matter what he’s done. Not wishing to be disloyal to Nguyen Anh, Phi Yen refused the approaches of her suitor and threw herself into the sea. Today, unlike her husband, Phi Yen is revered as a faithful, loyal wife and a loving mother: her two greatest attributes tragically coming into conflict with each other. She is worshiped on Con Son Island at Miếu Bà Phi Yến (Phi Yen’s Shrine, also known as An Son temple). The small, squat temple is set under a flame tree at the foot of a mountain by a lotus lake. History and legend intertwine on the Con Dao Islands: no one knows for sure what happened to Phi Yen or if Prince Nguyen Anh ever stayed on Hon Ba Island. The Vietnamese have an expression for such stories: người ta nói (‘people say’). Today, people say the ghosts of Phi Yen and her son still haunt the Con Dao Archipelago. (For more details about temples and shrines on Con Son Island click here.)
BEACHES & BAYS:
Con Son is a wild and rugged island: mountains and rocky headlands plunge straight into the sea. There aren’t that many long, sandy beaches, like the ones you find on Phu Quoc Island. However, there are several bays where the mountains give way to some stunning strips of sand and turquoise water, which are, for my money, more spectacular than Phu Quoc. The following list of beaches and bays are scattered around the main island of Con Son, and are listed in order of my own personal preference. All these beaches can be visited by motorbike or taxi or, in some cases, only on foot. There are other beaches on the outlying islands, but you’ll need to charter a boat to get to those (see Things to See & Do for more information). Click a beach below to read more about it:
- Nhat Beach
- Dam Trau Beach
- Lo Voi Beach
- Con Son (An Hai) Beach
- Dat Doc Beach
- Dam Tre Bay
- Vong Beach
- Ong Dung, Bang & Dat Tham Beaches
- Ben Dam Bay & Port
At the tip of the headland that juts out south of Con Son town is Mũi Cá Mập (Shark Cape). A fierce wind smacks the side of your scooter as the road twists around the cape to reveal the best view on the island. Looking down, you can see the road cutting along the coastline below the windswept southern slopes of Núi Thánh Giá, the highest mountain on Con Son Island. Big boulders that were dynamited during the construction of the road, (also paid for with prisoners’ lives), lie strewn on the sea side of the tarmac, decreasing in size as they roll down to meet the rice-white sand and gin-clear water of Nhat Beach, behind which the Jurassic Park-like island of Hon Ba looms (where Prince Nguyen Anh and Phi Yen are said to have stayed). This is my favourite beach on Con Son Island. In fact, it’s one of my favourite beaches in all Vietnam. The swimming is excellent, especially before noon, when the water is often calmest, and when the tide is usually out so that more beach is exposed. However, there is very little shade on Nhat Beach, and it is increasingly difficult to ignore the landfill on the opposite side of the road, which is yet another reminder about how fragile this island is.
Dam Trau Beach:
In the northwest of the island, Dam Trau Beach is a sandy cove shaded by casuarina trees and flanked by rocky headlands covered in tropical foliage. Just a couple of years ago, the beach was only accessible via a sandy dirt lane through the foliage. Now, however, a wide new paved road has been constructed, ultimately to facilitate development of the beach. For now, Dam Trau is still very quiet and peaceful for most of the day. But, in the late afternoons, tour buses often arrive (they can do so now because of the new road) and disgorge dozens of visitors. However, there’s lots of space so the beach is never crowded. Dam Trau is right next to the airport (the runway ends just as the tarmac meets the sand), so when the flights come in to land, everyone on the beach stops to gaze as the small propeller aircraft drift down over the sea. During the last couple years a few makeshift cafes have opened on the sand. They’re shabby and temporary-looking, and trash is piling up behind them, stewing in the sun. However, it’s nice to have some food and drink available on this side of the island, because previously the only place for refreshments was the airport cafe. A hundred metres before you reach the beach there’s a small shrine to Prince Cai, Phi Yen’s son.
Lo Voi Beach:
At the northeastern end of Con Son town’s fabulous seafront promenade, Loi Voi Beach is a ribbon of white sand spreading out under a line of casuarina trees. It’s a gorgeous spot: the water is shallow and blue, there’s a constant sea breeze drifting through the trees, the wooden skeletons of wrecked fishing vessels lie entombed in the sand, and the rugged hills of Shark Cape lead out into the ocean to south. The beach is protected and calm, sheltered by a hilly headland. At low-tide, usually early in the morning, the sand is exposed for over a hundred metres, during which time I’m told it’s possible to walk around the headland to a secret sandy cove at its tip. As always on Con Son Island, just as you’re wallowing in tranquility of Lo Voi Beach, you’re reminded that the past stalks every corner of this island. During the century that Con Son served as a prison island, many of the remains of the thousands of prisoners who died in captivity were discarded under the casuarina trees between the road and the beach. A memorial plaque by the roadside, covered in fresh flowers and burning incense, serves as a reminder.
Con Son (An Hai) Beach:
An Hai Beach is a sandy continuation of the harbourfront that stretches southwest of Con Son town. Fringed by palm trees and overlooked by green mountains, this beach is dotted with the only beachfront accommodation within walking distance of the town. However, even if you’re not staying at one of the beachfront resorts, you can still access this beach by walking or driving to the southernmost section of sand, where the road nearly meets the sea. The water here is clear and cool, and great for swimming. But sandflies have always been a problem and, now that the new boat pier has been constructed at its northern end, there’s a lot more trash in the water and washed up on the sand (much of it, sadly, comes from the fishing boats moored along the pier, whose crews tend to throw their beer cans and polystyrene boxes of food straight into the sea). However, the broad stretch of sand is such a beautiful sight that you soon forget about the flies and the litter…..well, almost. Another popular place to access what is, I suppose, technically Con Son Beach is either side of the smaller, old boat pier, directly opposite the old French customs house, in the centre of Con Son town’s seafront promenade. An hour or so before sunset, dozens of Vietnamese tourists and locals come out to play in the surf. It’s a great time to be here: watching the sun set behind Shark Cape, having a drink and snack from one of the street vendors, before walking back along the silent coast road, looking out at the anthracite ocean pricked with the glow of fishing boat lights.
Dat Doc Beach:
Although the vast majority of the sand at the western end of Dat Doc Beach is now owned (and conspicuously guarded) by the ultra-luxurious Six Senses Resort, the wider bay is just as appealing to swim, snorkel, wander, and find a large shady tree under which to camp for a few hours. The road runs very close to the coast, allowing you to park your motorbike on the verge and scramble down to a nice, isolated spot. At low-tide there are some sandy patches, but most of Dat Doc Bay is rocky. However, I find this is actually more convenient than sand: wet trunks out to dry in the sun on one boulder, picnic table on another, seats on others. I really enjoyed hopping from rock to rock along this bay in the late afternoon, when the sun sets over Con Son town. The views are dramatic and there’s no one around at all. The bay itself is protected from the winds and usually quite good for swimming. But if you swim be very careful not to go out too far, where the sea is exposed to the prevailing winds and the current can take you away.
Dam Tre Bay:
Only accessible via a beautiful hiking trail through thick jungle, Dam Tre is a lagoon right at the northern tip of Con Son Island. The trek takes a couple of hours and should be made in the mornings, when the tide is out, so that when you arrive at Dam Tre the water level will be low enough to get down to the lagoon and bathe. Swimming here is a real treat, especially after the hot and sweaty walk. The water is beautiful and there’s good snorkeling too. (Remember to bring drinking water.) It’s a gorgeous spot, and it’s easier than ever to get here, since the pathway has recently been cleared and widened (see Hiking for more details).
In the northeast of the island, Vong Beach is a wide arc of sand backed by dense jungle. Vong Beach is on the opposite side of the airport runway from Dam Trau. But, while Dam Trau is sheltered from the northeast winds, Vong Beach is quite exposed and can become rough during the northeast monsoon months (October to March). The seascape is very dramatic as the beach is bookended by steep, rocky cliffs. Vong Beach can be accessed via dirt paths that lead down from the coast road, but it’s easiest at the southern end where the road runs closest to the sea.
Ong Dung, Bang & Dat Tham Beaches:
On the remote and undeveloped western coast, these three beaches (Ong Dung, Bang, and Dat Tham) can only be reached on foot. At the new National Park headquarters, in the hills just behind Con Son town, well-marked trails lead through the jungle to the other side of the island, where they descend to the waters’ edge. Although none of these beaches are particularly sandy, or even that good for swimming, they are peaceful, isolated and without any significant human interference. Of the three, my favourite is Bang Beach, where there’s a narrow strip of sand and, in the rainy season, a small waterfall running off the mountains into the open sea. (See Hiking for more details.)
Ben Dam Bay & Port:
At the southern tip, the coast road ends at the island’s main fishing port of Ben Dam. Situated in a beautiful lagoon sheltered by Hon Ba Island, Ben Dam is as scenic a harbour as you could hope to find. The port itself is rather more prosaic: there’s a rough edge to Ben Dam despite its lovely setting, with red-faced drunken fishermen staggering up and down the pier. You wouldn’t really want to swim in the harbour, but the market by the pier has some fresh fruit and snacks, and you can watch the blue wooden fishing boats unload their silver fish into wicker baskets full of ice. From the pier it’s possible to hire a small boat for the short trip over to Hon Ba Island, where there’s a decent beach. (Ben Dam is where the passenger ferries arrive from the mainland: see Transportation for details.)
THINGS TO SEE & DO:
There’s plenty to see and do on the Con Dao Islands. Personally, I can happily spend a week here, but 3-4 full days should be enough for most travellers. You’ll get the most out of the main island of Con Son by wandering and exploring independently: either on foot or on two wheels. The town of Con Son and the island’s rural roads and hiking trails will reveal enough of their charm and beauty to keep you going for a several days: beaches, colonial architecture, history, forests, markets, and mountains. For the outlying islands, you’ll need to hire a boat or go on a diving trip. Click an item below to read more about it:
- Walking, Hiking & Motorbiking
- Prisons, Museums & Historical Sites
- Temples & Pagodas
- Diving & Boat Trips
- Markets & Shopping
Walking, Hiking & Motorbiking:
Renting a motorbike or scooter (available from most accommodations for 100,000vnd a day) gives you the freedom to really explore Con Son Island: choose your spot on any of the deserted beaches, go down sandy tracks leading into the jungle, and admire the spectacular views from the coast road that rings half of the island. In general, Vietnam is best seen on a motorbike, and Con Son Island is the perfect place to learn to ride if you don’t already know how. The well-maintained but empty roads give you all the space and time you need to get familiar with riding. You can easily ride all the island’s roads in one day, but take your time because riding here is such a pleasure. The total distance from Ben Dam Port (at the southern end) to Co Ong Airport (at the northern end) is just 25km. A new road on the island’s western coast is currently under construction and is scheduled to finish around 2020. However, be careful of strong winds as you round the two main capes on the island, and bear in mind that there are only a handful of gas stations on Con Son, all of which are marked on my map.
Aside from walking up and down the seafront promenade in the mornings and late afternoons (undoubtedly one of the highlights of visiting Con Son Island) and strolling along Con Son’s charming, languid back-streets, there are an increasing number of hikes around the island. In the last couple of years, at least half a dozen hiking trails have been cleared through the forests and in the hills of Con Dao National Park, which covers most of the island of Con Son. The trails are easy-to-follow dirt paths or, in most cases, paved stone lanes. This is great news for walkers and there are many more trails being made. The scenery is excellent, there’s a high chance of seeing wildlife (such as macaques and black squirrels), and by walking it’s possible to reach parts of the island that are even more remote and that can’t be accessed by any other means. However, in the process of building these tracks, especially the paved ones, there has clearly been some damage to the natural setting through which they pass. On the other hand, there are trash cans at fairly regular intervals and notice boards about how to protect the environment and trek responsibly.
Go the the new National Park headquarters, in the hills behind Con Son town, to pick up a map (not a particularly good one) with all the trails marked on it and to pay the park admission fee (60,000vnd). These days, all the hiking trails can be done independently: there’s no need for a guide and there are signposts along the way. To get to the trailheads you can walk or ride a motorbike or take a taxi. Remember to take plenty of water and a snack with you, because there’s little if anything on the trails themselves (and don’t forget your swimming things). The main cluster of trails is around the National Park HQ. One leads steeply down, via stone steps, to Ong Dung Beach (it’s really a rocky bay), another heads through the jungle to a grotto with a shrine to the Virgin Mary and then continues to Bang Beach, Hoai Duong Waterfall (only during the rainy season), and Dat Tham Beach. These are all very pretty, peaceful and worthwhile treks of medium strenuousness. Another trail is a loop from Ma Thien Lanh Bridge (near the park HQ) to So Ray fruit plantation and back down to the road. But the most scenic trek is from Vong Beach to Dam Tre Lagoon in the north of the island. The trailhead is at the southern end of Vong Beach. It’s best to begin this walk in the morning when the tide is usually out so that you will arrive at the gorgeous lagoon before the water fills it up completely. This is a longer trek and will take at least a few hours for the round trip. (On all of the trails, be careful in damp conditions, because the paths can become very slick).
Prisons, Museums & Historical Sites:
For the majority of Vietnamese visitors, it is Con Son’s history that brings them here. Every year, tens of thousands of Vietnamese of all ages and backgrounds come on a pilgrimage of sorts, to pay their respects to the former inmates of the prisons, many of whom are considered great national heroes. Over 20,000 prisoners died on the island, either through malnutrition, disease, mistreatment or execution. Of course, this makes the prisons and associated sites a very sombre experience. But, for a foreign visitor, it also gives you some historical perspective, and makes you appreciate how this island, which today appears to be the epitome of a tropical paradise, was a dark and hellish place for thousands of prisoners for over a century. There are several prisons on the island, all within walking distance of Con Son town. It makes sense to visit Phu Hai and Phu Son prisons first, where you can buy a ticket (60,000vnd) which covers entrance to all the other prisons and sites, including the museum.
Strangely, the prison names in Vietnamese all translate rather romantically: Phu Hai (Rich Ocean) and Phu Son (Rich Mountain), for example. Some of the prisons are grey concrete blocks; others look less threatening: parts of Phu Hai and Phu Son resemble a French colonial seminary rather than a penitentiary. But, one look inside the cells – at the horrific, green, corpse-like mannequins – brings home the reality of conditions here. The most visited prison sites are Phu Hai, Phu Son and Phu Tuong. The latter is where the infamous ‘tiger cages’ are: small cells with grilles in the ceilings where guards poked prisoners with sticks and threw lime down on them, which burned their skin. Apart from the prisons, stone plaques around the town and across the island commemorate other horrific events in Con Son’s past, all related to the prisoners. The cowshed, for example, marks the mass grave where prisoners were massacred after a failed rebellion.
The equally disturbing Con Dao Museum used to be held in the old Governor’s House on the seafront promenade, but relocated a few years ago to a sprawling new building on Nguyen Hue Street. They’ve fleshed-out the exhibits to fill the enormous new space, and information is now in English and Vietnamese (open: 7.30-11.00am and 1.30-5pm daily). There are photographs of some of the more famous of Con Son’s former inmates, including the likes of Pham Van Dong and Ton Duc Thang, who became long-serving prime minister and president of Vietnam respectively. There are also portraits of those who lost their lives on the islands, the most famous of whom was the 19 year-old, Vo Thi Sau. An independence activist from an early age, Vo Thi Sau was the first woman to be executed on the island. Her grave, and hundreds of others, can be visited at the sobering Hang Duong Cemetery, behind Con Son town on Nguyen An Ninh Street. Every night around midnight, a moving vigil is held at Vo Thi Sau’s tomb. Candles and incense are lit on her grave, and offerings of flowers, fruits, combs and mirrors (symbolizing her youth) are laid on her tomb. Foreign visitors are welcome, but make sure you dress (and act) respectfully (no shorts or bare arms). It’s a good idea to purchase some incense, flowers or fruit at the cemetery entrance (or in town) to lay at the grave.
Temples & Pagodas:
As with all regions of Vietnam, there are folktales and myths surrounding the Con Dao Islands, some of which are intertwined with historical events. The story of Phi Yen is the tale that dominates Con Dao mythology, and there are several shrines and temples commemorating it. There seem to be a few different versions of the story, but essentially it involves the emperor Nguyen Anh’s concubine, Phi Yen, being abandoned on the island to die as a result of her counseling the emperor not to seek French help in order to regain his power over the Vietnamese mainland. Phi Yen’s son, Prince Cai, was thrown into the sea and drowned. His body recovered and given burial on Con Son Island, Phi Yen spent her days grieving her son, eventually ending her own life by hanging. The historical events in this folktale happened in the late 18th century, when a successful rebellion swept through Vietnam, but was ultimately quashed by emperor Nguyen Anh with French aid, thus ushering in the beginnings of French involvement in Vietnamese affairs, culminating in the French colonization of Vietnam, which began in 1858 and lasted until 1954. Phi Yen’s temple (also known as An Son shrine) is a pretty and peaceful place on the edge of Con Son town, by a large lake of waterlilies. In the shade of a giant flame tree, the temple is short and stocky with a cool and breezy courtyard. Buy some incense and take a few moments to contemplate Phi Yen’s sad tale. On the other side of the island, there’s a shrine to Prince Cai on the road to Dam Trau Beach. Guarded by two sculpted horses, this is also the tomb of the prince, whose grave is behind the shrine.
The newly refurbished pagoda complex of Van Son (Cloud Mountain) sits in a commanding position on the hillside above An Hai Lake. It’s a steep (and hot) climb up the stairs to the prayer rooms. There are good views from the top out to sea and across the town. An impressive new temple dedicated to the men and women who were imprisoned and lost their lives on Con Son Island sits at the entrance to Hang Duong Cemetery. And, at the northern end of the seafront promenade, a small, attractive temple to Vo Thi Sau stands in a tidy park, but was empty at my last visit.
Diving & Boat Trips:
Con Dao offers by far the best diving in Vietnam. Other popular Vietnamese dive destinations, such as Nha Trang, pale in comparison. Although diving is possible year round, the best season is from March to June, when the water is clear and calm; November to January can get pretty choppy, and diving trips are always subject to conditions. Sadly, Larry and his team from Dive, Dive, Dive! have now left the island, and probably won’t return. Apart from offering excellent diving trips, Larry was also very concerned (and vocal) about the marine and land environment of the Con Dao Archipelago. Ultimately, the lack of environmental protection and insight, and inefficient management of those charged with protecting Con Dao’s environment, was a major contributing factor in his decision to leave the islands. Obviously, this is very worrying, and something that all visitors to Con Dao should bear in mind. Diving trips are still available and the coral and marine life is still impressive enough to make it worthwhile, but overfishing, pollution, and general bad management are steadily taking their toll. Con Dao Dive Center is now the go-to place for arranging a diving trip. They are located at Bar 200 on Nguyen Van Linh street, at the edge of Con Son town. For more information see their website and send them an email: www.divecondao.com
Boat trips to the outlying islands can be arranged through some of the hotels, the National Park headquarters, and (if there’s anyone there) the tourist office at the new boat pier. A boat ride to Bay Canh Island (the second largest in the archipelago) is the most popular trip. Prices are fairly high so you’ll want to go as a group in order to share the costs (usually around 1,500,000vnd). Con Dao is well-known for its sea turtle nesting grounds. It’s possible to book a tour through the National Park HQ to witness the laying of the eggs on the beaches at night (packages start from around 1,00,000vnd per person). The season lasts from June to September, but there are serious concerns over the National Park’s management of the sea turtles and their eggs, including accusations of making personal profit from selling the turtles’ eggs and shells. This has led to calls for visitors to boycott these trips as a demonstration against these practices.
Markets & Shopping:
Con Dao Market is a bustling little place that’s great fun to explore, particularly in the early mornings and late afternoons, when it’s at its busiest. The market is currently being expanded and will soon occupy a large new building, as well as its present, Soviet-looking one. For the time being, the main market is under a temporary roof (called cho tam) opposite the original market. There’s plenty of local fruit, vegetables and fish for sale, as well as some cooked food (such as noodle soups) in the mornings. The fish section is surprisingly underwhelming, probably because a lot of Con Dao’s catch gets exported to restaurants on the mainland. However, you can still see fresh lobster and even the occasional shark. An interesting Con Dao gift shop opened a couple of years ago on Nguyen An Ninh Street. This smart and clean souvenir store includes island specialities, such as bags of tropical almonds (hat bang) that area grown on the enormous old trees lining the town’s streets, local liquor made from ginseng (ruou sam), and fresh honey (mat ong) among other treats. It’s definitely worth a look.
The number of places to stay on the Con Dao Islands has grown significantly over the last couple of years. There are now dozens of mini-hotels in Con Son town, all offering good budget-standard rooms, albeit at mid-range prices. There’s a clutch of mid-range hotels along the town’s seafront, and two very high standard luxury resorts. However, as with all expenses on the Con Dao, room prices are relatively high, and value for money isn’t great. In general, expect to pay at least 30% more than you would on the mainland. But, I think 3-4 days on the islands is well worth the extra cash you’ll spend. All accommodation is on the main island of Con Son. The following hotels in each category are listed in order of my own personal preference.
*Please support this website by using the BOOK HERE links in the hotel listings to reserve your accommodation on the island or by using the search box below. All my reviews are independent and I never receive money in return for writing about a hotel. Thank you.
There are now two very luxurious resorts on Con Son Island: Poulo Condor Boutique and Six Senses:
• Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa [MAP]; $200-$500; [BOOK HERE] Owned by the same people behind Ho Tram Boutique (one of my favourite resorts in Vietnam), Poulo Condor Boutique is the newest of Con Dao’s luxury accommodations. Located at the southern end of the long arcing sands of Vong Beach, Poulo Condor is just a couple of minutes drive from the airport, and the only accommodation on this side of the island. For the time being, the resort has the entire beach to itself. The styling and decor are superb. The theme is French colonial: you’ll recognize the porch arches of the resort’s bungalows from the colonial-era shophouses in the back-streets of Con Son town. Inside, the rooms are very spacious and beautifully appointed, with wooden wardrobes and chests, rattan furniture and painted vases, tiled floors and stone verandas, rugs and lamps, shutters and blinds, expansive outside bathrooms and some rooms have private plunge pools. Other facilities include an attractive infinity pool, spa, large gardens, restaurant and bar. The resort was carefully designed to have minimal impact on the natural surroundings on which it was constructed, which belongs to the national park. This means that the large trees and thick foliage on the beachfront have not been cut down to create sea views. While this might be a disappointment to some guests, it’s worth bearing in mind that many other high-end resorts are not so scrupulous when it comes to the preservation of nature, and Con Dao is a fragile place which needs to be developed sensitively. The downside of this is that the resort doesn’t really have a focus area: the swimming pool is the default gathering point for guests, but the rest of the resort can sometimes feel quite bare, especially if they are only a few guest staying. [CHECK RATES]
• Six Senses Con Dao [MAP]; $400-$2,000; [BOOK HERE] The Six Senses brand has a reputation for atmospheric resorts in superb natural surroundings throughout Southeast Asia, and this one received a lot of media attention in 2011, when ‘Brangelina’ stayed here. The resort consists of contemporary-looking private villas made entirely of wood, built along a lovely, long stretch of sand on Dat Doc Beach. The villas are pretty low-impact (you can hardly see them from the road), very well-made, and all of them have ocean views and private plunge pools, as well as other smart little touches, such as in-room espresso machines. Service is exceptional: staff are incredibly well-trained and very friendly.
Of course, all this luxury comes at a price: the cheapest villas start at around $400 a night, and continue to over $2,000 for large family villas. When you’re paying this amount it’s difficult to determine value for money. When I can afford it, I love staying in luxury resorts, and I have no qualms about paying hundreds of dollars for outstanding accommodation and service in amazing locations. However, as nice as the Six Senses is, its secluded location – over a headland and out of Con Son town – seems, to me at least, to be a disadvantage: there’s no opportunity for evening strolls along the seafront promenade, no spontaneous walks around the lovely old town, and the beach is very exposed. The charms of Con Son town and the bay it fronts are a highlight of staying on the Con Dao Islands, and I think it’d be a shame to miss out on that by staying out of town. However, the whole point of Six Senses resorts is that they are ‘hideaways’, and if you stay here you definitely get a sense of isolation; of being on a remote island in the middle of the ocean. But is it really worth the money, especially now that Poulo Condor offers tasteful luxury for a fraction of the price? [CHECK RATES]
Mid-range hotels and resorts on Con Son Island are around $20-$30 above their ‘real’ value: i.e. what you’d expect to pay if they were on the mainland. But it’s worth it for the location: all of the following mid-range accommodations are either on the beach, on the seafront promenade, or on the shady backstreets of Con Son town.
• Con Dao Resort [MAP]; $70-$100; [BOOK HERE] Right on An Hai Beach with clean, comfortable, but sparse rooms, Con Dao Resort is all about the location and sea views. Pay a little extra for one of the sea view rooms, which have easily the best vistas over the bay of any accommodation on the island (including the luxury options). There’s a pool, tennis court, seafront gardens, and palm-fringed beach. The buffet breakfast is plentiful but a bit on the ‘school dinners’ side. For a few years this resort got negative reports for being ‘run-down’. It has addressed this by building a new wing, in which the rooms are clean, crisp and comfortable, although a bit more expensive than the old wing. The resort is definitely aimed at domestic tour groups rather than foreign visitors, but it’s still bright, airy, and good, solid mid-range accommodation. [CHECK RATES]
• Villa Maison Con Dao Boutique Hotel [MAP]; $70-$80; [BOOK HERE] A fabulous new boutique hotel housed in a French colonial villa in Con Son town, Villa Maison is cosy, stylish, atmospheric, and chic. The reception, lobby, restaurant and bar occupy a beautifully restored one-storey colonial villa leading onto a large courtyard with big tropical trees. It’s a handsome sight. Rooms (of which there are only a few, so book in advance to avoid disappointment) are set off to the left of the main villa. Petite but thoughtfully and tastefully furnished, the decor is bright and fresh: tiled floors and bathrooms, lamps and cushions, floral motifs and plenty of natural light. The only thing Villa Maison lacks is a pool – how nice it would be to have a pretty infinity pool under those large trees in the courtyard. On the other hand, Con Son seafront (which is great for swimming) is just a couple minutes walk away. This is a brilliant addition to the mid-range accommodation on the island. [CHECK RATES]
• Tan Son Nhat Con Dao Resort [MAP]; $60-$80; [BOOK HERE] Formerly the Seatravel Resort, this place is right next to Con Dao Resort, and shares the same great beach location. Large and nicely-made wooden bungalows are set under big trees right on the beach. The resort has recently expanded, adding slightly cheaper bungalows around a pretty vegetable garden. Inside, rooms are spacious if a little empty. There’s an indoor-outdoor restaurant and a good beach bar. Service is O.K but loud music is occasionally played in the dining area. However, once you’re on the patio of your bungalow you forget about the resort’s shortcomings. Although I’ve had mostly positive experiences at Tan Son Nhat Resort, it tends to get lukewarm reviews from other travellers. But, in my opinion, it has gotten a lot better in the last couple of years. [CHECK RATES]
• Saigon Con Dao Resort [MAP]; $60-$80; [BOOK HERE] There are two wings to this resort, located at the centre of the seafront promenade in Con Son town. The old wing is made up of single storey, restored French colonial bungalows; the new wing is a large four-storey building, which seems rather insensitive considering its low-rise neighbours. The rooms in either wing are good but quite plain, as is the resort as a whole. The pool, however, is lovely. Get a sea/pool view room and enjoy the wonderful vistas. The resort was built practically on top of Phu Hai Prison, a rather strange and uncomfortable location: do they advertise ‘prison view’ rooms? Saigon Con Dao is very popular with Vietnamese tour groups and can sometimes be fully booked for weeks. The resort’s main strength is its location on the charming, utterly beautiful seafront promenade. [CHECK RATES]
• Thien Tan Star Hotel [MAP]; $40-$70; [BOOK HERE] This is a fairly new beachfront option. Thien Tan Star is between Con Dao Camping and Tan Son Nhat Resort. Rooms and prices vary but in general rooms are clean (if a little soulless and without any frills) and good value considering the oceanfront location. Next door, the almost identically named Thien Tan Hotel offers cheaper, mustier rooms for $15-$30 – very good value if sharing a room between 2 people and trying to stay on a budget. [CHECK RATES]
• Former ATC Resort [MAP]; With a string of converted 1930s French villas along the seafront promenade, the former ATC Resort is currently under renovation. One hopes that its future incarnation will preserve the colonial-era buildings on its land, and resist the temptation to build a multi-storey monstrosity. It’s a large and beautiful piece of land, at the northern end of the seafront road, with marvellous vistas across Con Son Bay. At the time of writing (April 2018) they were a long way from reopening.
As with the mid-range places, expect to pay around $10 dollars a night more than you’re used to for budget accommodation on Con Son Island. In fact, the budget price bracket here is between $20-$40. However, when you’re sharing the cost with at least one other person, value for money is pretty decent, especially considering that the standard of all the new mini-hotels in Con Son town is quite high.
• Lighthouse Boutique Hotel [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] Newly refurbished, this neat little hotel is on another of Con Son’s quiet backstreets. Bright, clean, friendly and fresh, Lighthouse Boutique is good value, especially for couples. Rooms are smartly (if sparsely) decorated, including colourful tiled bathrooms and wooden touches here and there. This is good, solid flashpacker accommodation. [CHECK RATES]
• Uyen’s House Homestay [MAP]; $10 (dorm) $35 (private room); [BOOK HERE] With its cool, pastel tones, antique-chic decor, and pleasantly young and trendy vide, Uyen’s House has become a favourite selfie location for Vietnamese twenty-somethings. Although relatively small (there are less than a dozen dorm beds and only a few private rooms), Uyen’s House is tastefully and thoughtfully decorated in Instagramable purple tones, with wooden shuttered doors and windows, floral tiles, lamps, and potted plants. The dorm (200,000vnd per person) is very attractive, but often fully booked by young Vietnamese groups; private rooms (700-800,000vnd) are upstairs and nicely appointed, although some don’t have windows. Uyen’s House, like Lighthouse Boutique, is part of the new wave of bouitiquey-yet-affordable mini-hotels on Con Son Island, aimed at young middle-class Vietnamese from the urban centres on the mainland. [CHECK RATES]
• Q Songchi Hotel [MAP]; $30; [BOOK HERE] This new mini-hotel is at the back of Con Son town, on the pleasant, quiet and shady Nguyen Van Linh Street. It’s a colourful place painted purple and white. Rooms are a bit small but continue the purple theme with stripes on the wall. For their price and size, rooms are cozy, well-equipped and thoughtfully appointed. Of the mini-hotels that are popping up all over town, this is one of better ones. It’s good budget value if you’re sharing two to a room. [CHECK RATES]
• Con Dao Camping Hotel [MAP]; $35-$45; [BOOK HERE] The name for this place refers to the style of the rooms here – pyramidal, A-frame bungalows – rather than canvas tents. Apart from Thien Tan Hotel, this is the only relatively cheap accommodation right on the beach. It represents decent value for double occupancy, but if you’re a solo traveller on a budget it’s hard to justify the expense. Rooms are cosy enough if a bit cramped, but you can’t beat the location. There’s a little beach bar, a shady beach garden, and access to the entire sweep of An Hai Beach. However, the bungalows are showing their age (or rather their cheap building materials) and the place feels just a little bit run down these days. [CHECK RATES]
• Red Hotel [MAP]; $30; [BOOK HERE] Clean, simple, and friendly, Red Hotel is many travellers’ go-to mini-hotel on Con Son Island. It doesn’t offer much in style, but it has everything you need from a reasonably priced small hotel: comfortable beds, decent bathrooms, plenty of space, TV, refrigerator, WiFi etc. There are many mini-hotels in the same style as Red these days, including Hoang Ngoc which is next door to Red and an equally solid option. [CHECK RATES]
• Trung Hau Hotel [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] This large hotel at the back of Con Son town is nicely located with good rooms (some with little balconies). It’s walking distance from all the sights in town, including the National Park Headquarters. Tea out front under the shade of trees is lovely. It’s popular with young couples travelling together on a budget. [CHECK RATES]
• Phi Yen Hotel [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] This used to be my go-to place for a cheap trip to the island. However, Phi Yen Hotel has since come under new management and the prices have gone up, but, thankfully, so has the quality. Previously a run-down guest house, Phi Yen has smartened itself up into a decent but plain budget mini-hotel. Rooms and fairly bright and clean, although the renovations of a few years ago are already showing signs of age. But, for the price, its location is fantastic: right on the seafront promenade with easy access to the sea and Con Son’s backstreets. If you’re sharing a room, Phi Yen Hotel is good value for money. [CHECK RATES]
• Sai Gon 68 Hotel [MAP]; $30-$40; [BOOK HERE] A new mini-hotel on the back-streets of Con Son town, Sai Gon 68 is a fairly smart looking place in a cluster of other decent mini-hotels, including Quynh Anh Hotel opposite. These accommodations are all decent places to stay and popular with Vietnamese tour groups. Sai Gon 68 is particularly clean and comfortable. [CHECK RATES]
Other Guest Houses & Mini-Hotels: Dozens of accommodations in the budget price bracket are dotted all over Con Son town and new ones are opening all the time. Apart from the ones listed above, there are several clusters of guest houses and mini-hotels that are worth checking out: either side of Con Dao Market, and another near the seafront at the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Ton Duc Thang streets. The general standard of all these places is pretty good: clean rooms, hot water, friendly owners. They are all a bit overpriced but that’s just how it is on Con Son Island:
Hai Nga Mini Hotel [MAP]; $15-$25 | Tel: 064 363 0308: Basic but clean, the larger rooms sleep up to 7 people, so they are good value for a group of budget travellers.
Anh Dao Hotel [MAP]; $20-$30; [BOOK HERE] A well-run guesthouse with spotless rooms on a quiet street.
Thuy Thanh Hotel [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] Spacious, clean and comfortable rooms in a bustling (for Con Son) area near the market.
Con Dao Guest House [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] Government-run guest house (nhà khách) with plain but clean rooms in a quiet location. Caters mainly to Vietnamese officials and tour groups, but foreign guests are welcome.
Duc Thanh Motel [MAP]; $20-$30; 0919 250 931: Good, new mini-hotel right by the market. Only a few rooms.
Sala Motel [MAP]; $25-$35; [BOOK HERE] A good budget option with plain but clean rooms. The seafront promenade is right in front of it.
Con Son Island Hotel [MAP]; $20-$30; [BOOK HERE] A great location at the beginning of the seafront promenade, rooms are comfortable and clean without many frills.
Thanh Xuan & Thanh Ngoc hotels [MAP]; $20-$30; 0169 246 2751/0918 429 258: Decent budget options on the seafront promenade, although some rooms are dark and a bit run-down.
CAMPING: Camping is possible on Dam Trau Beach in the north of the island, although it’s not really an official setup. If you ask at Làng Đầm Trầu on the beach, they will let you pitch your tent (if you have one) on the sand and use their bathroom facilities. However, they don’t have the authority to let foreign guests stay here, so there’s a slim chance you’ll get moved on if an official comes to inspect. This is the case for ‘wild camping’ everywhere on the island. Most of Con Son Island is part of the national park, so it’s a protected area. Whether camping inland or on a beach there’s always the possibility that, if someone sees you, you’ll be asked to leave. This has happened to me on a couple of occasions, although I’ve been able to camp undisturbed several times too.
FOOD & DRINK:
The food scene on Con Son Island has really improved over the last two years, although it’s still nowhere near as rich and diverse as mainland Vietnam. As the population of Con Son town has grown (thanks to settlers moving here from the mainland), street food vendors have started to pop up, catering to the different palates of a population that now hails from all over Vietnam. There’s also a handful of good seafood restaurants, which cater largely to Vietnamese visitors from big urban centres, eager for some fresh food from the ocean. And, as foreign travellers continue to trickle in, a few places now serve good Western food, not to mention the restaurants attached to the mid and high-end resorts. What’s more, Con Son now has a growing cafe culture and even a few bars.
Con Dao Market Food Vendors [MAP]; 10,000-30,000vnd ($1-$2): Hiding all sorts of delicious breakfast dishes, the food court inside Con Dao Market is a hive of food and activity from around 6.30-9am each morning. It’s a great place to fill up in the mornings, especially if you’re staying at one of the cheaper accommodations that don’t include breakfast. About a dozens vendors dish out classic Vietnamese noodle soups and drinks. Try the bún thịt nướng (a cold noodle salad with grilled lemongrass-scented meat). It’s dirt cheap, very local, and delicious. The earlier you get here the better. The market is also a good place to buy ingredients for a picnic to keep you going during the day while you’re exploring the island. There’s a decent bánh mì (baguette) stall just as you enter the market food court, where you can buy filled baguettes to take with you as picnic food.
Nhat Kieu Hu Tieu Noodles [MAP]; 30,000vnd ($1): Not far from the market, Nhat Kieu is a noodle joint that could be straight from the mainland. Specializing in hủ tiếu nam vang (Cambodia-style rice vermicelli noodle soup), Nhat Kieu is an open-side noodle house on a street corner with low tables and chairs. It’s informal and cheap, and a classic southern Vietnamese breakfast.
Pham Van Dong Park Street Food [MAP]; 10,000-30,000vnd ($1-$2) In the late afternoon, several good places set up stalls on the eastern edge of Pham Van Dong Park (which, incidentally, used to be the French colonial cemetery until just a few years ago). At around 5pm, when the light is low and the temperature cool, the street food vendors begin to serve up bánh xèo (fried savoury pancakes) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls) among other dishes. It’s very cheap, light, fresh, and crisp food: perfect for a snack to tide you over until dinner.
Bun Cha & Pho Noodles [MAP]; 30,000vnd ($1-$2) Right next to the Q Songchi mini-hotel, this is a classic streetside place serving up the Hanoi speciality bún chả (rice noodles and grilled marinated pork patties with a sweet and sour dipping sauce). It’s run by northerners, so this is about as close as you can get to the real thing considering Con Dao is almost as far away from Hanoi as you can get in Vietnam. Come here for breakfast.
Binh Nguyen Shellfish Eatery [MAP]; 30,000-80,000vnd ($1-$4) per dish Offering up all sorts of shells – snails, clams, oysters, scallops, cockles – Binh Nguyen is a streetside quán ốc (shellfish and beer eatery). Attracting a youngish crowd of domestic travellers, Nguyen Binh serves fresh and reasonably priced shells. There are dozens of them to choose from, all cooked in different ways with different sauces (for more about how to order and what to eat at a shellfish eatery like this, take a look at my Shells Guide). This is a good substitute for the higher-priced seafood restaurants.
Nhỏ Ơi Rice Eatery [MAP]; 20,000-60,000vnd ($1-$3) An informal rice eatery of the type you find all over Vietnam, Nhỏ Ơi is a little place where you point at what you want over your rice. There’s a wide selection of dishes, from sauteed vegetables to fish stew, grilled pork cutlets to sweet and sour soup. It’s pleasant, cheap, friendly, and very local. There’s also a string of similar local rice eateries along the slip road on the north side of Nguyen Hue boulevard, which are good for cheap lunches.
Nem Chạo Giò Heo Rút Xương & Grilled Chicken [MAP]; 30,000vnd ($1) Opposite the temporary market (Chợ Tạm) on Pham Van Dong Street, are a couple of places selling nem chạo giò heo rút xương (a delicious arrangement of pork, herbs, and peanuts wrapped in rice paper). Also in this area, a couple of streetside barbecues tempt passersby with grilled meats (chicken, pork, duck, quail) rotating over coals.
Streetfood on Nguyen An Ninh Street [MAP]; 25,000vnd ($1) Opposite the park, several small streetfood eateries line Nguyen An Ninh Street. Ranging from bánh bèo (mini rice flour savoury cakes) to bánh tráng (crispy little grilled ‘pizzas’), these cater to Con Dao locals in need of a snack in the late afternoon. It’s worth dropping by to have a bite.
Thu Tam Mini-Mart [MAP]; The go-to shop on Con Son Island for snacks, such as yogurt, biscuits, soda etc, Thu Tam is as close as you get to a mini-mart. It’s pretty good for stocking up on supplies for a hike. There are one or two other mini-marts around town now, too.
[Back to Food & Drink Contents]
Thanh Huyen Restaurant [MAP]; 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$9) per meal My favourite restaurant for food and atmosphere, Thanh Huyen is 5 minutes out of town by motorbike, on the left after crossing the lake. A big ‘Bia Saigon’ sign marks the entrance: drive down the dirt track and over a rickety wooden bridge until you see a few shacks over a pond. It might not promise much from its ramshackle entrance, but once you settle down in one of the makeshift ‘gazebos’ clustered around ponds, paddies and herb gardens, you’ll start to appreciate the ambience here. The menu is short and exotic, and the food is fresh and delicious. Try chicken with kaffir lime leaf (gà luộc lá chanh), or buffalo hotpot (lẩu trâu), or grilled snakehead fish (cá lóc nướng), surrounded by the restaurant’s herb garden, the placid lotus lake, and the proprietor’s children competing with the cicadas and frogs for audio supremacy. There’s now an English menu, but some of the translations can be hard to understand. It’s especially nice to arrive just before dusk while there’s still some light left to enjoy the surroundings. Bring bug spray so as not to let the mosquitoes ruin a great meal.
Seafood Restaurants: Ớt, Tri Kỷ, Cánh Buồn, & Thu Tâm [MAP]; 100,000-500,000vnd ($4-$22) per kilo This string of seafood restaurants lines the inland side of Nguyen Duc Thuan Street. Specializing in all things from the sea – from crustaceans to mollusks to giant fish – each of these restaurants has long menus and tanks of live seafood. This is the place to come for a seafood banquet. The food is good and fresh (although not quite as good as I’d expect considering their proximity to the ocean, and prices are much higher than on the mainland.) However, portions are large and, on my last visit, there were signs that quality is catching up to mainland standards. What’s more, most of the restaurants have undergone major renovations recently: they’re now nice places to sit, eat, and talk for a long evening. Be prepared to open your wallet if you really want to dine on the biggest, freshest fish here. Ớt is marginally my favourite of the four.
Thu Ba Seafood Restaurant [MAP]; 60,000-500,000vnd ($3-$22) Away from the other seafood restaurants mentioned above, Thu Ba is in Con Son town, not far from the market. A popular place for international travellers to feast on seafood, Thu Ba is a foreigner-friendly restaurant with an English-language menu listing its extensive range of fish, shellfish, and classic Vietnamese dishes. This is good place to start your Con Dao dining exploration, especially if you’re not ready to try more local establishments.
Bar 200 [MAP]; 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$9) Relocated from near the market to the corner of a quiet back-street, Bar 200 is a very strong contender for best Western food on the island. Pizza, pasta, salads, full cooked breakfasts, cocktails, wine, coffee – it’s all here and it’s all good. Prices aren’t bad at all, and they’ll surely be other travellers and/or expats dining here too. (Note that, although the cooked breakfasts are great, there’s no guarantee Bar 200 will be open in the morning, and even when they are, it’s rarely before 10am.)
Infiniti Cafe [MAP]; 50,000-150,000vnd ($2-$6) Not only is this one of the most popular cafes on the island (see below), it also serves very good Western-style dishes, like homemade pizzas, pasta, steak, set breakfasts, and comfort foods such as cheesy fries. Undoubtedly one of the ‘trendiest’ places on the island and a good place to meet other travellers and Con Dao expats. As a rule, everyone likes Infiniti Cafe.
Dê Lang Thang & Tre Con Son [MAP]; 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$9) Two new restaurants right next to each other on Vo Thi Sau Street, both these places are hoping to succeed where others have failed on exactly the same plot of land over the years. Dê Lang Thang specializes in local goat meat dishes (thịt dê). In general, Vietnam does goat extremely well, so it’s definitely worth popping in here one night and ordering a few dishes: try the cà ri dê (goat coconut curry) and the dê hấp tía tô (steamed goat with lemongrass and perilla leaf, if they have it). Next door, Tre Con Son focuses on another Con Dao speciality, chicken. This particularly variety of chicken (gà tre) is quite small, lean, and a bit chewy. It comes grilled or steamed or boiled with many marinades to choose from.
Villa Maison [MAP]; 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$9) In a marvellous, open-sided French-colonial villa, the restaurant at Villa Maison is very atmospheric. The owners try to source as much as possible from the local area and focus of regional dishes, but there are also some European treats, such as cheeses and cold cuts. Food (and wine) is good, but it’s the dining ambience that makes the meal memorable. It’s also a good place for a drink (see below).
Tan Son Nhat Restaurant [MAP]; 80,000-150,000vnd ($3-$7) For a while, this resort’s restaurant was quite popular. Now, however, it’s usually pretty quiet. This is a shame, because the location is fantastic: tables laid out on a wooden deck under big trees near the beach. Live seafood is displayed in an elaborate arrangement of water tanks: shrimp, lobster, fish, and shellfish are all available. The restaurant even grows some of its own produce in the resort’s vegetable and herb garden. The food I’ve had here has never been outstanding, but it’s definitely worth giving it a go. (The beach bar is also nice for a cocktail.)
Six Senses [MAP] & Poulo Condor [MAP]; 200,000-1,000,000vnd ($10-$50) The restaurants at the two most luxurious resorts on the island are both good if you feel the need for a slap-up meal. Six Senses is the better of the two, but Poulo Condor is more affordable. However, you can’t really just drop by for lunch or dinner at either of them: you’ll need to call ahead for a reservation or ask at reception before entering. There are various reasons for this, but I feel it makes the process a bit of a hassle, and in my experience it’s not really worth the effort, especially now that the food scene in Con Son town is growing. A good variety of Vietnamese, Asian and European dishes are served at both.
Coco Restaurant (Con Dao Resort) [MAP] & Poulo Condore Restaurant (Saigon Con Dao Resort) [MAP]; 80,000-200,000vnd ($3-$10) These two restaurants at two of the best mid-range resorts on the island both serve good Vietnamese fare. This is because both these accommodations tend to attract a mainly Vietnamese crowd, and Vietnamese travelling groups are usually quite discerning about the quality of the food they eat. All the classic southern dishes are on the menu, like canh chua cá (sweet and sour fish soup) and rau muống xào tỏi (stir-fried morning glory with garlic) and much more. Although the quality is fine, it’s not great.
Lang Dam Trau [MAP]; 50,000-150,000vnd ($2-$7) Among a cluster of beachside eateries, Lang Dam Trau is a shack-style restaurant on the sands of the beautiful curving Dam Trau Bay. There’s lots of seafood on the menu and prices are pretty decent. This is the perfect place for lunch after a swim.
[Back to Food & Drink Contents]
CAFES & BARS:
There’s a growing cafe culture on Con Son Island, some of which also serve cocktails and beer. For more information about many of the places listed below see my dedicated guide to Cafe & Bar Culture on Con Son Island.
Cafe Infiniti/The Nest [MAP] Firmly established as the go-to cafe on the island, Infiniti is a trendy and likable space with good coffee (Vietnamese and Italian style), cocktails, juices, and a pool table. It’s a great hangout (the new upstairs ‘Nest’ catches the evening breeze) and a good place to meet other travellers and island expats. (Read more about Cafe Infiniti here.)
Bar 200 [MAP] An excellent selection of coffees, wines, cocktails and beers makes Bar 200 a popular haunt for Western travellers and expats. It’s located on the back-streets of Con Son town. (Read more about Bar 200 here.)
Phien Khuc Cafe [MAP] A beautiful little cafe tucked away on the back-streets, Phien Khuc is a classic ‘vestige cafe’ of the kind that’s trendy in cities on mainland Vietnam. Old bric-a-brac, pastel tones, tiled floors, wooden shutters – it’s a cosy place. Interesting teas, juices and smoothies are available. (Read more about Phien Khuc Cafe here.)
Lacasa/Villa Maison [MAP] Both under the same management, Lacasa is a chic, modern cocktail bar near the market, and the bar at Villa Maison is housed in a marvellous converted French colonial villa. However, you may as well disregard Lacasa, because the owners are getting ready to close it and focus on expanding Villa Maison instead. Therefore, in the near future at Villa Maison, you can look forward to loungers in the old stone courtyard under the branches of giant tropical trees, sipping signature cocktails made from island ingredients. (Read more about Lacasa/Villa Maison here.)
Cafe Con Son [MAP] An open-sided cafe in the quiet back-streets, Cafe Con Son serves good coffee and a handful of cocktails. It attracts a local crowd, rather than tourists. (Read more about Cafe Con Son here.)
Nice Cafe [MAP] A pleasant, homey cafe on two levels, with a breezy balcony upstairs looking over the street, Nice Cafe draws a young crowd of Vietnamese tourists and locals. The menu includes popular and refreshing Vietnamese drinks, such as chanh sả (lime and lemongrass), tắc xí muội (kumquat and salted plum), as well as Vietnamese-style iced coffee. (Read more about Nice Cafe here.)
Ba Le Cafe [MAP] A small, unassuming place, Ba Le Cafe has a gentle revolutionary, nationalistic spirit running through it. The walls are decorated with murals of the distinctive-looking Con Dao Market and propaganda posters, and the surfaces are embellished with old sewing machines, carved figurines and enamel cups. Vietnamese-style coffee is very good here, and it attracts a friendly Vietnamese crowd (Read more about Ba Le Cafe here.)
Con Son Cafe [MAP] Not to be confused with Cafe Con Son (see above), Con Son Cafe has the potential to be one of the best cafes in Vietnam. The location alone – on the wonderful seafront promenade in Con Son town – is enough to set it apart from others, but add to that the building – the perfectly proportioned old French customs house – and you have the makings of a fabulous cafe. However, at the time of my last visit (April 2018), the cafe had closed but was due to reopen soon. Let’s hope its new incarnation will do justice to the site. (Read more about Con Son Cafe here.)
Poulo Condor Resort [MAP] & Six Senses [MAP] Both of the two luxury resorts on Con Son Island have bars. The Six Senses bar used to have a great Happy Hour from 4-6pm. Sadly, the management has brought this to an end, and, with cocktails at $15 a glass, it’s difficult to find a reason to visit this exclusive resort if you’re not a guest. (In fact, last I heard, non-guests weren’t even allowed in the bar anymore.) Poulo Condor Resort has a bar by its attractive infinity pool, which is surrounded by lush mountains, but doesn’t have a sea view. Drinks are good (and fairly pricey), making this a decent option for a late afternoon gin and tonic on the way back from Dam Trau Beach. However, non-guests need to inquire at reception before going to the bar: if the resort is particularly busy, you may not be allowed to enter.
Tan Son Nhat Resort & Con Dao Resort [MAP] These two mid-range resorts on An Hai Beach both have oceanfront bars that are open to non-guests. Tan Son Nhat has swings and chairs dotted on a patio under giant tropical almond trees with a selection of cocktails. Con Dao Resort sports a gazebo by the sand in the shade of coconut palms with a short cocktail list.
Uyen’s House [MAP] Popular with young, selfie-taking Vietnamese travellers, Uyen’s House is an attractive, pastel-toned abode opposite the park. Take a seat on the wooden, metal, and plastic furniture under the branch of a frangipani or papaya tree and sip a strong Vietnamese coffee or refreshing juice. (Read more about Uyen’s House here.)
GETTING THERE & AROUND:
Not long ago, the Con Dao Islands could only be reached by military helicopter. These days, there are multiple daily flights from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and weekly flights from Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. There’s also a new, fast, daily ferry connection from Soc Trang in the Mekong Delta, and a slow ferry service from Vung Tau. Cruise ships even make stops at Con Son occasionally. On Con Son Island itself, getting around couldn’t be easier, thanks to good roads, short distances, light traffic, taxis, and scooter rental.
SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:
*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search all transportation options to Con Dao and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.
Incredibly, there now up to 10 flights a day in each direction between the domestic terminal of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat airport and Con Son Island’s Co Ong airport. The operator is VASCO, a branch of Vietnam Airlines, which uses propeller ATR 72 aircraft. Flights leave throughout the day. For those with limited time, the early morning departures from Saigon and the evening departures from Con Son are particularly good, because they allow you to have a full day on the island on both days of travel. However, flights to Con Dao are notoriously expensive and, in some cases, difficult to purchase. The latter is true mostly on weekends and during public holidays, when flights are often completely sold out. Return fares are between $100-$150, which, considering it’s only a 45-minute flight, is a bit steep. Book early to avoid disappointment. Another option, which is convenient if you’re travelling in the Mekong Delta, is the twice daily connection between Can Tho and Con Dao ($120 return). Alternatively, you could buy two one-way tickets: Can Tho to Con Dao and Con Dao to Saigon, for example, thus creating a kind of Mekong Delta-Con Dao-Saigon loop. All flights (and flight combinations) can be easily searched and booked on the Vietnam Airlines website : www.vietnamairlines.com.
There are now two ferry connections between the mainland and Con Son Island: one from Vung Tau, the other from Soc Trang, in the Mekong Delta. The former is long and fairly arduous, the latter is short and fairly easy:
Soc Trang→Con Dao ferry: A new ferry runs between Tran De port, in Soc Trang Province in the Mekong Delta, to Ben Dam port on Con Son Island. The ferry sails at least once daily in both directions (an additional sailing is added on weekends and public holidays). The voyage only takes 2-3 hours depending on sea conditions, and the vessels are modern, fast, and comfortable. Ticket prices are around $15 per person. You can also take your motorbike or bicycle on board. For full details, including ticket prices and schedule, please see my Guide to the Con Dao→Soc Trang Ferry.
Vung Tau→Con Dao ferry: A boat leaves several times a week (one sailing every other day in each direction) from Cat Lo port in the seaside town of Vung Tau, which itself can be easily reached by ferry from Saigon. Departure time (the same in both directions) is 5pm and the voyage takes roughly 12 hours, arriving at dawn. There are some sleeping berths on board and even the coach-style seating cabins are air-conditioned. However, conditions are rather cramped and there’s the distinct odour of previous passengers whose stomachs didn’t take too kindly to the rough seas. There’s only a small selection of drinks and snacks available on board, so it’s a good idea to bring your own. It’s certainly an ‘experience’ if you have the time, but most travellers would be better off flying or taking the Soc Trang ferry (see below) instead. However, by far the most romantic introduction possible to the Con Dao Islands is arriving by boat at dawn in the beautiful surrounds of Ben Dam harbour. Ticket prices are around $10-$15 (one-way) and it’s also possible to take your motorbike or bicycle on board (for an extra fee). Note that boat times and sailings are subject to change or cancellation according to weather conditions. Tickets can be purchased at the either of the ports. Some additional information and contacts for booking tickets can be found here: www.OSCVietnamTravel.com.
ON THE ISLAND:
Walking: Con Son town and seafront promenade are wonderful for strolling around. Everywhere in town can be reached on foot. The town’s beach (An Hai beach) is also within walking distance. There are a number of treks on Con Son Island, some of which can be started from Con Son town, but others you’ll need transport to get to the trailheads: click here for more details about treks.
Bicycle & Motorbike: Cycling is nice as the roads are all but empty and the scenery gorgeous. Bicycles can be hired from some accommodations on the island. However, in my opinion, there’s no point in coming to Con Son Island unless you hire a motorbike (well, a scooter, really). This gives you the freedom to really explore the island: find deserted beaches, go down dirt tracks, and admire the views from the coast roads. Vietnam in general is best seen on a motorbike, and Con Son Island is the perfect place to learn to drive if you don’t already know how. The well-maintained but empty roads give you all the space and time you need to get familiar with driving, although you must still be extremely cautious.
Note that there are only three gas stations on the island: two in Con Son town, the other near Ben Dam port (which is rarely open). These gas stations often close for lunch, so remember to fill up as soon as you get your scooter, and keep an eye on the fuel gauge so as not to run dry on the other side of the island. All three gas stations are marked on my map. Scooters can be hired from most resorts and guesthouses. Prices are around 100,000-150,000vnd ($5-$7) manual/automatic per day. For more about riding a motorbike on Con Son Island click here.
Taxi: There are at least a couple of taxi companies on the island now. Con Son Taxi (02543 908 908) has a modest fleet of cars that are always available to take you into town, or to the beaches around the island, or to/from the airport and ferry port, or to drop off and collect you at the beginning and end of trailheads. Interestingly, there’s a new kind of taxi service in Con Son town that uses electric cars (you can’t miss them: they’re designed to look like classic cars from the turn of the last century) to ferry passengers on short hops from A to B. Call their hotline: 097 422 7085.
Boats: Exploring the outlying islands by boat can be organized through the National Park Headquarters or Con Dao Dive Center. Try to get a group together as this will spread the cost, which is usually between $50-$100 depending on where you’re going. Note that during rough seas boat trips can be cancelled. This is most likely from November to February. For more about boat trips in the Con Dao Islands click here.
WEATHER & WHEN TO GO:
My favourite time to be on the islands is from March to June: the weather is hot and generally dry, and the sea is blue and smooth as glass. Either side of New Year (November to February) is the driest time, but it can be pretty windy: the sea is choppy, lying on the beach is difficult to enjoy with the sand blowing in your face, diving conditions aren’t great, and, if you’re planning to arrive by sea, boats are often forced to cancel. Summer months are hot with calm, clear waters, but there’s always the chance of some heavy monsoon rain. October tends to be the worst month, because the islands are subject to the typhoon winds which blow in from the northeast.
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 love the Con Dao Islands and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here
Eden house and coffee should definitely be included in budget list. Possibly the best place I have ever stayed for the price and service provided.
Yes, thanks. In fact, I was on the Con Dao Islands last week researching a complete update to this guide.
For now, the map is almost 100% updated, but the information is not yet, so please bear that in mind.
How crowded does Con Dao typically get during the end of April/early May holiday season?
It’s difficult to say, but I would expect the Con Dao to be pretty busy for that holiday weekend. I happen to have travelled to the islands today and there are currently quite a lot of domestic visitors here.
Thanks, Tom. Sure want to visit Côn Đảo but imagine it will be very busy this upcoming holiday.
Great blog, thank you! Will be very helpful for our upcoming trip to Con Dao in March this year!
A question on accommodation – we were looking to book the Orson Hotel & Resort – do you know of this one or have any thoughts on it? I know its quite a distance from the main areas, however we don’t mind this and were planning on having motorbikes to get around during the day and for meals out and about.. We just thought the grounds and surrounding area/beach looked great – keen for your thoughts though! Seemed to be good value for money also?
Apologies for my slow reply – I was camping and didn’t have regular internet access.
Yes, that’s a good question. I actually stayed at Orson for several nights just a month ago. The rooms are large and the the big windows and balconies have excellent views of the ocean and/or the mountains. It also has a good swimming pool and a private bay/beach. These are its strong points. The drawbacks are that the buffet breakfast isn’t very good considering the price (although it’s certainly all you need to fill you up, and the Vietnamese food for dinner is good), and there’s a tendency to play loud (bad) music in the public areas, such as the lobby, terrace, restaurant etc. Overall, it was fine for me – but you need to bear in mind that hotel prices on Con Dao are about 30% higher than on the mainland: you get much less at Orson than you would for a similarly priced hotel on the mainland. Make sure you book a room with a sea view because they have balconies – mountain view rooms (about $10-15 cheaper) don’t.
If you have motorbikes (Orson rent those too) then the location isn’t a problem at all. Although one of the charms of the Con Dao Islands is strolling around the town, especially along the seafront.
I hope this helps,
I just came back from Con Dao.
Apart from one windy day, the weather has always been amazing.
I have been staying at Con Dao Garden House, whose owners have been treating me as a son, inviting me to dinners and so. So lovely… I never ended up in touristic restaurant as they always brought me to the local ones. They also have motorbikes, which makes the entire process of moving around much easier.
Snorkeling was great too, with many corals but few fishes. Just go at this location down the road and jump from the rocks: 8.680998, 106.561616. Make sure to go there at MEDIUM tide (with low tide it’s almost impossible swimming as all corals pop out, with high tide you need always to always go 3m to observe the corals).
Great to hear you enjoyed the islands and that you got good weather – it’s now pretty windy and stormy there, so you got lucky 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experience in Con Dao.
I am going to visit the island during TET holiday as well.
BTW can you let me know which agency did you contact for snorkeling?
I’ve checked with Con Dao Dive Center, but they will reopen from march…and some others are no respond…
TIA and best regards.
Thank you for all your very informative posts. We are planning a 10 day family vacation to Southern Vietnam – it is all our first time to the country. We wanted more of a beach holiday and were thinking of doing Con Dao and Phu Quoc … over Christmas and New Years. But it seems from your post that its too windy and sea is rough and choppy at this time in Con Dao? I guess we should skip? Is Phu Quoc the same? Thank you
If you are looking to lie out on the beach and swim in calm seas, then yes Con Dao during Christmas/New Year probably isn’t suitable. But Phu Quoc at that time of year is perfect.
I’ve written lots about Phu Quoc, including beaches and sights, accommodation, and food & drink.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for your reply Tom. I read about sandflies being quite a problem there. I know these pesky little things can make it impossible to even enjoy the beaches! 😓Just wanted to check if all the good beaches in PQ had the problem? Is it all through the year ? we are planning on going end December? It would have just be such a waste travelling so far to not be able to enjoy the beaches! Thank you
In general, the beaches on Phu Quoc do not suffer from sandflies. December is usually a good month to visit Phu Quoc for weather conditions and sea conditions.
Amazing post, very helpful and makes me even more excited to go to Con Dao. We are looking to stay for a little while and work remotely to be able to extend our stay on the island. Im a bit worried however on the wifi/4G possibilities, whats your experience with the internet connection. Would you recommend work remotely on Con Dao to people who would need to be 100% connected in order to work?
It’s difficult to say. I’ve not had any problems with internet connection while on the islands before, but I suppose it could be an issue.
I think perhaps the best thing to do would be to try it for a week and if the connection isn’t stable enough you could move to Phu Quoc Island instead.
I hope this helps,
Your guide was incredibly helpful for our first visit last year – thank you! We wanted to go again in May, and learned that Villa Maison has permanently closed. I’m so sad to hear this – it was one of my favorite hotels in Vietnam. Thought you would like to know. I hope the family is ok.
Oh no, that is a shame. Thank you very much for the update. I hope to visit Con Dao again soon and rewrite this guide.
I live in Danang and am thinking of visiting Con Dao in mid-December. Would either fly in from HCMC or take hi-speed boat from Vũng Tàu. Are these options open during this ongoing Covid 19 situation?
You can certainly fly between Danang and HCM right now, but I don’t know about the boat from Vung Tau to Con Dao. Try checking the Con Dao Express website or calling them. There are also flights between HCM and Con Dao (and there were also direct flights from Danang to Con Dao before Covid on Bamboo Airways – so it’s worth checking that too).
A friend of mine tried to travel to Con Dao three weeks ago (Nov 2021), but the island was only open for package tourists staying at Six Senses. I’m assuming that’s changed now, but you’d need to check with your accommodation first.
Tom, thank you for great article! How do you think is any troubles to stay on the beaches with tent on 2-3 days? And what the cheapest way to get to Soc Trang from BMT city? In addition, is the island “open” for foreign tourists while country close on COVID time (we are already here)?
Yes, Con Dao Islands is still open to foreign tourists.
The cheapest way to get from BMT to Soc Trang would be by bus – you will probably have to change buses in Ho Chi Minh City. You can go to the bus station in BMT to find out more or try searching the route on Baolau.com
I have camped on the islands a few times but that was years ago, and I don’t think you would be able to do it now unless there’s an official campsite there. Con Son Island is small and you will almost certainly draw attention to yourself if you camp. Instead, try one of the many cheap nhà nghỉ guest houses.
Note that there are also now direct fast boats to Con Dao from Vung Tau and Can Tho.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for the quick response! Regarding camping, do you mean that it is prohibited, and there could be problems with the police and fines, or that we just get a lot of attention from the locals?
Both, really. Most of Con Dao is technically a national park so wild camping isn’t generally accepted. However, some people still do it – foreign and Vietnamese. If you did decide to camp and anyone saw you, it would be best to ask for their permission to do so. If you want to camp and are worried about it, you can go to the national park HQ on the island and ask about it first.
Hi Tom, thanks for the awesome article
I’m trying to work out how to get to Con Dao during Tet this year.
It looks like there’s a new fast ferry running from Vung Tau to Con Dao (https://phuquocexpressboat.com/en/tour/vungtau/) but unfortunately it doesn’t take motorbikes.
I can’t find any information about the old VT-CD ferry, but I guess it will have stopped running?
If so, the only way to take a bike to Con Dao would be via Soc Trang, does that sound right?
Yes, unfortunately that’s right: the new Vung Tau-Con Dao fast boat doesn’t take motorbikes. But that’s a good question about the old ferry: I don’t know if that’s still running now.
Yes, you can put your motorbike on the Soc Trang-Con Dao ferry, and there’s also a fast ferry from Can Tho to Con Dao now, however, I’m not sure if motorbikes are allowed on that (it’s also operated by Phu Quoc Express).
Bear in mind that, around Tet, strong winds can often prevent the fast boats from sailing.
I hope this helps,
What great article! Thanks for sharing. Heading to Con Dao in 2 weeks!
That’s great. I hope you enjoy it – might be a bit windy at this time of year.
Really wonderful information and description of the island. We very appreciate the long form and the not-for-sale, aspect as well, so many travel sites seem to be simply long winded advertisements.
I am interested in seeing the island by motorbike on my upcoming trip to the island. However, I am worried that the issuing location of my driver’s license (U.S.A.) will preclude me from riding legally according to the 1949 or 1968 convention – I lose track of from which has which. I have read that my partner’s driver’s license (issued in Poland) falls on the right side of one of these conventions. However, she’s a little hesitant and unconfortable about taking the reins, as she’s never driven one before.
Our homestay offers an affordable motorbike amenity. Without committing you to condone any illegal or illicit behavior, do you have any insight on the perils and pitfalls of riding a motorbike with a driver’s license which isn’t recognized as valid in Vietnam?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but how would a cost/benefit analysis shake out, in your experience, between being safe motorbike drivers and any possible difficult encounters with the authorities? Would the risk be worth it?
Apologies for putting you in any murky ethical territory here. Suppose that sort of thing is hand in glove when it comes to travel though.
Thanks a lot for your thoughts!
Thanks for your message.
If you are only intending to ride a motorbike on Con Dao Island then licenses (whichever one you have) shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a very small island and there’s only really one road (a very beautiful road). If you intend to ride a motorbike on the mainland over further distances then you might want to look into licenses more.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for a very comprehensive guide to Con Dao Islands!
I’m a Swedish retired expat, currently living i Thailand, Koh Chang. I’m looking for another place to stay for a few years ahead and Con Dao attracted my mind. I have booked a visit to the island in late January just to have a first look around. I’m looking for a quiet place and a really simple way of living. Year around weather would not be a problem. May I kindly ask some questions….
1. Are there any opportunities to rent a descent house for longstay (1-2 years) on the island ?
2. Are there anywhere you can extend/renew you visa on the island or do you need to go to HCMC every time ?
3. Can you give me some pros and cons for living as expat on Con Dao ??
4. Are there already some expats I can get together with and have some further talks ??
Thanks in advance
I think there are opportunities to rent places long-term on the Con Dao Islands, but I don’t have any specific information about it.
I don’t think you can extend your visa without leaving the island.
There is a small expat group on the island, mostly people who work for the smarter resorts, such as Six Senses and Poulo Condor. There are a few others, too.
Con Dao is one of the quietest and most attractive places in Vietnam. And for this reason it would be a great place to live for a bit. It is quite small and isolated, but it is also experiencing a tourism boom and there are bound to be some major changes soon. Transport connections are getting better all the time: there are now at least half a dozen flights each day to Saigon, and fast boat connections to Vung Tau, Soc Trang, Can Tho, and apparently Saigon in the near future.
If you spend a week on the island when you visit in January, you should get a good feel for what it’s like and you should be able to meet people easily. But try not to visit during the Tet Lunar New Year holidays, because it will be too busy.
I hope this helps,
Thank you, Tom, for your prompt reply with valuable information !
I will be arriving on January 19 and leaving on January 27, will this be the Tet Lunar Holiday ??
Yes, that is right in the middle of Tet. The holidays this year start on 23 January. The tourists will probably arrive from the 25th.
We are a family with two children aged 11 and 14 who are used to traveling and we are used to planning the trips ourselves. Come across your blog as we looked for something other than the usual guide books. We use your guide to the southern dry season to plan our three-week stay . And make sure we order through your pages, because the job you do is fantastic!
We fly in and out of Saigon. We want to spend the first two weeks experiencing new adventures, learn history/culture and travel. But last week we are looking for the perfect spot for sun, swimming, snorkeling and adventures. We have fallen completely in love with your description of The Con Dao Islands.
It seems like the place has everything we want, but we’re unsure of the weather. What do you think about spending a week there from January 2-8?
Do you have suggestions for an alternate place that can be similar ?
(We are not tempted to travel to Phu Qouc)
I have visited Con Dao in January several times and it’s been fine. However, it’s not the best time of year. You’d need to expect some windy conditions, ruffled seas, especially in the afternoons. As a destination, Con Dao is still fine in January, but as a place to lay on the beach for a week, it might not be.
Other alternatives are the southern islands in the Gulf of Thailand, such as Hon Son, Nam Du, the Pirate Islands. Also, Phu Quoc is still fine as long as you choose your beach and accommodation carefully. I’ve just returned and am in the process of updating my beaches guide here, and I will be publishing a new guide of the east and north coasts of Phu Quoc, which are by far the nicest and least visited parts of the island – so look out for that or if you want you can subscribe here to get a notification of new publications.
I hope this helps,
Your article about Con Dao is very helpful. You’ve mentioned your favorite time of the year to visit the island.
I’m planning a family trip this coming August for 3 days. Most probably Aug 10-12. You think weather wise it should be fine?
Yes, I would think that in general the weather should be OK at that time of year. I’ve visited in August twice before and it was good: calm seas, clear skies in the mornings, then often clouding over with heavy tropical downpours by the afternoon.
Wow Tom this guide goes back to 2012 I see now, though its an up to date version ofcourse. So you explored this island long time ago.
I have read your articles to prepare myself and warm up for my latest
trip to Con Dao, as I often have done with the aid of your site, and it was funny and amazing how much I already knew in advance, thanks to it. Your write ups are such a pleasure to read and make one enthusiastic in advance.
To get there we took the night bus to Soc Trang (my friend booked it but hadnt listened to me that Phuong has buses , at 11 pm, going straight to the port) arrived very early morning, they brought us to the office of the shuttle where we had to make another fair drive down to the Tran De port. Nothing there yet unfortunately as its just brand new and still under construction. Had to wait some hours for the 10,30 boat and all there was were some snack sold from a counter and com tam and a bad coffee on the dirt road, haha.
The way back we went to VT to make it a more diverse adventure. I was nice to take another route back and to also catch some beautiful views from the outer deck of firstly Con Dao and at arrival of VT by sunset. Unfortunately the two times I tried to get on the deck of the Superdong (Soc Trang boat) they send me back in, so barely caught any good view of that voyage.
The Island is as you wrote simply stunning, I cant say it often enough! The sea and coastal roads are pretty much unbeatable and worldclass. All of the beaches and bays were different and great with dazzling views, so peaceful, one should take and enjoy time to take it all in. Nhat beach is indeed one of the most scenic ones. Although, as you said, its sad about the trash scattered around there. And people wont bother about finding a trash can to dispose of it, taking it with them or even cleaning up, like I started doing on all my recent trips since over a year. I have made post on my social media too, to encourage cleaning up, 1 bag (easy to find a littered bag) or more to fill it up and dispose it properly. If everyone would do that we would go a good direction and you give the right example for locals too (I got many good reactions on doing it)
Back to Con Son, nice one about the banh xeo! Me and my Vietnamese friend found them the best (better than the famous Banh Xeo 46A!) Further down the way and after a right on Ng Hue, by the way, there’s also an excellent Bun rieu with crab and cha ca, called Bún riêu, cua bà Hai Khiêm serving in the morning till sold out. My favorite cafe was Con Son cafe at the promenade, coffee with such views is such a pleasure! And I even bumped into the famous VN actor Huu Chau there (you might know him) who was on holiday there for four days as well, nice guy.
Anyway keep up the good work! Saw your new article about Phu Quy island already (also still have to go to Nam Du). Hope to bump into u some day and treat u on a nice meal here in Saigon , and a few beers to wash it away with and cheer with! That would be my contribution to your site then! Haha.
Have a great one. Tim
Great to hear you enjoyed the Con Dao. The islands are probably on the cusp of a massive domestic tourist boom, because there are lots of new fast boat ferry links opening, including a direct service from Saigon, and Can Tho, and Vung Tau (which started a couple of months ago).
Thanks for the tip about the bún riêu – I’ll try it next to I go to the islands.
Amazing that you bumped into Huu Chau. And, yes, I love Con Son Cafe, too.
I hope you enjoy Nam Du Islands. There are lots of other islands to explore too – take a look at my Islands Archive here, which I’ll be adding to again next month.
Just a quick update for your readers
A brand new ferry started operating from Vung Tau to Con Dao as of 14 February 2019
It holds just over 600 passengers and is a double story catareman taking just over 3 hours for the trip.
It operates every day
Departs Vung Tau 730am arrives Con Dao 11am
Departs Con Dao 1pm arrives Vung Tau 4:15pm
There is a promotion 20% discount in February 2019
Passengers over 60 have a further discount.
Ticket prices in February with discount are 528,000 VND each way and 440,000 for the over 60’s each way
There are VIP tickets for 1.2 million VND (what that is I don’t know)
A lot of the hotels you mentioned were booked out…at short notice…and I hope the influx volume this ferry capacity does not spoil your beloved Con Dao.
We have a small group booked next week, so can let you know how the boat ride is, could be still a little windy based on the time of year as you say, and it has been a little windy in Vung Tau the last few days.
Just a side note:
Really like your detailed motorbike ride guides.
A mate and I road scooters from Vung Tau to Hanoi a few weeks ago taking many back roads and your guides were fantastic. Particularly liked the Phong Nha caves area, and the ride to Ha Tinh along the HCM trail
We put the bikes on the train Hanoi to Saigon for 1 million vnd (and fly back) there was no charge at the other end by handlers, but it took quite a few days for the bikes to arrive just prior Tet.
Thank you for the updates.
Yes, I had read about the new fast ferry – it’s very exciting and I look forward to trying it. There’s also a fast ferry due to start operating between Saigon and Con Dao (5 hours, beginning in March). As you say, I hope this won’t inundate the islands.
Please do let me know how your voyage goes.
I hope you enjoy the islands,
Thanks for providing such great information !
Do you know who is the operator of the new Vung Tau ferry and the future one from Saigon and if it is possible to buy tickets online ?
Yes, I actually saw the new Vung Tau-Con Dao ferry this morning from my balcony 🙂
It’s operated by Phu Quoc Express and you should be able to book tickets online – google them and check their website.
The Saigon-Con Dao ferry is due to start in March, but one of their boats on a different route has had technical problems, so I suppose there could be a delay in the launch of the new route.
I hope to review both of these new ferry routes within the coming months.
Great thanks , will be there in April !
really a great article with lots of useful info. txxx 1000. We had thought to visit the island in September. But from your description it sounds like it would likely be very windy and the waters choppy. Could you recommend September at all as a time of year to go there??Cheers Vina
September might be OK. It’s probably just before the really windy season. So the weather might be fine. However, there is the possibility of a typhoon coming in from the east – but you can’t plan for that.
I’ve been twice in late August and the weather was great.
Thanks for all the informations that you share we us ! We are now on Con Dao Island for 1 week. And we would like to know if you know if it’s possible to use a swimming pool of an hotel (with paying of course) by example Poulo Condor ? Because now it’s not really easy to swim in the sea…
Thanks for your help
When I asked that question at Poulo Condor they said it was possible as long as the resort was not busy. However, the price was quite high. I didn’t ask at Con Dao Resort or Saigon Con Dao Resort, but I would guess it’s possible to pay to use their pools and that it’s a lot cheaper than Poulo Condor. I’m quite sure you can’t pay to use the pool at Six Senses.
It’s worth remembering that the sea is often calmest in the mornings – on both sides of the island.
I hope you get a chance to swim 🙂
Thanks for the reply we will ask to thel hôtels. Today the weather is better and we can swim at Damien Trau it’s cool ! We sleep in a New hotel : Hotel De Condor it’s really nice, the family is so cute and for 32€/day for 2 persons with the Breakfast I think that it’s really a good option !
Sorry Dam Trau beach of course ! Also if some of yours readers are vegetarians there is a really good option in town : Chay Con Dao Healthy : good, prices are really ok (around 40 000 VND for the vege pho and others meals) and the woman is really Lively.
Glad you managed to swim.
Thanks for the suggestions – another traveller also just recommended Hotel De Condor to me. And the vegetarian restaurant sounds great – I’ll definitely try it next time I’m on the island.
Thanks so much for this helpful guide! The afternoon ferry does not seem to be available to book on the website. Do you have to book this by turning up on the day?
Yes, I think the regular afternoon ferry is only fairly recent – it used to only run when there was high demand. So I would guess that if it’s not available to book online, you need to try in person or over the phone.
We are planning to be in Con Dao early March. We’ll try booking the afternoon ferry over the phone and will report back here to let you know how it goes! Thanks again for this fantastic guide.
There is a brand new big red catarman double storey takes over 600 passengers started from Vung Tau from February 2019. Takes just 3 hours 15 minutes
VT to CD 730am to 1045am
CD to VT 1pm to 4:15pm
February 2019 20% discounted price is 528,000 dong each way and a 88,000 discount for over 60 years old each way.
Booking office is at the terminal near Ganh Hao 2 restaurant.
We have a small group going next week!
I just arrived in Con Dao, I was surprised to see several Mai Linh taxi waiting at the harbour.
I tried the Mai Linh app on my phone and it worked, the app can be used to book a taxi.
I also tried Grab and Con Dao is not covered bu thir service.
Oh really. I can’t remember Mai Linh being there before; just local taxi firms. A sign of the island’s growing popularity, I guess.
As someone who has covered so much in the way of travel and logistics I am surprised that when I searched “insurance” only this post was listed in the results and it didn’t have anything to do with actual personal insurance.
As a foreigner in based in Vietnam what company or companies do you use for insurance be it general health insurance and/or temporary/permanent travel insurance in or or outside of Vietnam?
Yes, it’s strange that this post came up for travel insurance; I don’t know why that would be.
There are lots of worldwide travel insurance companies out there: many of my friends use World Nomads – you can try checking them out.
Many thanks for writing such a detailed guide for Con Son, for which information are hard to find.
I would like to ask you if there is a possibility to see somewhere in Con Son bioluminesce plankton, like in Koh Rong.
Thank you in advance.
Not that I know of, but it’s worth contacting the the dive centres on Con Son to ask them if they have any information about it.
Thanks Tom for offering this detailed and helpful guide to Con Dao. We followed your recommendations over our 3.5 day trip. I highly recommend the prisons, followed by coffee at Con Son Cafe, overlooking the pier. And visiting the cemetery at night if you can swing it. One additional data point: we stayed at Thien Thanh Star hotel and had a booking mishap (please confirm with them even if you booked online through an aggregator) so got stuck in a fairly dirty, mosquito filled room. The receptionists could not speak English. We also heard that VinGroup recently snapped up Dam Trau beach and the surrounding area, so go visit while you can! I can see why you love the island – I think it’s not just a great place to unwind but also a must-visit historical site for those of us who live in Vietnam.
Good to hear you enjoyed Con Dao. Sorry about the mishap at the hotel. Thanks for the updates – that’s really depressing to hear about VinGroup. Oh, well, I guess it was inevitable.
Thank you very much for this guide, it definitely seems to be the best I have found yet. I will be travelling solo to Con Dao from Can Tho this coming Wednesday. I was wondering if there is any chance of getting dorm accommodation there (I will be there until the Easter weekend so maybe will get busy with locals?). Also I understand that Dive Dive Dive is now closed. I got in touch with Larry who did not feel comfortable recommending an alternative point of contact and/or dive centre. Do you have any tips?I have only dived very few times so looking to do a “try dive” and some snorkelling (the latter probably even by myself).
Many thanks and all the best
You can try Uyen’s House for dorm beds – they’re about 200,000vnd each – book in advance because it’s popular. Or Hai Nga and Sala are also very cheap places to stay. In general, there are now lots of good mini-hotels in Con Son town, but the prices are still higher than the mainland: about $20 a night. Q Song Chi, Red Hotel, and Hong Ngoc are all good for that price. I’m currently updating this guide, and will be focusing on the Accommodation section over the next few days.
For diving, (yes, it is a shame about Larry leaving) you can try Con Dao Dive Centre at Bar 200. I think it’s Gordon who runs it: I didn’t go on a trip with him, but I met other travellers who did and they were happy with the experience.
I hope this helps,
Many thanks, this is helpful. I have just checked and nearly all of the budget accommodation (up to $30 p/n) seems to be fully booked (same with the flights back to HCMC)! I think I am just going to have to take what I get unless it would be OK to have a browse at guesthousea once I get there?
I will book the ferry from Soc Trang from your link shortly and will be in touch with the diving centre at Bar200 once I get there (if I do!). Thank you so much for your help, especially since I was obviously wrong thinking I could just be spontaneuos and last minute about this.
All the best
Yes, you may have trouble getting flights over the weekend – they are often fully booked from Friday through Monday.
It’s worth checking the Windy website was the projected winds for your stay on Con Dao – because if winds are high diving won’t be possible and ferries won’t sail.
If you take a look at this link you’ll see that Q Song Chi, Thuy Thanh, Con Dao Camping and Sala are all available on Wednesday night (they are all decent places to stay for between $20-40 a night)
I was recently on the islands for 2 weeks and although occupancy was quite high I was able to find places to stay every night.
I hope it works out for you,
Great stuff, I managed to book a couple of nights at Q Songchi from your link. Also booked the ferry from Tran De and checked that Windy website, very useful.
Thanks again for all your help.
First off – great website! I’m so happy to have finally found more information on this part of Vietnam as so few people write such detailed pieces. I am looking into the trip from Tran De port to Con Dao islands on the SuperDong boat. I would be travelling at the start of May. I was trying to get more information as to whether I can book the boat in advance? I don’t want to arrive and find out the boat is sold out or we can’t get tickets as we will be on a tight timeline. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
I’ve just published a full guide to taking the ferry from Tran De to Con Dao here.
I hope this helps,
Thank you for this article, it’s very informative.
I will be traveling to Vietnam with my husband to-be for our honeymoon at the end of June.
Despite knowing that it is not the ideal time to visit the islands in the south, we both feel like visiting a picturesque island at the beginning of our trip to relax and de-stress after the wedding.
Is it a good idea to visit Con Dao at the end of June? We were told to not go to Phu Quoc then and were advised to visit Con Dao instead. However, we are still worried that the heavy rain would ruin it for us.
Does it rain all day long? Or is it just a spurt of heavy rain in the late afternoon as it is in other areas? Any Advice?
Thank you very much in advance.
Congratulations on the wedding 🙂
No, it doesn’t rain all the time – unless you get unlucky and your visit happens to coincide with one of the dozen or so annual typhoons. In general, the mornings start nice, sunny and clear, and the clouds bubble up over the course of the afternoon, eventually bursting in a heavy tropical downpour which lasts an hour or two but then clears up. However, you can’t guarantee what the weather conditions will be, especially on Con Dao, which is stuck in the middle of the ocean and therefore exposed to all sorts of winds and weather patterns. I would imagine Phu Quoc is just about OK in early June – I’ve been in May before and it was absolutely fine.
Other relaxing beach areas to consider at that time of year are Quy Nhon, Hoi An, and Nha Trang – you’ll find plenty of places there to while away a few days on the beach, especially if you’re willing to pay a bit more for your honeymoon accommodation.
I hope this helps,
Hey Tom, I’m looking for accommodation for a month starting late April. Any recommendations in where to start?
Forgot to mention that I’m looking for accommodation in con son….
If you’re going to stay for a month I’d suggest taking a look at any Airbnb options that there are in Con Son. Have a quick look on their website to find out what’s available – I’m sure you’ll find something there.
I hope this helps,
Am headed to con dao in the next couple of days aND wondering about the reliability of the atms on the island
The ATMs should be fine on the island, but it’s best to bring cash as well, just in case.
this is Arianna from Italy. First of all I want to thank you for your amazing WebSite, it’s far more usefull than any other guide, and I can clearly see you really love Vietnam.
This will be my fisrt time there and I’m gonna stay in the South for a couple of weeks during Christmas time. I’m a bit worried about sand flies in Con Dao but you didn’t say anything about it in your articles. Then, I also saw that Dive! Dive! Dive! will be closed this yeas, and they had their own repellent…. any advice about it? have you evere had problems?
Thanks in advance for everything, I’ll book as many rooms as I can from your links during my trip just to give you a little help to go on with your extraordinary VietnamCoracle. Bye!
Yes, unfortunately sandflies can be a problem on the Con Dao islands (I thought I’d mentioned it in the guide, but perhaps I forgot). Strong insect repellent seems to work OK, and suncream too. I think on some beaches they’ve also started to spray the areas. The flies seem to be more ‘active’ during the mornings and late afternoons. I’m not sure if there is any real solution to sandflies, but they are isolated to the sandy beaches, particularly the main beach near Con Son town.
Thank you for trying to book your accommodation through my site – it’s a great help to me and the website.
I was just on Con Dao back in May and this article was a fabulous resource in making my plans. Thanks Tom 🙂
I’d love to add to your info my experience with a new hotel and restaurant on the Island, Villa Maison. We didn’t stay there (sadly), but went for a meal based on the recommendation of some of the divers. It was so lovely we went back 3 times during our week in Con Dao! Beautifully cooked and presented meals, on the higher end of the scale as far as offerings on the Island go, but in my opinion, very reasonable prices for the quality presented. The owner was a real gem too. It is a fantastic addition to the Island, offering fine dining right in the middle of town.
Great to hear that you enjoyed the islands.
Thank you for the recommendation – it does sound excellent. I’m planning a trip back to the Con Dao within the next couple of weeks (time permitting), so I will certainly check it out when I’m there.
Thank you very much for this very helpful guide and useful tips! I juste have a few questions: I am working in HCMC and would like to go to Con Dao. But every time we want to go, it is impossible to get plane tickets from the airlines website, they tell us it is all booked (both Vietnam Airlines and VASCO). For example, we want to go there mid-June, and it is impossible to get tickets (and it is not the first time). Did you face the same issue? Do you know how much in advance we should book? Can we get the tickets directly from the airlines or do we have to book through a tour operator (and if yes, which one?) Sorry, it is a lot of questions… But I am looking forward to hearing back from you 🙂 Thank you very much in advance for your assistance!
Yes, I’m afraid that is a common experience when trying to book flights to Con Dao. Fortunately, the flights are rarely fully booked in reality, and Larry from Dive, Dive, Dive on Con Dao has provided advice for travellers who are finding it difficult to get flights. Here is what he suggests you do:
Plane tickets are subject to scam between Vietnam Airlines staff and local travel agents, the internet will often tell you flights are booked solid for months in advance. This is rarely the case and the planes are only full near national holidays. If you are in Vietnam, contact a local travel agent. If that does not work, I now refer you directly to a local travel agent, Ms.Van. She will need a copy of the picture page of your passport to insure your names are spelled correctly. She will need a list of flights, by date, number and time that are acceptable to you. Both arrival and departure. Her ability to answer specific questions about airline policy is limited, as she is not an official agent, but has access directly to booking central office at VN airlines. If you have questions beyond basics you will need to refer back to the Vn airlines website for things she cannot help with.
Contact her at: email@example.com
I hope this helps,
Wow, this is an amazing detailed guide to Con Dao. I was there last February (staying with a friend is a local teacher) and this place instantly became my favorite destination in Vietnam. I don’t know how long you stayed on the island to write this guide but I’m really impressed. Great job!
Thanks, it’s good to hear that you enjoyed your stay on the islands.
I go back to Con Dao every year to update this guide – I love it there too 🙂
Dear Tom, we found your website when traveling by motorbike and felt very thankful about your wonderful iterinaries (although inline GMaps sometimes crashed our mobile browsers).
Now again, as we’re staying in Con Son, we get inspired by your articles. Thank sou so much!!
For your information: seems old Con Dao Museum is closed for restoration these day.
Thanks. It’s great to hear that you found my guides useful and that you are enjoying Con Dao now too. Thanks for the update about the museum – I hope to visit again soon too.
Thanks so much for this post, probably the most useful resource for the islands I have found. We had a great few days on Con Son last month and possibly would have never heard of the islands if it wasn’t for you, certainly no other traveller we mentioned them to had any idea about them, and while we were there, there was only a handful of non Vietnamese tourists aside from us. After visiting Phu Quoc for the second time a few years back and being disappointed with how it had developed since my first visit, the Con Dao islands were a breath of fresh air.
It’s great to hear that you enjoyed Con Dao. As you say, it’s very different to Phu Quoc. For me, Con Dao is one of those places that hurts when you leave! 🙂
I hope you get the chance to back again.
Liz and family
Hi , really enjoyed reading your article, information very helpful and clear. I am thinking of visiting the Island in December/ Christmas this year and am travelling with three children under 7!!.
Do you think you can still swim even though the seas can be more choppy at this time of year and when you say it can be windy, are you unable to sunbath in December???
Yes, the weather can be windy and the sea choppy or, at times, rough. But you’ll still have sunshine and warmth too. Sunbathing and swimming is still possible. I’ve visited the islands in December/January many times and always enjoyed it. But, of course, there is always the chance that you’ll get unlucky and arrive during a bad spell that could last a few days. Unfortunately, that’s just a chance you’ll have to take if visiting Con Dao at that time of year. If you want guaranteed good weather and calm waters then Phu Quoc is your best bet during the Christmas holidays. But it’s a different place compared to Con Dao.
I don’t have children, but I would imagine they’d love either of the islands.
It might be worth contacting Larry from Dive,Dive,Dive (see above) for some more details about weather etc.
May I ask that, if you ever use Agoda to book your hotels (in Vietnam or anywhere in the world) you can support my website by starting your hotel search from this link – if you end up making a booking then I receive a small commission, but it goes a long way to keep this blog going 🙂
I hope this helps,
I am from Bulgaria and I intend to visit Vietnam in May this year with a girl friend of mine. I would like to thank you for all the information you share, it is definitely very helpful . We will arrive from Cambodia and we have not yet made out choice between Con Dao or Phu Quock. You are describing Con Dao as a beautiful ,wild island and there are not so many left any more in the world, so it attracted our attention very much. We are not able though to find out how we can book a flight from Ho Chi Minh to the island. And do you recommend to book a room in advance ?
Yes, Con Dao is still a wild and beautiful island. If you are having difficulty choosing between Con Dao and Phu Quoc have a look a my guide comparing the two islands here.
You can book flights to Con Dao or Phu Quoc directly through the Vietnam Airlines website: there is a link to Vietnam Airlines in my Con Dao Islands guide here or in my guide comparing Con Dao and Phu Quoc here.
Yes, it’s a good idea to book your accommodation in advance on either Con Dao or Phu Quoc: you can find my recommendations of hotels on Con Dao here, and some places to stay on Phu Quoc are mentioned in my guide to Phu Quoc’s beaches here.
I’ve also written a guide about how to visit the Con Dao Islands on a budget here.
I hope this helps,
Lovely shots – and inclusion of some history. Well done!
Thank’s Rex, glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks so much for this blog, it’s so helpful 🙂 I have a queston though, I’m trying to find the days and time of departure of the boat to Con Dao, but the website that you give is not updated and the email addresss doesn’t work… Do you have any idea where I can find these?
Thank you 🙂
Yes, the website and schedule is famously unreliable. Try contacting Larry from Dive, Dive, Dive! and asking for more information about the boat (although he’s not a fan of taking the boat, I’m sure he’ll help you out getting the right info :-)).
Thanks so much, Tom! Hey do you think I could find any souvenir post cards for sale on the island? I can’t find any thus far.
Good question! I don’t think I’ve ever seen any postcards on Con Dao Islands. But if anyone knows it’ll be Larry at the Dive, Dive, Dive shop on Nguyen Hue Street.
Wow, incredibly helpful. Thanks for all of the tips. Is it easy to find a mini mart to get water and beers in Con Son? Also it is easy to find chairs and parasols in Con Dao similarly to the ease in Phu Quoc?
Yes, there are local shops around the market area.
There are chairs and parasols at a few of the resorts like Con Dao Resort, Con Dao Cabanas and Seatravel.
Wow, mate. All the work you’ve done (traveling, writing, photos) are amazing. We are in Con Dao now and when we read your blog, we felt like we are living through what you’ve written. All the detailed information and personal accounts are very useful. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Keep up the good work. You are doing a massive favour to independent travelers. More power to you mate!
Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed reading. I hope you like Con Dao as much as I do 🙂 Have a great time.
I’m so glad I stumbled upon your website and I just have to drop you a word.
I really love your article, it’s really good writing and there’s just so much information!
I’m currently exploring Vietnam (off and on too, due to work etc), though mostly in HCMC.
I think you’re going to be a very resourceful guide for my trips.
Awesome job, I just must say that again!
and HELLO! 🙂
Thanks! I hope that your exploration (and work) in Vietnam is fun, fruitful and fulfilling 🙂
Hi Tom, thanks for this great post! I’ll be visiting Con Dao in January/February next year and I’m sure this guide will come in handy. Con Dao has been on my bucket list for quite some time now.
Great! I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to have a look at my other Con Dao posts here too 🙂
Con Dao Island is a wonderful vacation spot, I have read alot about it and plan to visit next year, hopefully of-course.
I love swimming and the waters look so tempting, great pictures by the way.
Hi, I just wanted to thank you for your amazing work, I live in Saigon and I think Vietnam Coracle is by far the best website about traveling in Vietnam. Great work!
Thanks, Eric! 🙂
First I would like to thank you for noting our business in this, the first well written and up to date and informative article I have seen on Con Dao.
I am writing to ask you if I may link to it from my website. Is that okay ?
Also to update the information a bit.
Phi Yen Hotel has closed. Vung Tau has taken the property back into their possession.
If you would like I will be happy to go through all of the article and make any updates as required to keep it current.
Thanks and best regards
Dive! Dive! Dive!
Con Dao Vietnam.
Please do note the exceptional reviews we have and continue to generate on trip advisor.
You can be sure we are a reliable and trusted source of information about Con Dao.
Con Dao Seatravel Resort threatened clients for cancelling their booking – We did have to call the police for help!
We booked 3 nights at this resort through phone and received a confirmation email in which no deposits required, no booking cancellation policy informed at the price of 1,785,000 VND per nite ($85). We arrived at 9am and the first thing they asked for were our ID and passport. It was raining very hard that morning and we saw water everywhere on the restaurant’s floor, near the seafood tanks there was a bucket placed on the floor to store water pouring through the roof. 30 min later they took us to our room and we were very disappointed…The bungalow smelled musty. The toilet was gross. There was no grass on the yard in front of our bungalow but dry leaves and mud (unlike in the photos on their website). The sea view from our room was blocked by some bushes…Then we told them that we would stay for 1 nite only but they asked us to pay 5,355,000 VND for 3 nites. Otherwise we cannot take our ID and passport back! We offered to pay for 2 nites and check out the next morning but they insisted us paying for 3 nites. As it was impossible to communicate with them to reach an agreement, in the evening of the same day when the rained stopped, we went to see the police to report the problem and changed our plane tickets and flew back to Saigon the next day…
Beautiful! How’s things out East, Tom?
Things are good – you should come out here sometime!
Hi Tom, Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and informative article. It is a very helpful guide for people like me who always love to discover non-touristy destination. The bike trip is always something very special. I will definitely try this! I am looking forward to reading more new article like this from you soon!
I really enjoyed your article – I just moved to the island and would love to have more detailed directions on how to find ‘Quán Ăn Bình Dân.’ I went hunting yesterday but couldn’t spot it. Thanks!
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Unfortunately I don’t have a phone number or exact address for the Quán Ăn Bình Dân, but if you click on the link to Google Maps in my article you’ll find a marker where it is. Or just click here: Either go on Hoàng Phi Yến Street (if you’re coming from the direction of the beach) and then it’s on your left just about 50 metres after going over the Lotus Lake. Or (if you’re coming from the direction of the town) go to the junction of Nguyễn Văn Linh, Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, and Hoàng Phi Yến streets – then continue on Hoàng Phi Yến Street for 100-200 metres and it’s on your right. As I mentioned in the article, it’s not exactly a grand entrance, but you should be able to find it. Good luck and let me know what you think of it!
An astoundingly comprehensive and informative write-up on the island. Keep up the good work!
woah!! an amazing ft. meaningful review. Luv it! Thanxxx Tom 🙂