The Con Dao archipelago lies in the South China Sea, about 185 kilometers from the town of Vung Tau. It consists of the main island Con Son, where Cỏ Ong airport is, and the main town, also called Con Dao, as well as 15 other small islands and even smaller islets. The main livelihood of the islands’ 5,000 inhabitants is fishing and agriculture. However, tourism is becoming increasingly important. These islands are forested and mountainous. The highest point is at 577 meters.
Our flight from Ho Chi Minh City took us an hour. The small plane we boarded was not very full. We landed in the pouring rain, which soon stopped. A minibus picked us up from the airport to the hotel we booked for a two-night stay. The transportation was part of the hotel’s service to their guests. It took about 15 kilometers to get there, but the long drive gave us the opportunity to see the island’s scenic beauty which we already admired the very first time we saw it.
The “Saigon Con Dao Resort” is like almost all of the very few hotels in Con Dao Island. It consists of a bungalow complex and several smaller rooms inside two smaller buildings overlooking the sea. You can rent snorkeling gears (50,000 VNĐ) and motorbikes to explore the island (150,000 VNĐ). Boat trips can also be arranged. Due to the bad weather we unfortunately missed the trip to the island of Bảy Canh, where the most beautiful beaches are located.
Since we had to wait until 1 p.m. to check in our room, we spent the two hours taking our first swim in the gloriously warm sea and having some lunch. After that, we took a motorbike to explore the island. There isn’t much to see in the Con Dao township. In the town there are only a few buildings, which are no higher than two floors. The offered products at the market were, however, surprisingly good.
The main attraction of the island is of course the almost untouched nature. Part of the only paved road leads directly along the coast. The scenic road offers beautiful views of small deserted beaches, rocky coastline, small neighboring islands and fishing boats. Constantly interrupted by short and longer rain showers, our tour lasted the whole afternoon. At the end of the day we went to the beach where there was no one else but us and the ocean waves. A night life like in Vung Tau and other resorts is still unknown on Con Dao.
We found ourselves heading for the waters again on Saturday even before we had our breakfast. Then we went on a half-day tour to the Con Dao National Park (Vườn quốc gia Côn Đảo) with other guests. The park occupies about 80 percent of the surface of the Con Son Island. Together with its surrounding sea, the park is characterized by a unique ecosystem. It is considered the home of many species of corals and turtles. The park is strictly protected and may only be entered with a guide. There are attempts to declare the park a UNESCO World Heritage. The trail in the middle of the rainy season went fairly moist and some areas became inaccessible. The drier months, from December to April, might be a better time to go.
After lunch, a tour to the infamous prison of Con Son was on our agenda. The prison was built by the French, and from 1954 to 1975, the South Vietnamese government used the facility to lock up unpopular regime opponents. These concentration camps were believed to hold a total of 20,000 people.
The rest of the day and the evening we spent on swimming, snorkeling and lazing around at a “private beach” before the rain prompted us to go back into our hotel room. Unfortunately, we realized the next morning that we only have a few hours left on the beautiful island. So we went out to enjoy the sun and swim again in the beautifully clear and clean water before going back to the hotel for breakfast. Then we had to enter the minibus taking us to the airport, where we got just in time, as our flight to Ho Chi Minh City started a little after 11 a.m.
We intend to come down and visit the island again in the next few years and stay a few days longer. It can only be hoped that its natural beauty won’t be sacrificed to mass tourism. The first luxury resort is, unfortunately, already under construction and will open at the end of the year. The Evason Hideaway & Six Senses Spa will be located on a roughly 13-acre site with a one-kilometer long beach. There are over 50 houses to be built there with several rooms, a gourmet restaurant, spa and fitness center. Hopefully, this project remains the only one in this category.