Con Dao is the name given to an archipelago around 100 miles off the coast of mainland Vietnam, in the South China Sea. The group is centered around the main island of Con Son. These islands were once part of the Khmer Empire, falling to the Vietnamese as late as the 17th century. Until recently they were largely undeveloped, save for a number of times they were put to use as prison camps during times of war. The remaining prisoners and guards make up the population of just 5,000, and now appear to have buried their differences in favor of a peaceful life.
A peaceful life is exactly what you could expect, too, if you spend any length of time in Con Dao. This is perhaps the quietest part of Vietnam, with its untouched tropical beaches and spectacular wildlife. Nevertheless, tourist have started to arrive, partly to enjoy the beaches in peace, and to observe the turtle colonies here.
Visitors usually arrive by air, with a regular service from Ho Chi Minh City, run by Vietnam Airlines. There is also a ferry which departs from the port at Vung Tau and takes around 12 hours. Con Son itself is quite small, and it is possible to explore the island on foot. However, due to the mountainous terrain and lack of shade, it’s more advisable to rent a motorbike to avoid fatigue.
All of the beaches genuinely look like something from a picture postcard. The beach nearest to the port is An Hai Beach, and here you’ll be close enough to a group of hotels and restaurants if you are worried about getting hungry. It is quite possible that the other beaches will have very few, if any people, there, so you may very well have a pristine white sand tropical beach to yourself. The cleanest of all the beaches tends to be Dat Dong Beach. There is also a resort here where you can find food and something to drink. Snorkeling and diving are popular on the islands and you will be able to rent kit and perhaps even an instructor by visiting one of the many small shops, or asking at a resort.
Aside from the beaches, there are other interesting things to do in Con Dao. Due to the role the prison camps played in Vietnamese history, the island’s cemetery is a popular place to visit for Vietnamese nationals. There is also a shrine to Vo Thi Sau – a Vietnamese schoolgirl who took up arms against the French occupiers, and who was martyred in 1952. Visit on an evening and you will be able to observe the burning of incense and the offering of prayers for her soul.
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