Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao Islands are one of the star attractions in Vietnam. Long the Devil’s Island of Indochina, the preserve of political prisoners and undesirables, this place is now turning heads thanks to its striking natural beauty.
Some interesting information about Con Dao Islands that might impress you
Con Son, the largest of this chain of 15 islands and islets, is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in thick forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring empty coastal roads and deserted beaches, there are some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities such as the black giant squirrel and the endemic bow-fingered gecko.
Although it seems something of an island paradise, Con Son was once hell on earth for the thousands of prisoners who languished in confinement here in no less than a dozen jails during French rule and the American-backed regime.
Roughly 80% of the land area in the island chain is part of Con Dao National Park, which protects Vietnam’s most important sea-turtle nesting grounds. For the past decade, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has been working with local park rangers on a long-term monitoring program.
During nesting season (May to November) the park sets up ranger stations to rescue threatened nests and move them to the safe haven of hatcheries. Other interesting sea life around Con Dao includes the dugong, a rare marine mammal in the same family as the manatee.\r\nMany visitors to Con Son are package-tour groups of former VC soldiers who were imprisoned on the island. The Vietnamese government subsidises these jaunts as a show of gratitude for their sacrifice.
How to come Con Dao?
Con Dao Airport, Flights operated by VASCO (Vietnam Airlines) may be booked at Vietnam Airlines offices or through most tour operators in Saigon. It may be better to book through an official Vietnam Airlines office or through their official website to avoid complications or scams.
If you encounter difficulties getting tickets, do not give up. Despite what the writer above says, you will frequently find tickets available ONLY at local travel agents in Vietnam. Vasco website will say the flights are booked out months in advance. this is the scam. They are directing you to travel agents who split the commissions with the Vasco booking agents.
There is an overnight ferry from Vung Tau Port (not the city center, ask to be dropped off at 1007 D 30/4 and it’s a five minute walk from the main street) which takes around 12 hours and leaves at 5pm. The boat from Vung Tau only leaves on certain days and information on dates of departure is hard to obtain although when last checked, ferries were running daily when the seas are generally calm (March to July).
Getting around Con Dao Island
On Foot Con Son Village is small, flat and easily traversed on foot. Because of the intense sun and very little shade on the streets walking is best left for the morning or evening.
Motorbikes can be easily rented and there is relatively little traffic. There has been an enormous increase in the number of motorbikes for rent, better deals are often found outside of hotels, as the hotels mark up the same bikes you can hire locally.
There is only one petrol station on the island and it has very limited hours 7-10:30 a.m. and 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Be sure to get a bike with a full tank of gas as there is none available for sale on the streets as in the rest of Vietnam. They are fun to ride but a drag to push around.
Minibus The hotels share a minibus system that goes between the town and the airport. You can use this to go to the beach by the airport.
Xe Om Motorbike taxis are easily found in Con Son Village. As in all of Vietnam most of these guys are hard working and honest, but there are a few scoundrels.
Taxis are becoming more plentiful on Con Dao. They are generally more expensive than the vans and buses, and presently there are no English speaking drivers. Write down your destination before you choose to use their service. Charges are by destination, not by meter. You can also rent a car for half or full day trips.
Bicycles are a great way to get around the town, as it is small and flat. However, in every direction outside of town the roads become extremely mountainous. It’s not impossible, but unless you’re an experienced biker you’ll probably tire yourself out getting anywhere interesting.
What you can enjoy and do in Con Dao
You’ll get the most out of Con Son Island by wandering and exploring independently on foot or on two wheels. The town and the island’s rural roads will reveal enough of their charm and beauty to keep you going for a few days: beaches, buildings, forests, markets and mountains.
There are some short treks you can do on your own. One, in the hills behind Con Son town (map), takes you past the remains of Ma Thien Lanh Bridge (built by prisoners) and through the jungle to a rocky cove, called Bai Ong Dung, on the north side of the island.
You can make a loop by coming back on the path through So Ray fruit plantation. Dive, Dive, Dive! offers a useful map of this and other treks. Some of the longer treks require a guide, which can be arranged at National Park Headquarters. Con Dao offers by far the best diving in Vietnam. Dive, Dive, Dive!
Then, of course, there are the prisons. There are a few on the island (map), all within walking distance of town. Strangely, their names in Vietnamese all translate rather romantically; ‘Rich Mountain’ and ‘Rich Ocean’, for example.
All of them are open to the public. You can purchase tickets at the entrances. Some of the prisons are grey concrete blocks, others look less threatening – resembling a French colonial seminary rather than a prison. But, one look inside the cells at the horrific, green, corpse-like mannequins brings home the reality of conditions here.
Something about Con Dao’s Weather you should know
All of the weather forecasts that are available on the internet are simply wrong.\r\nIt appears that due to a lack of resources and the very unique location of Con Dao at the confluence of two major ocean currents that an accurate weather forecast cannot be made. It rains only in July, August and early September.
The rain is primarily at night and can be heavy but not tropical monsoon downpour type. Despite every website saying that there will be a 30% chance of thunderstorms every single day, there have been 6 thunderstorms in Con Dao Town in the last 18 months. Rain showers in the daytime are generally brief. (About 30 minutes)\r\nIt is a little cloudy 95% of the time, and always breezy. Maximum temperatures are about 31* in the day and minimums are about 27* at night. From November to late January the winds are strong from the east, and can close the harbor for a few days at a time.
This will not affect you on land, but it may severely affect snorkeling/diving options (since visibility and access at different sites are highly dependent on the wind). Flights are commonly subject to delays during this period, but 99% of the time you will be on the island on the day you are scheduled, you may be a few hours late.
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