Con Dao islands, Vietnam's top secluded attraction

Con Dao, an archipelago in southern Vietnam comprising 16 pristine islands, boasts a diversified marine ecosystem and rich history.

Con Dao is blessed with 16 lush tropical islands and home to some of the most beautiful beaches and coral reefs in the country.

Located in Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, Con Dao used to be known as “hell on earth”. Before 1975, it formed the biggest prison in Indochina, run by French colonists and later by American troops in the Vietnam War.

Today, Con Dao is a tourist attraction, with white sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. Here is a guide to discovering the archipelago.

When to visit

The best time to visit Con Dao is from March to September, when the ocean is quiet and the wind weak, which eases transportation. Even in the rainy season (May-October), downpours here are pretty gentle, lasting for a mere hour in the afternoon. In the morning, the weather is sunny with clear skies, suitable for diving and photography. Turtle breeding season occurs from July to September.

How to get there

Visiting Con Dao is not as difficult as in the past, now served by both air and sea. Flying from Ho Chi Minh City only takes 50 minutes and costs from VND1.5 million to VND2.5 million ($65 - 108). From Con Dao Airport, you can take a taxi downtown for about VND280,000.

A cheaper option would be going by ferry. Visitors can even take their motorbikes and bicycles along. From HCMC, you can take a two-hour bus ride to Vung Tau for VND90,000. It’s preferable you take the bus early in the morning to catch the first ferry of the day at 8 a.m.

From Vung Tau, you can take a high speed boat from Cau Da Port to Con Dao, which will take you 4.5 hours and cost VND660,000. If you want to spend more time on the sea, choose a 12-hour trip on a bigger ferry for VND400,000 with bed included.

Accommodation and transportation

Taxi is a great way to move round the islands, but are quite expensive. Instead, visitors can rent a motorbike for VND100,000 to VND150,000 a day. 

The cheapest means of transport locally is by bicycle. You can rent one for VND30,000 to VND50,000 a day. The expensive part is exploring local coral reef by kayak, which could cost VND2 -5 million for a group of six to 20 people.

There are many accommodation choices, from motels, homestays, hotels, to high-end resorts. Prices range from VND100,000 to a couple of millions VND. Dozens of mini-hotels dot Con Son Town, all offering good budget-standard rooms. Staying in the center of Con Dao is recommended because it helps moving from one place to another.

Where to go

Hon Bay Canh – Hon Tai – Hon Tre Lon – Hon Tre Nho – Hon Ba

These small islands lie on a marine eco-tourism route skirting coral reefs and mangrove forests. In the right season, you could watch turtles lay their eggs or experience baby turtles returning to sea. 

Dam Trau Beach

One of the most loved local beaches is crescent-shaped Dam Trau, boasting tranquil waters and yellow sand. Spend your day here swimming in the clear ocean, then drinking cocktails along the seafront promenade.

Tau Be Cape

Located between the airport and town, surrounded by vertical cliffs forming an arc embracing the sea, the cape is an epic spot from which to view the sunrise over Con Dao.

An Hai Beach, Cau Tau Beach

These white sandy, quiet beaches are located right in the center of big Con Dao Island, inhabited by scores of local households.

Nhat Beach and Shark Cape

Many tourists stop here to take photos of the road curving around the mountain, skirting the clear blue sea.

Dam Tre Bay

Located in the north of the island, Dam Tre Bay offers a natural, windy landscape, surrounded by mangrove forests. Visitors can watch canaries in breeding season and many other marine species. On the way, why not enjoy beautiful views of Con Son Bay, Lo Voi Beach, Dat Doc Beach, Chim Chim Cape and Dong Bac Bay.

Ong Dung and Nui Chua primeval forests

From Con Dao, go west and trek about an hour through the primitive forest. In the end, it will lead you to a beach. Also explore Con Dao National Park for VND60,000 per person.

Ma Thien Lanh Bridge and 914 Bridge

These bridges, now popular tourist attractions, are historical monuments built by soldiers.

Con Dao Museum

In the past it was the residence and working place of 53 island lords for 113 years. The relic area today has become a place for displaying materials and items with historical value to attract tourists. Admission price is VND20,000.

Con Dao Prison

The prison system remains nearly intact and divided into many cells and camps, including Phu Hai and the "tiger cage", dotted with statues of tortured prisoners. Hire a guide to learn information on the area for VND20,000 per person.

Hang Duong Cemetery

Here lie the graves of over 2,000 martyrs, along with the tomb of national war hero Vo Thi Sau. Visitors often burn incense here to honor those fallen in war.

Nui Mot Temple

Located in the center of the island, Nui Mot is considered one of the most beautiful temples in Vietnam. Situated on the mountain, visitors standing in the yard can take in the entire view of the ocean, residential areas and An Hai lotus lake.

An Hai Lake

An Hai is the second largest freshwater body on the island (the largest being Quang Trung Lake), with Hoang Phi Yen road bent around it. In summer, lotus blossoms tickle the lake pink, attracting many ardent photographers.

Pearl extraction 

Visitors can learn more about pearl extraction at various local farms and buy related products.

What to eat

Like other islands, Con Dao's specialty is seafood. Fresh seafood purchased at Ben Dam Port is considered the cheapest by locals and many tourists.

Floating rafts offer a meal of grilled seafood for an average price of VND200,000 to VND500,000 per person, with an extra cost of VND10,000 - 30,000 to reach each vessel.

Other local dishes include rice, porridge, crab vermicelli, and Vietnamese pancakes for around VND15,000.


Con Dao specialties you should try are oyster sauce, fish sauce, cone snail, giant snail, red lobster, moon crab, red grouper, shark salad, and a variance of fish.

You can buy these delicacies at Con Dao Market. Tropical-almond tree seeds are popular souvenirs. Roasted seeds are seasoned with sugar and salt, creating a crunchy texture and fragrant smell.


Visitors should book tickets a month or more in advance since the cheap ones sell out quickly. It is advised to follow boat schedules updated online since departures may be affected by bad weather. Although the sea is usually calm, you should carry medicine to keep nausea at bay.

The center of the island is still deserted with few utilities. Therefore, visitors should bring along medicine, cash, and personal necessities. There are very few petrol stations on the island, so pay attention to your petrol tank if you intend to use a motorbike.

Visitors also need to bring a light jacket because during the day the weather can turn very sunny, but it gets slightly cold at night.

If you want to visit cemeteries and temples, dressing politely is a must.

Story by Tuan Hoang, Tam Linh 

Photos by Cao Ly, Tam Linh, Ngo Tran Hai An

By Hoang Nguyen