About Con Dao
Con Dao is not only famous for its prison system, which includes many camps such as Phú Hải, Phú Tường, and Phú Bình, known for its harsh confinement methods like tiger cages and cow barns, but it’s also renowned for its natural beauty and pristine beaches. Visitors can explore the diversity of the primeval forest at Ông Đụng – Sở Rẫy, experience the richness of nature while fishing at Cau Island, go squid fishing at Cape Tàu, be mesmerized by the colorful coral reefs at Hòn Tre Island, witness nesting turtles on Bảy Canh or Cau Island at night.
Located in the southeast of the East Sea (Vietnam), Con Dao Island is situated 97 nautical miles from Vung Tau, 54 nautical miles from Song Hau (Can Tho city), and 120 nautical miles from Ho Chi Minh City. This archipelago consists of 16 islands with a total area of 76 square kilometers, with the largest island being Con Son, covering an area of 51 square kilometers.
According to Vietnamese history, Con Dao was known as ‘Con Lon’ before the 20th century. Its first name in English or French books was ‘Poulo Condor.’ This is why Vietnamese people refer to it as ‘Con Dao’ today.
Looking at the map, Con Dao resembles a bear emerging from the Eastern Sea. Con Dao is renowned for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and long stretches of sandy shores shaded by coconut trees. Con Dao National Park is celebrated for its remarkable biodiversity, pristine primary forests, and the rich variety of flora and fauna, including colorful fish thriving around the coral reefs. Within the forests, one can find numerous endemic species, such as orchids, black squirrels, red squirrels, and melodious birds. Notably, Con Dao is one of only two places where Dugong, also known as ‘Sea beef,’ can be found. Additionally, on the island of Con Dao, travelers can have the opportunity to observe dolphins and sea turtles, including the green turtle.
The climate in Con Dao falls within the tropical zone with a trade wind climate. It can be distinctly categorized into two seasons: the dry season, which spans from December to April, characterized by the northeast trade winds, and the rainy season, which extends from May to November, dominated by the southwest trade winds. The annual precipitation averages around 2,100 mm, with the peak occurring in October, and the average temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius.
In the past, Con Dao was infamous for being a place of trial and torture for Vietnamese people who upheld revolutionary and patriotic ideals. It was equipped with a range of detention cells and investigative methods, including the notorious ‘tiger cages’ and ‘rice tunnels,’ during two periods of wartime resistance. Today, Con Dao has transformed into a true paradise for relaxation and exploration.
Visiting Con Dao is not only an opportunity to explore a place with a rich and poignant history in Vietnam but also a chance to experience paradise with its unspoiled nature, crystal-clear seas, pristine white sands, and the warmth, kindness, and hospitality of the local people. Con Dao welcomes you with open arms, making you feel at home as soon as you arrive.
Find out more about Con Dao Island
Useful facts to know about Con Dao
Con Dao Island has a rich history, with its significance dating back centuries. According to historical records, as early as 1294, the renowned Italian navigator and explorer Marco Polo sought refuge on Con Dao Island during his journey from China to Italy, using it as a shelter from a storm.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Con Dao attracted European delegations who visited the island for leisure and exploration.
In the late 17th to early 18th century, as European powers, particularly the English and French, began to take an interest in the Orient, Con Dao became a subject of investigation for several English and French companies who sought to understand the island’s situation before establishing a presence.
In the year 1702, during the 12th year of Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu’s reign, the East India Company of England established a trading post on Con Dao Island and constructed a fortress, marking a significant historical milestone.
In the subsequent years, specifically on February 3, 1705, English soldiers departed from Con Dao Island due to an insurrection in Malaysia.
On November 28, 1783, Vicar Pigneau de Béhaine (Bá Đa Lộc) made a stop on Con Dao during his journey to support Prince Canh, who was en route to France to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles between King Louis XVI and Lord Nguyen, representing the Nguyen dynasty. This treaty granted France sovereignty over the ports of Danang and Con Lon. In return, France provided Lord Nguyen with substantial military support, including four warships, 1,200 soldiers, 200 riflemen, and 250 African soldiers, to assist in his conflict against the Tay Son brothers during the civil war.
Legend has it that Lord Nguyen took refuge on Con Dao Island for several months while evading pursuit by the Tay Son brothers. As a result, there are significant historical sites on the island, such as the Mountain of God, the Hoang Phi Yen temple in An Hai village, and the temple of Prince Cai, the son of Mrs. Phi Yen, in Co Ong village.
On September 1, 1858, France initiated an attack on Danang, with the Peninsula of Son Tra being a focal point of the assault.
In April 1861, France occupied Dinh Tuong province, during which they expressed interest in taking control of Con Dao Island, a move also contemplated by England.
At 10 a.m. on November 28, 1861, Rear-French Admiral Louis Adolphe Bonard, gave the order for the ship Norzagaray to invade Con Lon Island. Lieutenant Lepes Sebastien Nicolas Joachim officially declared France’s sovereignty over Con Dao, marking a significant moment in its history.
On January 14, 1862, Freighter appointed Nievre to oversee the deployment of military personnel to Con Dao Island for the construction of the Con Dao lighthouse. This lighthouse was erected to protect France’s sovereignty and assert its presence in the region, countering potential resistance from other nations.
One month later, on February 2, 1862, Bonard issued the decision to establish the Con Dao prison. From that day forward, Con Dao became a place of detention for political prisoners in Vietnam, with a network of prisons and various forms of torture employed over the course of more than a century, spanning both the French colonial period and the later conflict with the Americans.
On the island of Con Dao, at the invitation of Louis Jacquet (Director of the Poulo-Condore prison), and Armand Roussaeau (Governor-General of French Indochina), the renowned French composer Camille Saint-Saëns completed the third chapter of his immortal masterpiece, “The Carnival of the Animals,” in March 1895. The house where he resided on Con Dao Island has since become a memorial named after him, known as the “Passenger House” or “Nhà Công Quán.”
On May 1, 1975, Con Dao was liberated by the Southern National Front for liberation and established as a province under the name “Con Dao” for administrative purposes. However, it wasn’t until September 1976 that Con Dao province became a district under the jurisdiction of Ho Chi Minh City.
From 1977 to October 1991, Con Dao experienced several administrative modifications. Since October 1991, Con Dao has been officially designated as an island district within Vung Tau province.
General overview of the economy and society of Con Dao
The population of the island is estimated to be around 6,000 inhabitants as of the end of 2020, excluding temporary residents. The island’s population is divided into ten residential neighborhoods.
Con Dao faces the challenge of water supply due to the absence of rivers on the island. It primarily relies on two water lakes: That of An Hai and Quang Trung. To meet the growing demand for fresh water, the Con Dao government has undertaken several projects to reserve and supply fresh water. These projects include the Ong Tong Slope Reservoir and Quang Trung, aimed at ensuring a stable and sufficient supply of fresh water for the island’s residents.
Electricity is available throughout the entire island of Con Dao. However, due to its geographical isolation, Con Dao does not rely on the national power grid. Instead, it has two diesel power plants. The pricing for electricity on Con Dao is in accordance with government regulations, ensuring a stable and reliable power supply, with no shortage issues.
Nevertheless, this setup poses a challenge for businesses requiring substantial power, as the existing infrastructure may not always meet their needs. For instance, the Six Senses seaside resort has had to install a high-capacity generator to ensure a continuous and sufficient power supply for its operations. And now, you can see generators everywhere in Con Dao.
Despite its small area and mainly mountainous terrain, Con Dao has a well-organized and quality road system. The 25 km long main road connects Co Ong airport through the city center to the end of Ben Dam port. Within the town itself, several streets connect residential areas.
Public transportation in Con Dao is not very developed and most people mainly use personal transportation, mainly motorbikes. Visitors can access larger vehicles, such as 16-seat and 29-34-seat buses, while regular buses are not available. Since 2012, several taxi companies have provided taxi services on the island, operating with 4-7 seat vehicles. Besides, electric cars are also an ideal and popular means of transportation for tourists
Con Dao Island boasts high-quality mobile network coverage, with four operators including Vinaphone, Mobifone, Viettel, and Vietnammobile. Additionally, two networks, VNPT and Viettel, provide internet cable services. As of August 2007, Con Dao was equipped with high-speed ADSL internet connectivity. The island also has radio and television services.
The primary economic activity on the island is the fishing industry, which includes coastal and ocean fishing, and contributes significantly to the fishing industry of Vung Tau. In recent years, the growing tourism sector has played a vital role in Con Dao Island’s economic development, generating employment opportunities for the local population.
Due to its distance from the mainland and predominantly mountainous terrain, Con Dao relies heavily on food imports from the mainland. Consequently, the cost of living on the island tends to be higher compared to the mainland.
Security on Con Dao Island is generally good, given its isolated terrain and small population. The management of the area is relatively straightforward. Tourists can comfortably walk the streets without fear of accidents or theft. It’s common to see motorbikes left parked outside or on the road at night because residents feel safe and secure, even when retiring for the night.
Con Dao town is situated within a semi-circular valley, precisely at coordinates 106°36’10” east longitude and 8°40’57” north latitude. This town’s average elevation is approximately 3 meters above sea level, with a length ranging from 8 to 10 kilometers and a width of 2 to 3 kilometers. Nestled between the sea, overlooking the South East Bay, and surrounded by mountains, Con Dao Town serves as the focal point for the island’s economy, politics, and society. It stands at a strategic location between Co Ong Airport and the Ben Dam port, hosting the island’s population, seaside resorts, and administrative offices of the Con Dao district.
How to get to Con Dao by sea and by plane ?
By sea: High-speed ferries operate daily between Vung Tau, Can Tho City, or Soc Trang Province and Con Dao. These ferries are equipped to accommodate a substantial number of passengers, with capacities ranging from 300 to 600 seats. The journey takes approximately 4 hours from Vung Tau or Can Tho to Con Dao, and only 2 hours from Soc Trang Province.
By plane: Travelers have the option of air travel to Con Dao from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Can Tho, served by both Bamboo Airways and VASCO, a subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines. These airlines offer multiple daily flights, ensuring convenience and flexibility for passengers. VASCO employs ATR72-500 aircraft, while Bamboo Airways utilizes Embraer E190 and E195 planes. These flights provide swift and efficient access to Con Dao Island.
Additionally, visitors have the option of traveling to Con Dao by helicopter on weekends from Vung Tau. The flight schedule from Vung Tau to Con Dao is available on Fridays, with return flights on Sundays. This offers an alternative and potentially quicker means of reaching Con Dao for those seeking weekend getaways or short trips.
Con Dao Tourism
Con Dao’s status as one of Vietnam’s 21 national parks adds to its allure as a destination rich in natural beauty and historical significance. It boasts a national historic monument system, pristine natural landscapes, stunning beaches with pure, emerald waters, and fine sandy shores, making it a heavenly retreat for relaxation and exploration, blending the best of the sea and forest.
Furthermore, Con Dao’s strict protection of virgin forests and marine environments has fostered remarkable biodiversity, making it not just an area for academic study but also a captivating destination for ecotourism programs.
Beyond the historical prison sites in the city center and Hang Duong Cemetery, Con Dao offers an array of captivating places to explore, such as Dam Trau Beach, Nhat Beach, Ca Map Cape, Love Mountain, Bay Canh Island, Hon Tai Island, Nui Mot Pagoda with many activities as swimming, diving, fishing, trekking, camping, exploring or relaxing.
Con Dao’s appeal extends globally, as it was recognized by Lonely Planet magazine (England) in 2011 as one of the top 10 best and most mysterious islands worldwide. This island also captured the attention of Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who chose it as their vacation destination in November 2011.
How to get to Con Dao Island
By Plane: You can take a flight to Con Dao from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Can Tho. Both Bamboo Airways and VASCO (a subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines) offer flights to Con Dao.
By High-Speed Ferry: High-speed ferries provide another route to Con Dao. Departures are available from Vung Tau, Can Tho, or Soc Trang.
Moreover, for a unique experience, visitors can also choose to travel to Con Dao by helicopter on weekends from Vung Tau.
These transportation options offer flexibility and convenience for reaching the island.
How to spend 4 days in Con Dao Island
Getting to Con Dao Island is an exciting journey, and to truly savor the experience, it’s advisable to stay on the island for a few nights rather than opting for rushed trips. By spending 3-5 days on the island, you’ll have the flexibility to explore at your own pace and fully immerse yourself in all the attractions and activities Con Dao has to offer. This extended stay allows you to savor the island’s unique charm and make the most of your visit without the constraints of a tight schedule.