Con Dao: A historical place turns into a tourist attraction
The Con Dao district is a group of islands near Ba Ria-Vung Tau. This 76 km2 group of 16 islands is called an archipelago. The largest is Con Son island.
Con Dao is about 185 kilometers from Vung Tau, 230 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, and 83 kilometers from Can Tho.
As the island’s transportation, rest, and food services improve, this place is becoming more and more well-known among tourists.
In the past, Con Dao was known as “hell on earth” because it was where a heroic and painful time of national resistance left its mark.
Today, Con Dao is famous for tourists who want to see Vietnam’s natural beauty and historical sites.
Here, you can wander around and learn much about history, the ocean world with its colorful coral reefs, and the wild forests with many plants and animals.
Most importantly, you can get away from the noise and chaos of the city.
Lonely Planet, a travel magazine, named Con Dao one of the ten most charming islands. Travel and Leisure magazine called it “one of the most beautiful islands in the world.”
Because of its wild beauty and mystery, Con Dao has become popular with tourists worldwide, not just those from China.
Here are some ideas for how you can spend your time on this island.
What is the best time to visit Con Dao?
The best time to visit Con Dao is between March and September. Even though it is still storm season, the sea is rough, and the wind is strong from the eastern islands to the northwest islands.
Visitors should go to the small island during the day, when there is plenty of sunshine and clear skies for snorkeling and taking pictures.
Most afternoons are sunny, so visit some of the hotels on the big island that are out of the wind.
Sea turtles have their babies from July to September.
The rest of the time, from October to March next year, is winter. During this time, there is a lot of rain in the waters of Con Son bay.
But the sea to the west and southwest of the big island is calm and windless, so that visitors can switch their sights to the Con Son area with equally beautiful natural scenery.
The way to Con Dao
The fastest way to get to Con Dao is on an airplane. Currently, Bamboo Airways has the quickest flight between Con Dao and Hanoi, which takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes (from 2.7 million VND one way).
Vietnam Airlines has flights from Ho Chi Minh City or Can Tho to Con Dao and back for about 1.3 million VND or 1.7 million VND one way. It takes about 50 minutes to travel.
You can take a motorbike, taxi, or resort car from the Con Dao airport to the town center, about 15 km away.
The trip usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes. You can take Co Ong road if you want to go further in a passenger car.
If you don’t want to take a bus to Con Dao, you can go there when the sea is calmest, from April to June. 1/3 of tourists usually drive to Vung Tau for a 5-hour train to Con Dao.
Moving straight to the island from Tran De port (Soc Trang) is the longer way. It takes about two hours, less than half as long as leaving Vung Tau.
A taxi ride costs between 300,000 VND and 450,000 VND. There is a charge of about 50,000 VND per person each way to use the shuttle bus at resorts and hotels.
Find a private taxi if you’re going with a group.
On the island, you can take a taxi for about 12,000 VND/km, a tram for about 20,000 VND/km, or rent a 12-16 seater car for less than 1.5 million VND a day.
Hotel to stay at when traveling
Depending on what you want to do on your trip, you can pick a resort, hotel, or inn far from or close to the island’s center.
The best place to stay for a vacation is at a high-end spa or hotel by the sea.
It would be best to stay in a hotel or homestay in the middle of the island to explore the town and get to the pier early in the morning.
There are all kinds of prices for motels in Con Dao, from 200,000 VND to more than 10 million VND.
Visitors can also spend the night camping in different areas set up by the people in charge of the attraction.
Six Senses is the only 5-star resort in Con Dao. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stayed there on their last trip in 2011.
The resort has 50 villas, a large swimming pool, a spa, a large forest above, and a long stretch of white sand below. About 15 million VND is the average price for a room.
Con Dao activities
Depending on your time, what you want to do, and how you live, you can choose from the attractions below for a day plan, four days and three nights, or five days and four nights.
Discover the nature
Hon Bay Canh and Hon Cau are two well-known ecological discoveries off the coast of Con Dao.
Many snorkeling trips are taken to see corals, mangroves, turtles laying eggs at the right time of year, and baby turtles being released back into the sea.
People can rent canoes for about 2–5 million VND per session to get to this island.
Sign up for a short tour with the Con Dao Explorer company, which costs 790,000 VND per person and lets you release turtles into the sea or dive to see the Hon Bay Canh coral.
Put the turtle back in the sea.
Dam Tre Bay is on the north of the island. It is well-ventilated and surrounded by mangrove forests.
During the mating season, swiftlets and other sea animals nest there. Visitors can stop at Lo Voi beach, Dat Doc beach, Chim Chim cape, and Northeast bay to rest or swim.
Dam Trau Beach is a quiet beach near the airport on Con Dao and about 15 km from the island’s center. Many people come to this place to see where the plane landed on the head.
Tau Be Cape is on a unique road from the airport to the rest of the island. It comprises big rocks arranged in an arc around the water.
This is an exciting place to film “virtual living,” and it’s also said to be the most beautiful place in Con Dao to watch the sunrise.
An Hai and Cau Tau are beaches in the middle of the big island. They have smooth white sand and calm water, and many people from the area come there to swim.
On the inter-island road, you can find the beautiful beaches of Nhat Beach and Shark Cape.
Visitors often stop to take pictures of the winding road around the mountainside and the clear blue beach on one side because the path goes gently downhill.
If you go to Con Dao in the summer, you should move to the west and southwest points.
Ong Dung beach is clean and suitable for sightseeing, picnics, and activities with the community.
From here, people can rent a canoe at the station and go to other islands like Hon Tre Lon and Hon Tre Nho.
Hon Tre Nho is two kilometers from Ong Dung beach. Most of the island’s plants are bamboo forests. This place is a seaside bird sanctuary.
From May to September, thousands of birds migrate from the north to the island to build nests and lay eggs. These birds include crested terns, parrots, and some types of terns.
People can take a canoe around the island to look at corals, watch seabirds, and catch fish that are free to swim around.
The wild forests of Ong Dung and Nui Chua are great places to go hiking. From Con Dao, you can walk west through the melaleuca forest for about an hour to get to the beach at the end of the woods.
Each person must pay 60,000 VND to get into Con Dao National Park.
Visitors can also go to pearl farms to learn how pearls are grown and buy products made from pearls.
Far from Con Dao are islands like Hon Ba, Hon Egg (Hon Da Bac), Hon Vung (Phu Vinh), Hon Anh, Hon Em, etc., but they don’t use this service.
Seeing places of interest and going to monuments
The Con Dao Museum has about 2,000 crucial documents and pictures about the nature and people of Con Dao from ancient times to the present day.
It also has a story about the 113-year history of Con Dao prison. The price of a one-way ticket to get in is 20,000 VND.
The island lord’s house is where 53 generations of island lords lived and worked for 113 years, from 1862 to 1975.
It is now used to store items from the rich lives of some French, American, and Vietnamese island lords.
The Con Dao prison system is one of the 23 national monuments on the list. “Hell on Earth” is also a place where people from all over the world go to retire.
For 40,000 VND, visitors can visit historical sites like Prison Island, Phu Hai Prison, the French Tiger Cage, and the American Tiger Cage.
Every day, including weekends and holidays, historic sites are open from 7:30 am to 11:30 am and from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
If you want to hear many stories about the old prison, sign up or go on a guided tour.
The grave of Vo Thi Sau is in the Hang Duong Cemetery, the most popular spiritual tourist spot in Con Dao.
The cemetery has the graves of more than 2,000 martyrs. More tourists come to visit and look around at night.
Guides or locals often take tourists to Hang Keo Cemetery, where they light incense at a remarkable national monument on the island to show respect for their fallen comrades.
Many martyrs’ hard work and blood sacrifice can be seen on Pier 914. People go to Pier 914 today to burn incense, talk, fish, look at the scenery, and watch pictures of the sun going down.
Around 1930, the French built the Ma Thien Lanh Bridge with bare hands on high mountains. They were experts at taking down trees and stones to build homes and headquarters.
Phi Yen’s temple (An Son Mieu) is where people worship Lord Nguyen Anh’s wife.
Because people on the island value her good qualities, they hold a festival on the 17th and 18th of the 10th lunar month to mark the anniversary of her death annually.
The only temple on the island, Nui Mot Pagoda (Van Son Tu), was built around 1964.
The pagoda is on a high mountain where you can see the blue sky, Con Son bay, the town, and An Hai lotus lake from all four sides.
There are also many beautiful sights along the roads on the island, such as eagle trees, yellow cassava flowers, and red phoenixes in the summer.
Famous dishes to try at Con Dao
If you go to Con Dao, you can only leave by trying a few unique specialties. As a place for marine ecotourism, seafood is the most exciting and fantastic food in Con Dao.
When cooked in a certain way, each ingredient will make a unique and appealing flavor.
Mackerel in Con Dao
Just like with squid on a sunny day, as soon as fishermen catch mackerel, they wash it once with salt water and let it dry in the sun again.
They don’t marinate it or add anything to make it last longer. All ingredients are cleaned and dried in the sun. Then, the fish doesn’t smell bad and is neither soft nor hard.
You can buy a sunny day mackerel to fry, grill, make ketchup, and eat with hot white rice.
Con Dao peanut jam
Compared to many other places, the trees that grow nuts in Con Dao are small, but their leaves and fruits are pretty big.
When it’s time to harvest, the people here pick the almonds, let them dry until the shells close, and then take them apart to get the seeds inside.
Last, they are roasted with salt or sugar, depending on the person’s taste.
Bang nut jam is one of Con Dao’s most well-known dishes. The jam tastes sweet, like sugar, and the almonds are crunchy, soft, and oily.
Sipping sugar-roasted peanuts or fried peanut jam will be more enjoyable for tourists.
Oyster porridge of Con Dao
Oysters and tasty, sticky rice are the main things in this dish. For the porridge to be thick enough, the cook must choose round rice grains to cook with sticky rice.
The seafood here is very fresh because it comes from the sea. After being caught, each oyster must be cleaned, marinated, and lightly fried to soak up the spices.
When the white porridge is done, the fried oysters are added, and the taste is adjusted.
Con Dao lady snail
Only a few people know about this unique snail. With a particular shape similar to a woman’s breasts, the above snail has such a strange name.
The snail has a pointed tip, and the meat of her breast snail is soft and delicious.
People in the area use snails to make various dishes, from grilled to stir-fried to salads. Each plate has its taste and looks very appealing.
Con Dao moon crab
This crab is not only interesting because of its shape but also because it is stunning. It has many red dots on its back that are bright pink, like the sun.
Moon crab tastes best when it is boiled or steamed with salt, pepper, and lemon, just like other seafood.
People in Vietnam, in particular, use crab meat a lot in soup, tea, porridge, cakes, etc. Each dish has its flavor that is delicious and attractive.
This kind of crab is already tasty on its own, so it’s still delicious whether it’s processed in a fancy way.
Con Dao shark salad
Many of you may think that sharks only live in the ocean and that food made from them will be very bland. However, if you go to Con Dao, you can try the delicious shark salad.
Shark meat is soft and smells especially good.
It tastes great with raw vegetables like guava leaves, young bananas, mint, chili, and mustard, blended so that the taste is unique, sweet, bitter, sour, etc., making an appealing taste that can’t be described in words.
What should travelers to Con Dao buy as a gift to bring back?
Yen Con Dao
According to the analysis results of INVIVO labs Vietnam, out of 30 factors in the composition of a bird’s nest, 18 elements of Con Dao’s bird’s nest have higher nutritional content than the nest in many other localities.
So, the bird’s nest from Con Dao is also a very healthy gift you can buy for your family on your trip to Con Dao.
Con Dao nuts
The Con Dao Eagle Tree is a forest tree with giant seeds. People on the island pick the flowers every time the eagle blooms, then roast and chop them to get the seeds.
You can eat the nuts immediately or burn them with peanuts and add sugar to taste. Bang nut is a Con Dao specialty, so you can easily buy it anywhere on the island and give it to your loved ones as a gift.
After a trip to Con Dao, you can still give unique gifts to friends and family, such as mackerel with a sun, squid with a sun, ginseng from Con Dao, etc.
Some travel notes for Con Dao
Some places on the island have yet to be used for tourism, so you should be careful about your safety when exploring. For example, you could follow people or groups or hire local guides.
Bring a card because there are a lot of ATMs on the island but only a few ways to pay online.
Fill up the gas tank before you leave because there are only two gas stations on the island.
Bring all the medicine you might need, such as a fever reducer, medicine for headaches, medicine to calm waves, mosquito repellent, clothes, sunscreen, and a medical mask.
Don’t be surprised if Con Dao prices are slightly higher than usual when goods are brought in from the mainland.
When you get tired of staying at a resort with many excellent amenities, try changing the wind and seeing the beautiful Con Dao with a local.
With all the above tips, you will see a very close, rustic, rustic, but equally poetic Con Dao.
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