Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Friday, 29th July 2016

Discovering the Con Dao Islands of Vietnam

Many of Vietnam’s mainland destinations are well-known, the country has a selection of enchanting islands too. The Con Dao archipelago to the south is visited far less regularly than the likes of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and even Halong Bay, but offers a glimpse of a relaxed way of life in this exciting nation.

Introducing the Can Dao Islands

Now a designated national park, the Can Dao Islands are a paradise just waiting to be explored. As well as stunning and deserted beaches, there are opportunities to hike through rainforest and dive in amongst immaculate coral reefs. The darker side of the archipelago is that the main town was used as a prison for anti-regime activists and criminals by both the French and Americans when they were present in Vietnam.

Wander through Con Son town

The biggest island in the 15-strong change is Con Son and its town, of the same name, is the main settlement of the archipelago. Despite such claims, life remains slow here, with very little traffic on the roads and absolutely no sense of hurry. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to see and experience, however, with a wander through town an absolute must.

Expect a view of the ocean to one side, complete with its crystal clear blue waters, and a line-up of French colonial architecture on the other. The ochre-hued buildings are a testament to the island’s history and among them you can find the old Gallic customs house. It was here, in 1895, that Camille Saint-Saens wrote the famous opera Brunhilde.

Understand the island’s past at the Con Son Museum

Offering insight into the Con Dao Islands as a whole and incorporating the actual prison buildings, Con Son Museum makes for a fascinating visit. It highlights the conditions prisoners were kept in and shows where many became leaders of the People's Army of Vietnam and Vietnamese Communist Party. Some 20,000 people died in the Con Son prison.

Head to Dam Trau Cove

Only just up the island to the north, but seemingly a million miles away from the prison is Dam Trau Cove. This tree-lined little beach boasts white sand and a number of small shacks selling freshly caught seafood cooked to order. The countryside surrounding the cove is all granite hills, fisherman’s cottages and trailing bougainvillea.

Explore the national park

You need a permit to hike in the national park, but it’s not difficult to obtain one, as the management has offices in Con Son town and the documentation is free. There is a wide selection of trails to choose from, but the there are two that are particularly popular. Be rewarded with wonderful snorkelling after a trek to Ong Dung Bay or take in the spectacular views from the So Ray plantation. Look out for macaques, black giant squirrels and monitor lizards, which all inhabit the national park.

Dive beneath the waves

World-class diving can be experienced in the waters surrounding the Con Dao Islands, where both hard and soft corals flourish, as well as there being several wrecks to explore. Parrot fish, triggerfish and turtles are among the marine life you may encounter.

Related news stories:
Monkey Island party forms part of Vietnam's Sea and Islands Week (29th May 2013)