Con Dao, Vietnam: An Island Travel Guide

Con Dao Travel Guide

Planning to visit the lesser known Con Dao, Vietnam? Here’s all my best advice based on my trip!

Nearly every long term expat I know in Vietnam has fond memories of Côn Đảo. It’s the kind of place you can show up, get a room, rent a motorbike, and just go. The main island of Con Son is pretty small and it really is the most perfect spot to come and unwind, especially compared to Saigon’s general chaos.

When my friend, Alyshia, was preparing to leave Vietnam she said this was the one place she really wanted to visit, so two days after she finished at her job, we found ourselves boarding a Bamboo Airways flight to paradise! Here’s all my best tips from planning this trip and what we actually did while we were there.

What to Know About Con Dao

Côn Đảo is actually an archipelago of 16 islands, though the main and largest one by far is Con Son. Con Son is where you’ll fly into and most likely stay. Some of the other ones you can do excursions to.

According to the one museum we visited, people most likely began inhabiting the island as far back as 2,500 – 3,000 years ago as archeological digs have found similarities to the Sa Huỳnh culture.

Over the centuries, various Western explorers have landed in Côn Đảo from the Portuguese to the French to the British. The most infamous stretch of history, though, is from 1861 – May 1, 1975 when it was known as “hell on earth.” First under French colonial powers and then under the Saigon regime, it was known as a prison island where conditions were absolutely terrible. You can visit some of these sites (more on that below).

Today, Côn Đảo has been built up to be a tourist destination, though it still feels a bit like a hidden treasure. With clear waters, beautiful beaches, and an over all relaxed island vibe, it really feels like a whole different world to mainland Vietnam.

Where to Stay in Con Dao

So where you decide to stay in Côn Đảo depends on two things more or less.

  1. Do you just want a beachy vacation or do you plan to do some exploring?
  2. If you plan on exploring, do you want to rent motorbikes or be able to walk?

For those that are just looking for a beachy vacation, then I recommend staying right on the beach. If you want a bit of a splurge, Six Senses and Poulo Condor are fairly remote and have their own beach access. All you really have to do is roll out of bed and walk over.

Furthermore if you plan to rent motorbikes, then it really doesn’t matter where you stay since the whole island takes maybe 2 hours to circle. You can stay as remotely as you want and get into town fairly easily. However, if you don’t plan to bike around a lot, you’ll want to stay closer to the city center (I use city loosely here) where you can walk to a lot of the cafes, restaurants, some beaches, and some sights fairly easily.

We decided to split our stay between the more budget-friendly Hotel de Condor for two nights and Poulo Condor for our third night since we had a late flight back to Saigon. (Full disclosure: we had a media discount for Poulo Condor).

Poulo Condor, Con Dao, Vietnam

Poulo Condor

Poulo Condor is a gorgeous boutique resort that’s nestled between two capes on the northern side of the island. It was founded and is owned by a former prisoner of the island and has gorgeous Indochine-inspired decor. We stayed in one of their colonial villas. The main part features a little sitting area as well as a king-sized bed and tv/desk area. It then opens into a huge bathroom which has a big tub, double vanity, closet area, separate toilet nook, and an outdoor shower.

The resort itself is pretty spread out so that you have some privacy. You can walk right over to the beach or to the pool and also just take a stroll or bike around around. There’s even kayaking available along the canal that runs around the property. It’s close to the airport and fairly far from town, so it’s definitely a place to go and stay put!

Book here or book this excursion here

Hotel de Condor, Con Dao, Vietnam

Hotel de Condor

If you want something a little more budget friendly, we also stayed at Hotel de Condor based off a recommendation from a friend in Saigon. It’s a super nice spot with a fun garden and very cute cats and dogs! The beds err on the harder side but I was perfectly comfortable in mine.

The front desk was lovely and very helpful, especially with our motorbike rental. It sits just outside of town, so you’d still need a motorbike or taxi to get to most of the spots I have below! Just note the wifi in the rooms is pretty bad but is fine in the main area. Breakfast is also pretty basic and Vietnamese, so you may just want to skip and go to one of the cafes in town.

Book here

Poulo Condor, Con Dao, Vietnam

Where Else to Stay in Con Dao

For a totally secluded, luxury stay, check out Six Senses Con Dao. Have only ever heard good things from friends and acquaintances who stayed there!

If you want to be in town, I recommend looking at The Secret, a brand new luxury hotel right near Côn Đảo Museum. They’re also offering this 3D2N package. Another spot we considered was Maison Villa as another friend recommended it. We did wind up eating dinner here and it was lovely, though I don’t know what the rooms are like.

Some other cute, budget-friendly options we considered were Mai Homestay, Pumpkin’s House, and SaoConDor Hotel.

For more places to stay in Con Dao, check here

Beaches in Con Dao

Dam Trau Beach (the airplane beach), Con Dao, Vietnam

Dam Trau Beach

Đầm Trầu Beach is by far the coolest beach to visit on Côn Đảo and probably the most popular. As soon as you arrive, you’ll see a few outdoor seafood spots with loungers on the beach – perfect for sitting and watching as the planes land dangerously low! Like you can literally see the start of the landing runway if you go into the water.

We went here for lunch and to hangout until sunset. It feels pretty dead midday but picks up big time around 4-5, which is typical for Vietnamese beaches and pools since the sun isn’t as strong. I remember taking a small nap and waking up to a small crowd, ha!

Dat Doc Beach

Đất Dốc Beach (fun fact, it’s pronounced dat – y-ow-p) belongs to Sixth Sense Con Dao, so I don’t think you’ll be able to access it unless you’re staying there.

Lo Voi Beach, Con Dao, Vietnam

Lo Voi Beach

Of all the beaches we stopped by, Lò Vôi felt the most deserted! It’s right before the main part of town. When we’d pass by it on our motorbikes and hardly ever saw anyone there. The sand is super white and the water is both clear and warm! It also only goes up to your thighs for what feels like forever to the point that I’m pretty convinced I could’ve walked to one of the nearby islands.

Nhat Con Dao Beach, Vietnam

Nhat Con Dao Beach

Nhát Côn Đảo Beach was a quick pitstop while we were motorbiking. It was super windy when we tried to stop by — windy like the sand was flying at our faces and it was actually kinda cold! But if you visit during non-windy times, it’s a pretty spot to watch the sunset!

An Hai Beach

An Hải is the main beach near the city center. We drove by but didn’t spent much time here. However, quite a few resorts are right across the street, so they might be a good middle ground between getting the beach and being near the city center.

Vong (or Dong) Beach

Vong or Dong Beach falls under Poulo Condor. (Poulo Condor calls it Vong but on Google Maps, it shows up as Dong). I’m not sure if the resort covers all of it or just the beginning, but it was kept very clean while we visited. Keep in mind this beach is in between two capes, so the chances of it being windy and cold compared to other beaches is quite high!

Prison History Spots

Naturally, the main sightseeing thing to do here is to visit the ruins of the prisons. It sounds grim, but I definitely recommend spending a morning learning more about its history.

First what you have to know is that all the spots are open at specific times and they close in the middle of the day for lunch and nap time.

The other is that you can’t just go to one, you have to buy tickets. The ticket office is right in front of the museum, and it’ll give you access to five spots. We totally bungled trying to visit on our first day because we went to Phu Hai first. Then we accidentally wandered into the police office trying to find the ticket office, ha! By the time we figured it all out, it was closing time for the day.

This is the exact spot to put into Google Maps so you don’t look like idiots wandering around like we did!

One last things to note — you must dress appropriately and cover your shoulders and knees, both men and women.

Bao Tang Con Dao, Vietnam

Con Dao Museum

Once you buy your tickets, the first place to visit is the Côn Đảo Museum. It’s got a lot of Côn Đảo’s history and a ton of information about the last century – including exhibits on notable figures and heroes who were imprisoned on the island. The one I wanted to learn about the most was Võ Thị Sáu! She was a guerilla fighter against French colonial rule at only 14 and was executed at only 18, making her a national hero and martyr. In the museum she has her own exhibit at the end and you can visit her grave at Hàng Dương Cemetery.

Phu Hai Prison, Con Dao, Vietnam

Phu Hai Prison Camp

Phú Hải is the closest to the museum, so we went here next. It’s actually the first of eleven prisons on the island. First built in 1862 under French colonial rule and is broken up into different cells. You’ll learn more about the prisons in the museum before seeing them for yourselves. It really is pretty horrific conditions even in the “best” of circumstances. Imagine being in a cell with 100-180 other prisoners with one ankle locked in a sort of horseshoe contraption!

French Tiger Cages, Con Dao, Vietnam

French Tiger Cages / Con Dao Prison

Our next stop was to the French Tiger Cages or sometimes known as Con Dao Prison. Tiger cages meant that prisoners were in a small cell with solid, concrete walls and a thick door. The cage part was above their heads where guards would walk and look down on them, sometimes poking them with sticks or pouring water and lime down on them as extra punishment.

American Tiger Cages / Phu Binh Camp

We ran out of time, but this site is the most extensive and includes the tiger cages built under US and the Republic of Vietnam. Apparently, the US gave this to the Republic to handle. The tiger cages themselves were unknown to the public until Tom Harkin, a staff aide to a committee of visiting US congressmen managed to unearth them. His photographs and account brought them to national attention when they were published in Life Magazine.

Island Chief Palace

The last place your ticket is good for is known as the Island Chief Palace, which is right behind Cafe Côn Sơn and the Pier 914 monument. This spot was created between 1862 and 1876 and served as the main headquarters for the island prison system.

Lo Voi Ruins

These are pretty much two buildings near Lò Vôi Beach. We stopped off to check them out since we passed by them. There’s not really any information unless you go to the website listed on the one building, but even then it’s sparse. This particular spot was where they burned coral into limestone, which was considered pretty torturous work for prisoners.

Other Spots to Visit

Chim Chim Cape, Con Dao, Vietnam

Chim Chim Cape

Chim Chim Cape is a gorgeous viewpoint. However, be warned it can get very, very windy! Like I honestly can’t image someone tinier than me or Alyshia not getting blown away because the winds were crazy. At some points, I just squatted down to try and ride out some of the harsher gusts!

There are quite a few other capes you can stop off if you motorbike around the island, but this is the main one we took time to enjoy.

Historic Jetty 914 Pier, Con Dao, Vietnam

Pier 914

Like many of the odd juxtapositions on the island, Pier 914 at face value is simply a pier with gorgeous views of the water, the island, and some fishing boats. When you pull up, you’ll see plenty of people taking photos or enjoying the views either from the nearby cafe or along the walkway. However, the 914 is a reminder that 914 prisoners died during the pier’s construction. There’s a memorial for them in the corner before you walk along.

Motorbiking in Con Dao, Vietnam

The Coast

One of the best ways to really see the island is to just motorbike along the coast! It’s nearly impossible to get lost, and you can stop off any vantage point to see the other islands in the archipelago, the fishing boats, and just enjoy the views of the water!

More Things to Do in Con Dao

Here are some things we didn’t do but might be nice to add to your trip if you’re here at the right time!

Trekking in the Jungle

I briefly read and saw signs about hiking towards the center part of the island. It was very hot when we were there, and all we wanted to do was be in the water so this was definitely not on our list ha! But if you like hiking, you definitely can do it here. I’d ask your hotel for help figuring out the paths to take.

Snorkeling

We kind of tried to figure out how to go snorkeling but actually I don’t know that we’d have been able to with the wind speeds. This trip to Bay Canh Island looks nice and also includes the next thing on this list…

Sea Turtle Hatching

Sea turtles! From May to October, peaking between June and September, sea turtles come to Con Dao to nest. The most well known spots are on Bay Canh, Tre Lon, Cau, and Tai islands.

Where to Eat & Drink in Con Dao

Ba Le Coffee, Con Dao, Vietnam

Ba Le Coffee

This cafe is recognizable by its sunny yellow exterior! Camille of @lesvoyagesde_camille recommended it to Alyshia, and it did not disappoint. The inside has some nice, retro vibes but the outside was even lovelier, so we ordered our coconut coffees and squatted down! I learned later that the phrase above the sign actually says “Here! We don’t just sell coffee, we sell memories.” Cute!

Cafe Con Son

Cafe Côn Sơn itself isn’t anything to write home about, but it does have some nice outdoor seating and is directly across from Pier 914. It’s the perfect spot to park your bike, order a drink, and do some people watching!

Con Dao Market, Vietnam
Con Dao Market, Vietnam

Con Dao Market

If you want good seafood cheap, then you should definitely make your way over to Chợ Côn Đảo. I think we just headed that direction and stopped when we saw what seemed like a good spot to get a lot of delicious seafood.

Infiniti Cafe & Resto

Easily the trendiest, most Saigonese cafe on the island. Infiniti feels like it could be right in Thao Dien! Since our flight over was way more rushed than we meant it to be, we were starving by the time we checked-in to Hotel de Condor. This was the first cafe to pop up when we looked for places to get brunch, so we motorbiked right over to eat and plan out our adventures for the next few days.

Maison Villa, Con Dao, Vietnam

Villa Maison Kitchen & Wine Bar

We came here for dinner and it was lovely. Pretty big menu selection — I had some sort of duck dish — and a lovelier vibe. A lot of friends said this was their favorite restaurant too, though I loved my massive seafood meals more.

Nice

Nice is a cute cafe inside a beautiful turquoise building. It’s not anything fancy but a good spot to sit outside and order a cold drink! I think it’s literally a block over from Ba Lê!

Phien Khuc Coffee, Con Dao, Vietnam

Phien Khuc Coffee and Food

Super fun, retory cafe with some more basic Vietnamese breakfast options and good cà phê sữa đá!

Poulo Condor Beach Bar, Con Dao, Vietnam

La Baie Beach Bar

We grabbed lunch at Poulo Condor’s beach bar after we checked in. The lunch menu is slightly different than the dinner menu but still quite delicious. I ordered some sort of creamy pasta dish and Alyshia got the spring rolls.

Poulo Condor Restaurant, Con Dao, Vietnam

Bistro Des Iles

Poulo Condor’s main restaurant where you’ll get breakfast. We also had dinner here and it was delicious. I got something like fish in clay pot, which I never regret getting, and a side of veggies while Alyshia got the sea bass dish.

Thu Thu

Ok, I’m not sure if it was exactly this spot, but when you pull up to Đầm Trầu Beach, you’ll see a few shack-like restaurants lining the beach. This one was the furthest left. We ate a ton of seafood here and then hung out at the chairs in front of their place for the afternoon. The seafood is super good, but a few things to know.

One it’s way pricer than the market, and you have to stay on top of what you order because either a) they’re not and giving you extra stuff or b) they’re purposely giving you extra stuff. Idk, but she gave us this squid dish we didn’t realize we didn’t order and, lol, it was the most expensive thing on the menu. Don’t get me wrong, though, it was delicious!

The other issue I had was how hard it was to pay! Like before we went to the beach part, we asked for the check twice. Never got it, so we were like “Okay, whatever we’ll just pay before we go.” Hours laters when we were getting ready to leave before it got dark out, it took us a good 15 minutes to pay because the owner just wasn’t getting the bill. It’s whatever unless you have to go to the bathroom and you’re waiting to drive back to your hotel to go!

Dam Trau Beach (the airplane beach), Con Dao, Vietnam

How to Get to Con Dao

By Plane

We flew from HCMC to Côn Đảo. It’s pretty easy and takes like 25 minutes max for arrival. One tip we heard was that if you’re worried about space, take Bamboo Airways as Vietnam Airlines actually uses a smaller plane. You can book here. Once you land, many resorts offer some sort of shuttle. If they don’t you can get a taxi pretty easily.

The airport itself is super small with next to no food or cafes, so this is one spot you do not need to get to early when leaving the island. Like seriously, show up maybe 45-minutes before your flight and you’ll get through just fine.

By Boat

There’s also now a high speed ferry option from Vũng Tàu. It looks like it takes around 3 hours and actually looks quite nice! If you’re traveling through Vietnam, it might be nice to do a night there before getting the boat over. Book here

Motorbiking in Con Dao, Vietnam

How to Get Around Con Dao

By Motorbike

By far the best and easiest way to get around is just renting a motorbike through your hotel. Not to bring up the wind again, but it definitely gets intense, so I’d only rent if you’re fairly comfortable motorbiking. Luckily, traffic is nonexistent on the island!

Bicycling

For the really intrepid, you could also bicycle. I don’t know that I saw too many people (or any) doing this, but it could be some sort of option.

Con Dao Tourist Carts

I saw these tourist carts around the island, and they usually passed us by on our bikes. I’m not sure how they work but we saw quite a few by the main tourist office! Could be worth looking into if you don’t want to motorbike.

Taxis

There are Mai Linh and Vinasun taxis here if you prefer this way. We only got ours from the airport to Hotel De Condor and then to Poulo. I’m sure you could easily work out a deal with a driver if you had a few spots you wanted to checkout for the day.

Monkeys in Con Dao, Vietnam

Safety in Con Dao

Before we went, someone told us Côn Đảo was so safe you could just leave your key in your motorbike and go eat or swim. I don’t know that I recommend being that cavalier, but I will say the island feels incredibly safe especially for Vietnam. The only thing I had to worry about was some monkeys that wanted to go on my motorbike. I yelled at them with a voice I never heard come out of my mouth before and actually made one cry… so they’re not that dangerous.

Weather & What to Pack for Con Dao

Just some things to keep in mind when packing!

  • Swimsuits – Obviously! It’d kinda be a shame to come to an island and not go swimming. I’d say you’re pretty safe in all types of swim suits as even when the water was “rough,” it wasn’t that bad.
  • Water shoes – Or just shoes you don’t mind getting wet and sandy. A lot of times we’d just come out of the sea and hop onto our bikes and go, so my birks took a beating.
  • Longer pants/skirts – Not only will you need your shoulders and knees covered for the historic sites, it can get insanely windy on the coast. You do not want to be out on Chim Chim cape in a mini dress!
  • Sunscreen – Côn Đảo is incredibly sunny, so it’s always good to have sunscreen on hand. Even I burned a bit!
  • Sunglasses – For obvious reasons, but also it’s always good to have something covering your eyes when driving, especially when the mini sandstorm hits.
  • Linen pieces – It was really humid while we were there, so loose, linen pieces were a necessity!

And that’s all I got on Con Dao, Vietnam for now! Have you been? Any advice to share?

for more on vietnam

I’ve really loved being in Vietnam and getting to know the country more! On my first trip, I bopped around Saigon, did a day trip to the Mekong Delta, experienced all the best things to do in Hoi An, checked out the Marble Mountains in Đà Nẵng, experienced the stunning Halong Bay, and finished off finding all the cool things to do in Hanoi.

Now that I’ve been back, I’ve gotten to know Saigon even more, like exploring all the temples and dim sum of Cho Lon in District 5 and the ramen shops of Little Japan in Hem 15b Le Than Thon. I’ve even explored parts of Vietnam I’d barely heard of before like Sapa where we learned about the Red Dzao tribe, Phong NhaMu Cang Chai, historic Hue where I stayed at Azerai La Residence, Vinh Long and Can Tho in the Mekong, the very cute Dalat, and the beachy Mui Ne where I stayed at the Victoria Phan Thiet and then did a girls’ weekend to Anantara.

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