Con Dao, Vietnam: Everything you need to know before visiting
April 20, 2023
Con Dao, Vietnam is a beautiful and tranquil island to explore. It’s an up and coming destination and I recommend you to go and see it before it changes. This travel guide describes how to travel to Con Dao, all the things that you can do in Con Dao, where to eat on the island and the best places to stay overnight.
If you have any questions after reading this guide, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. Safe travels!
Practical information for your visit to Con Dao
Con Dao is a beautiful archipelago located off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea. The island has many untouched beaches, lush jungles, clear waters and a very interesting, but dark history. Con Dao was my favorite place in Vietnam and I would love to go back another time when the weather is better. It’s a beautiful island to get away from the hustle and bustle of other Vietnamese places.
Best time to visit Con Dao
The best time to visit Con Dao Island is during the dry season, which usually runs from March to June. During this time, the weather is sunny, dry, and the humidity is low, making it ideal for exploring the beautiful beaches and national parks. From June to October is the rainy season in Con Dao and from October to February there are big waves around the island.
I visited Con Dao in January and this was definitely not a good time to visit Con Dao. The weather was dry, which was good, but it was very windy and the sea was rough. Ferries to and from the island were canceled throughout the week, no boat excursions were organized and because of the wind, sometimes I couldn’t ride the scooter around the island.
Recommended days to stay
I recommend staying at least 3-4 days in order to see most of the island.
Atm’s & money exchange
There are plenty of ATM’s and money exchange services available in Con Dao, so you won’t have to worry about bringing too much cash with you.
How to travel to Con Dao?
Getting to Con Dao is easy. The quickest way to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao is by plane. You can take a direct flight from the Son Nhat Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City to Côn Đảo Airport. Another option is to travel by bus to Soc Trang or Vung Tau and to take a ferry to Con Dao. I have experience with both options and will describe them in more detail below.
From the airport or ferry port in Con Dao, it is a short taxi or minivan ride to Con Son town. Your guesthouse or hotel can arrange your transportation for you.
Tip: in case of strong winds or bad weather, boat services and flights might be subject to cancellation or change. If your visa runs out soon after you leave Con Dao, I suggest that you allow for a couple of days on the mainland after leaving the island, just to be on the safe side.
Ferry to Con Dao
Ferry Soc Trang to Con Dao Express Ferry
I traveled from Ho Chi Minh City to Soc Trang by bus and was planning on spending 1 night in Soc Trang and taking the ferry the next day. Unfortunately, my ferry to Con Dao was canceled due to bad weather conditions and I had to spend 2 nights in Soc Trang. Soc Trang is a very tiny village and there’s not much to do, but I stayed at a very nice guest house and the owners were kind enough to show me some really nice temples in Soc Trang.
There’s a Superdong office in Soc Trang. You can buy a ticket for the ferry at the office, but I do recommend buying it online via Superdong, because tickets get sold out quickly. A ticket costs around 370.000 VND per person.
The Superdong office arranges each day a shuttle service from the office in Soc Trang to the pier at 06.00am. The costs are 60.000 VND per person. Due to the bad weather, our ferry left 1 hour earlier than usual and therefore the shuttle departed at 05.00am.
The Soc Trang to Con Dao Express Ferry departs once or twice a day. It took around 3 hours to reach Con Dao and it was a very tough experience. I do not recommend traveling by ferry to Con Dao between June – February. The waves are huge causing over 80% of the passengers to be nauseated and vomiting (including me). The trip was not pleasant, so I decided to take a flight back to the mainland.
Ferry Vung Tau to Con Dao
Another option is to travel via Vung Tau to Con Dao. I did not travel to Con Dao via Vung Tau, because the ferry takes a few hours longer to reach the island then when departing from Soc Trang.
Anyway, if you are interested in traveling via Vung Tau, I recommend that you look on 12ToGo for a bus ticket or ferry ticket from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau. The bus or ferry ride is supposed to take around 2 hours. I recommend staying at least 1 night in Vung Tau and taking the ferry the next day. Should your bus be delayed, then you’ll have no problem catching your ferry.
The catamaran or ferry leaves from the Cat Lo port to Con Dao. The catamaran departs daily at 8 am and takes a little over 3 hours to reach Con Dao. Tickets start at 660.000 VND (28 USD) and can be bought at the office.
There’s also a ferry that departs from Cat Lo port to Con Dao. The ferry takes about 12 hours getting to Con Dao. I do not recommend taking the ferry.
You can use the search box below to find the most affordable tickets from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau. I always use 12GoAsia when traveling in Asia. Most of the time you can get an e-ticket which makes traveling very easy.
Tip: I heard that Mochi’s Homein Vung Tau is a great place to stay. The rooms are spacious and I heard that the owner is very kind.
Flight to Con Dao
Since the ferry trip did not work out well for me, I flew back by plane. I flew with Vasco, an owned subsidiary of Vietnam Airlines. The flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao are available on a daily basis and are very affordable. The flight only takes 1 hour and usually costs under $ 100. Usually a 7kg carry-on luggage and 20kg of checked luggage is included in your airfare.
Tip: book your flights at least a week in advance.
Tip: Con Dao airport is really small. I recommend checking in your luggage 1-1.5 hours before departure. There is a small waiting area above immigration and customs. There are 3 restaurants and some stores where you can buy souvenirs or snacks.
What to do at Con Dao?
There are plenty of things to do in Con Dao. From snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear waters to exploring the national park or prisons, there is something for everyone. For those who love nature, there are hiking trails, wildlife watching, and boat trips to discover the diverse wildlife of the archipelago. You can also explore the historical sites, such as the Con Dao Prison and the Con Dao Museum.
1. Relax on the beautiful beaches in Con Dao
Enjoy the serenity and explore the coastal areas and beaches. Here are my favorites:
Dam Trau Beach (free) is my favorite beach in Con Dao. The beach is at the foot of the airport runway and you can see planes landing every couple of hours, which is really cool. It’s also a perfect beach to sunbathe or swim.
Bãi Lò Vôi (free) is a lovely beach to walk on and to swim in the ocean. The beach has a lot of shells. When the tide is out, you can walk some distance out and around the bay.
Bai Nhat Beach (free) is a nice and rocky beach in the Southern part of the island. It’s the perfect beach in Con Dao to watch the sunset.
Bãi biển Dong (free) is another huge beach. This beach looks great from a distance, but be prepared to see some garbage on the beach. I only recommend visiting this beach if you have extra time left in Con Dao.
Bãi tắm An Hải is a beautiful beach very close to the city centre. It’s a long beach with several hotels and palm trees alongside. You can enter the beach easily via Bar 200. Here you can also find free hammocks to relax.
Bãi Ông Đụng (paid) and Bãi Bàng (paid) are two beaches located in the National Park of Con Dao. You need to buy an entrance ticket for the national park and hike for about 2-3 hours in order to reach one of the beaches. The beaches are rocky and not suitable for swimming. Still I recommend visiting the beaches, because the hike is amazing and it’s very peaceful in this area.
2. Go snorkeling or scuba diving
Snorkeling or scuba diving in Con Dao is a very popular activity to explore all of the rich marine life and coral reefs.
I have no experience with a company organizing snorkel or scuba dive trips, because I visited Con Dao in January and at this time of the year it’s not possible to go snorkeling or scuba diving.
For the best experience, I recommend that you book a trip via an official dive school. They often have the best equipment (also for snorkeling) and know the best spots.
3. Hike in Con Dao National Park
The Con Dao National Park is a must-visit to see the various flora and fauna. I spent one day hiking in the Con Dao National Park and saw birds, squirrels, monkeys, spiders and all kinds of other insects. There are signs throughout the park with information about all the flora and fauna. I walked pretty much alone on the paved path through the rainforest. After 2 hours of hiking, I arrived at the sea and a waterfall.
4. Visit the prisons and historical sites
Con Dao is known for the prisons and horrific war crimes committed here. The Con Dao prisons and historical sites will give you a glimpse into the island’s past.
First, you need to buy a ticket at Bảo Tàng Côn Đảo, a museum explaining to you about the island and the dark history of it. A ticket costs 50.000 VND and gives you access to the museum and several historical sites on the island.
The museum is well designed, providing many true images of the history of Con Dao from the diversity of flora and fauna to the painful years of the Con Son prison. Not all information is translated well into English, but despite this, it’s still recommended to visit.
After visiting the museum, you can visit the different historic sites and prisons. I recommend that you start with visiting the French Tiger Cages, built by French colonists in 1920 and used as a torture site for 20 years during the Vietnam War. Political prisoners were chained in tiger cages. The top of these spaces were open and so guards could abuse the prisoners with sticks, threw lime juice down over the prisoners (painful to wounds and causing blindness) and kept the prisoners awake day and night by making noise. This is just a small detail about the terrible French- and American tiger cages. It was very intense and sad to see the historical sites.
After exploring the French Tiger Cages, you can drive to Phu Binh Camp where the American-style tiger cages can be found. Unfortunately, this site was under renovation when I visited (January 2023), so I have no details about this site.
5. Go island hopping
In summer it’s nice to go island hopping from Con Dao. You can take a boat trip to the beautiful Hon Tai and Hon Tre islands, where you can swim, snorkel, or just relax on the beach.
6. Drive around the island
Yes, this is simple, but one of the best things to do in Con Dao! Renting a scooter and driving around the island is the best way to explore its beautiful beaches, cliffs, historic sites, and stunning landscapes. I’m sure you will also see many monkeys while driving around the island.
Tip: sometimes the wind can be quite strong on the island and rock pieces can fall down on the roads. Drive carefully and if there is a squall, stop and wait until the wind calms down again.
7. Go turtles watching in Con Dao
Turtle watching is one of the top activities to do when visiting Con Dao. There are several sites around the islands that offer excellent turtle watching experiences, with some of the most popular spots being Dat Tham beach and Hon Tre Lon Island. These two spots can be accessed via the National Park.
Hòn Bảy Cạnh is also an amazing island to see the turtles lay eggs. Aks your hotel or a tour agency for day trip possibilities to the island.
8. Visit the Hang Duong Cemetery
The Hang Duong Cemetery is a very interesting place to visit during the evening. This cemetery pays tribute to the thousands of political prisoners who were imprisoned and executed on the island. In the evening, many Vietnamese come here to pray and to make sacrifices. It was quite a spectacle to see. I saw people with shopping carts full of offerings driving to the memorial. They either placed offerings at the cemetery or threw offerings into fires.
Tip: please behave and dress respectfully. I recommend wearing long pants and to cover your shoulders. Please be respectful when taking photos and remain quiet at the site.
9. Hike to the Sở Rẫy viewpoint
The Sở Rẫy viewpoint is a nice activity for the more adventurous travelers. The path is steep uphill in a beautiful and unspoiled surrounding. Along the way you cross several old ruins that are completely overgrown by plants. At the top, you have an amazing view over the city and you can see the surrounding islands. I saw some reptiles and butterflies along the way. There are two rest stops along the way and the hike will take you around 1 hour.
10. Visit the Van Son Pagoda
The Van Son Pagoda, also known as Nui Mot Pagoda, is the only Buddhist and most beautiful temple in Con Dao. It’s a sacred site with a unique architecture that is loved by many tourists. From the top of the temple complex, you have a nice view of the island and sea.
Where to eat in Con Dao?
When it comes to where to eat, Con Dao has some of the freshest seafood around. There are plenty of seafood restaurants to choose from as well as other local Vietnamese cuisine. These restaurants in Con Dao are my favorite:
The bakery has some delicious bread, oatmeal pancakes and a delicious coffee with baileys for only 1.5 euros. Yummy! I visited An O’i Cafe & Bakery sometimes multiple times a day.
Infinity Cafe & Restaurant has great coffee and a good selection of Western dishes. It’s also a great spot to work.
Tip: try the tofu starter at Infinity Cafe.
The best restaurants in Con Dao for dinner
For the best homemade pasta, cappuccinos and healthy (vegan) dishes I can recommend the Beach House Restaurant & Cocktails Con Dao. Despite what the name suggests, this cafe is not on the beach. The owners are super friendly and the food is really delicious. I tried the naan-bread topped with coconut shrimp and bacon, which was amazing! I also had the chicken & mushroom blue cheese spaghetti, which was nice too! The Beach House is also a great place to work and it has delicious coffee (and cookies).
Bar 200 is also a nice place to have a sandwich, burger or pizza. This bar is located directly at the beach. Please note that they have a limited menu.
I also had hotpot, another Con Dao speciality, at Bún mắm, lẩu mắm Phú Quý. According to Google the restaurant is temporarily closed, but I recommend giving it a try, because the place was open when I visited. The hotpot is standardly prepared for 2 persons and includes all kinds of meat, vegetables, noodles and eggs. It’s delicious!
For some delicious seafood, try one of the many restaurants in the city center. Before choosing a restaurant, have a look at the aquariums and decide for yourself if it looks hygienic or not. Also make sure to agree on a price when choosing your fish. This way you won’t be surprised after finishing your meal.
The best dessert place
For a DELICIOUS dessert, I recommend to visit Kem Côn Đảo Dừa Đất. Here, they have the best coconut ice cream in Con Dao. For only 40.000 VND you get 5 scoops of coconut ice cream presented in a coconut. Together with a nice topping and a small glass of fresh coconut water it’s definitely the best dessert you’re going to get on Con Dao.
Where to stay overnight in Con Dao?
When it comes to where to stay in Con Dao, there are plenty of options. From beachfront resorts to homestays, you can find accommodation that suits your budget and needs. There are also plenty of camping spots if you are looking to enjoy the outdoors.
Popular exclusive resorts include the luxurious Six Senses Con Dao and the glorious Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa. The Six Senses Con Dao is a luxury beachfront resort that offers private beach villas, overwater villas, and stunning beachfront suites, all of which are well-appointed and offer luxurious amenities. The Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa has beautiful pool villas, suites and a stunning swimming pool.
For a more budget-friendly option, I can recommend staying at Khách sạn Thái Bình or Eden House & Coffee Côn Đảo. Khách sạn Thái Bìn has some affordable twin or double rooms and is located close to the city center and beach. Eden House & Coffee Côn Đảo is a small, family owned complex with around 8 rooms in a garden. The rooms are huge and the property is very peaceful. I’ve stayed at both places and really enjoyed them. At both places you can rent a scooter for an affordable price.
Is Con Dao worth visiting?
I hope after reading this article I convinced you that Con Dao is definitely worth visiting! The island has an interesting history, sandy beaches, and is worlds away from the normal route taken by tourists in south Vietnam.
Well this is pretty much everything I can tell you about Con Dao. Despite the ‘puke’ Ferry, the island is definitely worth a visit. I wonder how fast the island will change in the future. How soon more hotels will be added and so on… I hope the national park and the island stay nice and quiet for a long time.
If you have any questions after reading this guide, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. Safe travels!
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