Con Dao


Paradise island

Photo of Entry:  Paradise island
As we dropped in through the clouds, all we could make out of Con Dao was white beaches and white water pounding the neighbouring cliffs. Green covered everything else and I thought, is this Vietnam or Hawaii?

Then as our van, taking us from the airport to the resort, skimmed the edge of those same cliffs and dodged oncoming motorbikes I thought, definitely Vietnam.

But this was not like any part of Vietnam I had ever seen before. This was an island that was as quaint, quiet and comfortable as Hoi An, but with sands as soft as silk, and beaches as pristine and unsullied as Mui Ne and Vung Tau should be.

There’s no sand erosion on Con Dao, no beggars walking the beaches, no endless line of resorts and their weekend-warrior guests, no kite-surfers trimming your hair as you swim just perfect sand, perfect waves, and perfect peace.

Peace is the word du jour on Con Dao. From the moment the propellers stop, to the moment they start up again a few days later, Con Dao provides you with a silence and solace that, were it not so natural, would just be down right, well, unnatural.

The loudest it gets on the island is in the middle of a hike through the jungle, when the birds and other wildlife make for a veritable crowd in the forest.

Though if the wildlife in the jungle is considered impressive, then the wildlife underwater is just incredible.

Considered by many to be the best scuba diving spot in Vietnam, and by almost all to be at least amongst the top three sites for it, Con Dao provides an extensive menu of fish and coral, including lots of sea fans and blue-spotted rays.

But what really gets the dive guides’ eyes twinkling are the occasional sea turtles (Con Dao is one of Vietnam’s few animal reserves for both the turtles and the even more rare manatee) and the slightly more present nurse shark.

Vietnam’s most respected dive operators, Rainbow Divers, currently have staff on the island running classes and dives. They promise a full-on dive shop by the end of this summer, but warn they’ll only be open during peak season, March through October (two dives will cost about $90).

For the history buffs, Con Dao is also the final resting place of some of Vietnam’s most famous martyrs. During the wars against the French and the Americans, Con Dao was a notorious prison island where some of Vietnam’s most praised heroes were tortured and eventually executed. So for people with a strong desire to know where some of the West’s darkest secrets occurred, or for those of us just curious to find out where Saigon gets some of its street names, Con Dao can be quietly informative and (relatively) unpretentious about it.

But perhaps the most fun to be had on Con Dao is on the open road. For a mere VND125,000 (just under $8) one can rent a motorbike for the day, and drive along the roads that circle the island, hugging the cliffs and diving through the mountains. The winding cliff heights would remind one of Cliff Road in Santa Cruz, California.

For those of us that don’t know how to drive a motorbike, Con Dao’s open roads (heavy traffic in Con Dao means that other guy over there) are surprisingly well paved and provide a great spot to learn.

This also affords you the opportunity to discover some of Con Dao’s many unpopulated beaches, where privacy and beauty come as a matter of course. One word to the wise, however, is to remind everyone that barnacles are very sharp, so before you go climbing all over seaside rocks, beware of on what you step or you’ll end up with Swiss cheese for feet.

Don’t get me wrong, Con Dao is not perfect. There’s currently only one resort located on a beach (aptly named “Con Dao Resort”, however there is also a construction site on a primo beach spot just outside of town with a sign advertising an “Evason Hideaway” to be).

The current resort is not exactly five-star, but it does its best and there’s very little to complain about (least of all the food, which is always fresh and always very good, just don’t expect a cheeseburger as Vietnamese is only known cuisine on the island).

Also when the resort warns you about insects that “may” bite you when you go to the beach, they’re talking about Sea Lice, which are definitely on the island (although I personally was never bitten, some of my companions were).

Perhaps most unfortunately for us alcoholic westerners, “bar” is still a piece of metal on this island. While these factors might keep some away from Con Dao for the time being, for those of us that enjoy finding beaches with no footprints, driving motorbikes along roads that hug the cliffs, and scuba diving in places where the main attraction is actually the fish, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that we get Con Dao all to ourselves. At least for now.


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