When looking up Con Dao, you will be dazzled by the island’s beautiful sandy beaches, green pristine forests and unspoiled coral reefs. It is also an ideal ground for biologists to study turtles and the diversity of tropical marine life. All of this and more, such as awesome accommodation, weather, and seafood make Con Dao an ideal weekend escape for those who have been trapped in the concrete jungle of Ho Chi Minh City for too long.
So, you have finally got a weekend for Con Dao, check out our guides here about how to get there and where to stay. With flights and accommodation booked, what’s next? You can either just relax and spend your precious time at a luxury resort, or you can follow my footsteps and get the most out of this island within 2 days! Ready?
Day 1 in Con Dao – Shorts and Swimsuits!
Prior to arrival, what would you see first? The alluring ocean, the sandy beaches and the blooming forests, right? Why hesitate, let’s dive in!
Wake up early in the morning to catch the fresh breeze and the morning sun rays. Take a breath, realize you are in paradise and put on some comfy clothes. Let’s go explore!
Do like a local and grab a Banh Mi Op La and a Cafe Sua Da at any street vendor or even at your hotel. Personally I prefer getting these take-away to enjoy along the morning walk with my beloved one.
Morning Walk along The Seaside Street of Ton Duc Thang
With a Banh Mi and a plastic cup of iced coffee in hand, savoring them as you walk along the Ton Duc Thang Street is heavenly. Especially from October to April, the ocean’s quiet months, the scent of blooming flowers and the breeze from the sea will take your breath away. The subtle sunrays lighting up the trees together with the lapping waves and the quiet streets here are going to be one of the most calming sights you will ever witness. It is kind of like taking a walk on a surreal painting of paradise.
Escape The Civilization at Dam Trau Beach
After getting yourself fueled up, grab a ride to the Dam Trau Beach, located near the airport. You can bring as many beach toys as you wish, if you have not prepared any, there are some local stores for renting some basic kinds of stuff like beach balls and swimsuits. The beach is crescent-shaped, creating a petite adorable bay with soft waves and a smooth sandy shore. The whole area is yet to be spoiled– thanks to the locals’ effort of keeping the beach clean, Dam Trau Beach retains its title as s one of the most beautiful beaches of Vietnam. You can also have some fresh seafood lunch in local restaurants at the beach.
Island Expeditions – Turtle Hatchery Watching, Hiking or Diving Tours, Your Choice!
After enjoying the peace and tranquility of Dam Trau Beach, do some exploring! Please note that some of the tours are seasonal, for instance, the Turtle Hatcher Watching tour is only applicable from June to early September, and the best diving period is from May to October. Hiking is doable in any season.
Turtle Hatchery Watching Tour
The Turtle Hatchery Tour can be booked at the Con Dao National Park office or at your hotel reception for a more preferable price. There are many islands to choose from, but the best option is the Bay Canh Island which includes a short snorkeling session upon arrival and a tour through a primitive mangrove forest with interesting flora, fauna, and marine life. Most of the tours are overnight, from 4:00 PM to 7:00 AM of the next day. Turtle hatchery watching starts from 7:00PM.
The islands are well-preserved with a lot of unspoiled beaches and huge original forest cover, housing unique flora, and fauna. If lucky enough, you can stumble upon a couple of dugongs (sea cows) and even dolphins. There are also rare squirrel and monkey species in the forest. Yet the most memorable moments would be observing the turtles laying eggs and their babies hatching.
The basic package ranges from more or less USD$60, which includes the specifications listed above with dinner and accommodation at the ranger’s station. Packages with extra services such as better accommodation and baby turtles releasing can be up to USD$350. It is best to inquire the tour from the National Park office or your hotel before you get to Con Dao to get the best prices.
Rainforest hikes can be done by yourself. The most popular one is trekking through the refreshing 2-km trail to the beautiful Ong Dung Beach. The most challenging one is conquering the cloud-covered Thanh Gia Peak, 557m above the sea level, through a 6-km trail of wilderness. You can also get free hiking maps at your hotel, and some diving centers such as Senses Diving.
Yet by doing-it-yourself, the hikes are generally straightforward and you will miss a whole lot of unmarked trails with beautiful streams and waterfalls. To experience the best hikes, you can book a local guide from the Con Dao National Park Office. Despite the fact that their English is a bit choppy, but most of the guides are great guys to hang around with along the way. They will happily get to know you, point out many interesting things and share some whiskey shots when taking a break at a remote ranger station on the way. The hiking tours are half-day only so you will have time to explore the town later in the evening.
Dive! Dive! Dive!
According to professional divers, Con Dao has the best diving and snorkeling experience in Vietnam. The corals are untouched and pretty impressive with giant coral heads, bigger than those found in the rest of South-East Asia. You will have a chance to see an amazingly diverse marine life, with turtles, stingrays, flocks of colorful fishes and even big creatures like lionfishes, sharks, dugongs and giant barracudas – so it is best to stick with your instructor.
There are up to 35 diving/snorkeling spots to choose from, with depths ranging from 10 meters to 20 meters. But there are only a couple of dive centers to choose from, yet they are more expensive than other locations like Nha Trang or Phu Quoc, due to logistics and the lack of instructors. I would highly recommend Dive! Dive! Dive! and Rainbow Divers.
Another reminder that you are only eligible to go on diving trips if you have a diving certificate, while snorkeling does not require anything. There are PADI crash courses that allow you to dive without a certification as well. Snorkeling is around $50 and Diving starts from $90. The prices are quoted in USD$ but you can pay an equivalent amount in VND as well.
Dive! Dive! Dive!
Address: Nguyen Hue Street, Con Son Town
Price Range: $50 for Snorkeling, $90 for Try Dive/One Dive and $160 for Two Dives
Address: Nguyen Hue Street, Con Son Town
Price Range: $50 for Snorkeling, $150+ for Two Dives/ Try Dives and $200 for Three Dives
The experience is going to be safe, smooth, and professionally organized and these shops will recommend the best spots. Just in case, here are a few things that you should check before closing the deal with the shops:
- Ensure the quality of the equipment (everything should be functional)
- Check reviews and guides online or from your friends
- Confirm how many people will dive with one instructor (should only be from 2 to 4 people)
- Find out how many people will be joining with you, and their level of expertise (you don’t want to get stuck diving with beginners if you are an experienced diver and vice versa)
Evening Feast and Explore Con Dao’s Night Scene
After doing either hiking or diving/ snorkeling in the afternoon, then you should reward yourself an amazing seafood feast at a local restaurant, a stroll around the town in the evening and a chilled out time at a bar before calling it a day.
In general, there are not many restaurants apart from the ones associated with hotels or resorts in Con Dao. Therefore, every standalone restaurant will be similar in terms of prices (which is comparable to Saigon’s pricing) and quality. Tri Ky Restaurant and Thu Ba Restaurant, which are so far the most well-known ones, selling all kind of dishes from rice, soup, hot pot and wide varieties of seafood with understandable English menus. The bests of Con Dao are Tiger Prawns, lobsters, crabs and Oc Vu Nang (a type of sea snail – or Cellana in English). Also, note that seafood is usually sold in Kilograms, so check the price before ordering.
Tri Ky Restaurant
Address: Nguyen Duc Thuan Street, Con Son Town
Price Range: 50.000 VND (2.5$) – 1.500.000 VND (75$)
Thu Ba Restaurant
Address: Vo Thi Sau Street, Con Son Town, near the Con Dao Market
Price Range: 100.000 VND (5$) – 500.000 (25$)
After treating your belly to a smooth and nice dinner, you should walk around to create some space for the late night snacks and drinks. There are interesting streets that you should stroll in the evening, such as the shoreside Ton Duc Thang street and the active Pham Van Dong street with many bars, coffee shops and street vendors. You should check out Bar200 or Infinity Bar on Pham Van Dong street for the best western snacks, ice-creams, and cocktails.
Or, if you prefer a more luxurious experience, you can dine, drink and take part in some wellness programs at Six Senses Resort. The services and prices are quoted on their website here.
Day 2 in Con Dao – Culture and History
Good Morning Con Dao! Sunrise Watching at Ca Map Cape
Rise up early enough (4:30AM – 5:00AM) and you will get a chance to witness one of the most spectacular sunrises ever at Ca Map Cape (Shark Cape). The sun rises over the Bay Canh Island, and shades of clouds make a stage for a miraculous show of sun rays. Once Con Dao has greeted you with the warmest show, then it is time to enjoy the last day on this island.
Apart from the fun of exploring the natures that I recommended yesterday, there are just a few points of significant interest to you travelers if you are not a Vietnamese. So either enjoy another day at the beach before ending your short vacation or get a motorbike, ride around the island and see things out.
Breakfast and Shopping at the Con Dao Market
One of the best things you can get for breakfast in Con Dao is simply Com Tam (the famous broken rice dish of Saigon). Yes, there are not any specific specialties from this small island apart from the freshly-caught seafood and seasoned dried ones. The locals on this island are actually migrants from every other place from the center to the south of Vietnam, so you can get pretty much a bunch of everything from different provinces of Vietnam, from food to cosmetics.
Learning about the Culture and the History of Con Dao
Con Dao Prison
Back in the day, Con Dao served as a prison island for political prisoners during the French colonial era. During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnam regime made some modifications to the prison to kept their opposers in the infamous cells, so-called the “tiger cages.” The old prison is still standing and is open to visitors as is a small museum as one of the most important parts of the island’s history.
Opening time: 7:00AM – 11:30AM & 1:00PM – 5:00PM
Ticket price: 20.000VND
Con Dao Museum
This was the palace where the former mayors of the island lived and worked since the French Colonial time. Here you can learn about the history of civilization on the island since the first expeditions until now, with various interesting items and documents.
Address: 10 Nguyen Hue Street
Opening time: 7:30AM – 11:30AM & 1:30PM – 4:30PM
Ticket price: Free
Ham Duong War Cemetery
There are over 2000 graves of revolutionary soldiers from the Indochina War and the Vietnam War, and the most prestigious one belongs to Ms. Vo Thi Sau. She was the most remembered war heroine during the French Colonial time for her operations and bravery that shined even until her execution in Con Dao prison when she was 16 years old.
Address: Luu Chi Hieu Street
Opening time: All day
Ticket price: Free
An Son Shrine
For those who are interested in Vietnamese middle-age architecture, this place is definitely not to be missed. This is the tomb of Madame Phi Yen, the Queen of Gia Long Emperor. Being tricked by bad people, she committed suicide at the age of 25.
Address: Hoang Phi Yen Street
Opening time: All day
Nui Mot Pagoda
This is one of the most beautiful pagodas in the country in terms of Feng Shui and sceneries. Located atop of the Mot Mountain, you can have a spectacular view of the Con Dao surroundings. Together with sophisticated architecture and interiors, I am sure that the pagoda will take you some time for capturing unique photos.
Address: Nui Mot mountain
Opening time: All day
Street Seafood for Lunch at the Con Dao Market
Lunchtime is perfect to pay a visit to the Con Dao Market again. In the morning visit, you have probably seen a lot of fresh seafood, and for now, you will meet them again, in dishes. Nothing beats a soup of freshly-caught seafood for lunch. And a juicy squid on a grill.
Coffee Break at Con Son Café
This is a coffee shop with the best views of the island. Savoring a cup of Vietnamese coffee with warm sunlight, light ocean breeze and enjoying a precious peaceful time is truly antidotes for the city fever.
Address: 42 Pham Van Dong Street
Website: 6:00AM – 11:00PM
Price Range: 20.000 VND – 50.000 VND
Cherishing The Sun Setting over The Peak of Love
The Peak of Love is located on Ba Island, Con Dao. As the sun is going down, it’s silhouette reminds of a couple lying down and kissing passionately, that is why the peak got its name. The most spectacular spot to observe this romantic scene would be on the Nhat Beach in the South of Con Dao Island.
That would sum up everything that you could enjoy in a 2-day getaway vacation to Con Dao.
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