Empty coastlines, dense jungles and isolation describe Con Dao. An island full of biodiversity of plants and animals that just awaits tourism. Hardly any foreign tourists travel here and only some local Vietnamese tourists come here. That’s what sets it apart from all of Vietnam.

It’s mind-boggling that this used to be a prison island, like Phu Quoc. First the French colonists established a prison system here and then the South Vietnamese and American forces sent the POWs here. The winding roads hug the mountains and then an old, run-down prison appears across from a beautiful ocean view.

Con Dao is an archipelago made up of about 16 islands. We only had time to stay on the main island, which is pretty large. What made this trip most enjoyable were the locals and their kindness and eagerness to help us. We went with our friends Mike and Sofia and spent a lot of our time driving around the island discovering breathtaking views.

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During the two nights we stayed on the island we started a campfire, with the help of the hotel staff. Randy had his first experience with making smores and now he’s an expert! We also grilled fresh crab and fish on the beach.

Mike tried his hand at digging for clams on the isolated beach near the airport. He said it wasn’t easy. So we decided to buy two kilograms of clams from the man and woman who were digging for the clams. We carried the clams throughout our 9-kilometer trek through a thick jungle. We even had some company from a local dog! He trekked with us the whole way there and back!

We cooked the clams and drank homemade rice wine with the local fishermen and park rangers at our destination, which was another remote beach where we snorkeled and tried to catch squid. We were planning to take a boat back around the island, but the winds were too strong. So, we went back through the dense forest with our local guide.

We had so many great experiences here even though we only had two days. The sincere locals, amazing biodiversity and spectacular ocean and mountain views made this trip one to remember.

Flight: Mekong Air, 30 minute flight, but expect delays or returning back to Saigon because of extreme winds.
Where to stay: Con Dao Camping, inside of a small park. Accommodation includes nice, small huts with A/C, facing the beach. $30 to $40 per night.
Travel Information: Con Dao Island Dive SSI, Another helpful “local” was Larry Bernier at Con Dao Island Dive SSI. Originally from New York, he has been diving in Vietnam for ten years. He gave us honest information and helped us with accommodation and other tours around the island.