Why visit Con Dao islands: pros and cons
Con Dao are the only islands I have visited in Vietnam so far. In this article I am mentioning reasons to visit Con Dao islands. It’s a short summary of both pros and cons so you can make your own opinion if they are worth visiting. I truly believe the Con Dao should be on your bucket list.
I spent 16 days on the main Con Son island in February 2020.
Con Son island is the only inhabited island in Con Dao archipelago situated in the South China Sea. Other 15 islands and islets are not inhabited.
When compared to Phu Quoc, Con Dao is more off the beaten track. More authentic, more Vietnamese, more natural, and less touristy.
How to get to Con Son:
- by ferry from Vung Tau
- by ferry from Soc Trang
- by plane from Ho Chi Minh City.
Visit Con Dao islands – pros
- nice locals – they usually smile at you, say hi or even wave. I didn’t have problems with any local. They definitely made my stay more memorable. Although their English was not good, and often just very basic, we communicated using face expressions, smile and gestures. If you want to learn how the Vietnamese live, Con Son island might be a good pick. Wandering along the Con Son City streets can never get boring.
- secluded beaches – although Con Son island seems small, it does offer its visitors a number of unforgettable pristine beaches. You will meet very few other tourists during the day on most of the beaches. Those in Con Son City are the most crowded before sunset. But the rest of the beaches around the island are usually pretty quiet.
- not too touristy yet – there were days when I did not meet other non-Asian tourists. Most of the time I would meet just 5 to 10 other Westerners per day. That’s awesome, isn’t it? I really prefer less crowded places over those too touristy.
- Con Dao market located in the heart of town is full of different kinds of exotic fruit and vegetables. I loved walking around the market every single day observing locals buying what they need. The market, together with the beaches were my favorite places on Con Son.
- vegan restaurant – it was so easy to be vegan on Con Dao. I have to say that before going to Con Son I was really worried if I would be able to get vegan food there but it was not a problem at all. I could get all the fruit and young coconuts at the market, and then go to Quan Chay Con Dao Healthy restaurant for veggie dinner.
Other things I enjoyed on Con Dao
- a lot of places to go for a walk – every single day I walked more than 10,000 steps (7 to 8 km) around Con Son City and beaches. No need to rent a motorbike or hire a taxi. The town is very easy to walk around. That’s one of the things I always appreciate in destinations I visit. I need to be able to get to many places on foot.
- stunning nature – Con Dao national park is just a few minute scooter ride from Con Son City. If you enjoy different plants, big trees and cheeky monkeys, you should not miss visiting the national park. When I went hiking there with a friend, we were the only two tourists there. Remember you need to pay a small fee to enter the park but it’s worth it (in February 2020 the fee was 60 Vietnamese dong). No that much to observe animals, but flora makes up for it. I still remember the mysterious atmosphere in the park.
- many different butterflies flying all around – speaking of nature, I have to mention that I fell in love with all the butterflies I encountered on Con Dao. So many of them! In the city parks, on the beach, on the streets in town, in the national park. I saw some everywhere around the island.
- many parks, trees and flowers can be found in Con Son City – I am a nature person and if a town does not have many parks, I will not be a big fan of it. Although Con Son City is a small town, you will run into a tiny park every few minutes of walking. I could smell flowers there, sit down on a bench for a bit, or even do yoga there. Thumbs up!
- history – if you enjoy learning about history, Con Dao might be a good destination to visit in Vietnam. Did you know the islands served as prison? First in the French colonial era, then in the American Vietnam war. There’s a few ruined buildings located all around Con Son, and also Prison museums.
- less traffic – after an old accident I still did not find courage to rent a motorbike and ride around Con Son but many tourists do. Con Son has less traffic than other parts of Vietnam where it can get really crazy! If you are into riding and want to explore the island at your own pace, renting a scooter will be the best option. I mean, if you are a skilled rider. I heard that non-Vietnamese citizens need international drivering license to ride/drive in Vietnam.
Cons of visiting Con Dao
Pretending that everything is perfect on Con Dao is not a good idea. In my opinion, a destination with only pros and advantages does not exist on Earth. Con Dao is not an exception. I really prefer to focus on the positive things and can highly recommend you to visit Con Dao islands. However, on the other hand I want you to be aware of the cons, too. And yes, I admit the list below is based on my personal experience and what I liked and disliked there. You might disagree with me but at least you’ll know what to expect there.
What I personally disliked in Con Dao?
- strong wind – my first days on Con Son island were a nightmare to me. It was so windy I could not lie down on the beach as within 10 seconds I would have sand everywhere, in eyes, mouth and nose included. So uncomfortable! And then at night the wind was blowing through my room and windows and doors were making a lot of noise. It was so loud I could not sleep. Thankfully, the rest of my stay was better and less windy.
- sandflies – there were many sandflies on both An Hai and Loi Voi beach. They were biting me all day long, not just at sunrise and sunset. I had so many bites I did not know what to do. Very unpleasant feeling! For me sandfly bites are worse than mosquito bites. They are more itchy, they last for longer and tiger balm nor coconut oil did not make them better. Nothing seemed to work.
- big waves – most of the days the Ocean was rather calm but on some days there were big waves. I really cannot stand big waves and I do not go into the sea when it’s not calm. However, I know that some people enjoy jumping in the waves, or even surfing. I am not one of them. For me it was disturbing.
- too many plastic bags and cups everywhere. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese still do not understand they should lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle and plastics are the biggest problem. I admit there are many dustbins all around the island but it does not mean there’s no trash at all. I hope the locals will start using less plastic sooner than later.
- it’s more expensive than the other parts of Southern Vietnam – at least that’s what I noticed when I was there. Con Dao is not very expensive compared to Europe, for example. But it is more expensive than Vung Tau or Ho Chi Minh. Mostly food, restaurants and shops are not very cheap on Con Dao. But in a way it makes sense. Most of the ingredients need to be imported into the islands.
Despite of sandflies and strong wind, I really enjoyed my time on Con Dao islands. I would love to revisit it in future and go also snorkeling, and spend more time hiking.
TIP: I put down a list of my expenses in Vietnam. You can have a look at how much I spent in Vietnam in a month there in this article. I divided my expenses into accommodation, food, transportation and everything else so you can get a better idea about how much it costs to travel in Vietnam.
TIP 2: When I was traveling around Southern Vietnam the last week of January and the first 3 weeks of February in 2020, the coronavirus was not affecting my trip at all. I was really lucky. Was it safe to travel around Vietnam with coronavirus spreading around?
Have you ever wondered if to visit Con Dao islands? Hopefully this list of pros and cons will make you pay a visit to charming Con Dao as in my opinion it’s really worth it. I really fell in love with remote Con Son, the main Con Dao island despite of sandflies and wind. Would you like to go there, too?