A protected Marine Nature Reserve, the Con Dao Islands (of which Con Son is the largest and where you are likely to be staying) can be difficult to get to, with irregular flights from Ho Chi Minh City or an overnight ferry from Vung Tau.. but my goodness, it's worth it!
I must confess, the highlight of any travelling around Vietnam for me is usually the food, yet the lack of any real eating options outside of the main hotels didn't still manage to disappoint, as the scenery around Con Dao is so spectacular you'll want to stay forever. I think of all the places I visited in Vietnam Con Dao was possibly one of the most beautiful I've seen.
The islands of Con Dao have a tragic history - they lay completely unoccupied until the French occupied Vietnam and used the island as one large prison complex, where prisoners were shackled, starved and beaten, forced into hard labour and subjected to some particularly cruel and unusual punishment. Sadly when the Americans arrived to 'save' Vietnam from Communism they kept the prisons running, and made good use of one of the most barbaric elements, the 'Tiger Cages'; even once their horrific nature had been exposed in the US media they simply built another set deeper in the jungle so the journalists wouldn't find them.
Today the prisons serve as a stark reminder of the horrors of war, and many of the islands residents are ex-convicts who decided to stay on the islands rather than return to the mainland. These days the main industries are fishing and shipping, and life on the island is very simple and undeveloped, though there are plans to encourage more tourism to the islands in the future.
The entire area is protected by law, so much of the islands are covered by thick forest. A visit to the rangers' station will explain a great deal about the wildlife living on the island, and they are very happy to arrange tours around the jungle or out to the other islands, to see endangered species and to go snorkelling and diving. There are also a number of diving schools on the island, particularly Rainbow Divers.
On our visit we hired a motorbike to explore the roads around the island, and went for hikes through the forest and swam on completely deserted beaches, as well as visiting the prisons and museums. It was a true escape from Saigon, a complete contrast to the concrete, traffic and noise, and one we'll remember forever.
One of the key organisations protecting the local habitat in Con Dao - as well as in many other national parks across Vietnam - is WWF. If you'd like to help support conservation efforts in Vietnam and preservation of the many endangered species there, we strongly suggest becoming a member - it doesn't cost a lot and while in Vietnam you can see for yourself the difference they are making.
Getting to Con Dao
If you want to go by boat there is a hydrofoil service from Vung Tau to Con Dao twice a week at 350,000 VND each way, and also one departing from Tra Vinh in the Mekong Delta which is run by Greenlines. The fares and timetable are no longer advertised on the Vietnamese language version of their website though, so it is worth checking before making the trip to Vung Tau.
Flights are run by VASCO but are unfortunately not bookable online.
An alternative may be to book online with Isango who are currently advertising an all inclusive two day tour to the island including flights which departs from Ho Chi Minh City. Feedback on this service would be appreciated.