How long to spend on the Con Dao Islands

It may be hard to imagine that Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches aren’t located on the 3,400km coastline covering its south and eastern coasts, but around the tiny 76 km2 area of the Con Dao islands, lying 90km off the mainland. It is also hard to imagine that there is a paradise on earth more befitting of the name than these islands, but the white-sand beaches, coral-rich waters, rustic shacks, and mangrove forests, all sheltering beneath a canopy of coconut trees prove Con Dao to be an excellent option for a Vietnam beach vacation. Tourism on the islands is still in its infancy, and a lack of general information to go off leaves tourists wondering how long to spend on Con Dao.

Of course, this depends on how relaxed you want to get, as the numerous beaches around the Con Dao islands offer a limitless beauty that could really be soaked up over weeks for ardent beach lovers. That’s a fairly unrealistic timeframe for most tourists though, who usually come to Con Dao for 3 days, or thereabouts. Below, we’ve suggested some travel tips & experiences by listing a suggested itinerary for your Vietnam beach break, laying out the attractions of the islands and giving you an idea of how long to spend on Con Dao.

1. Two Days on Con Dao

Given how much time and money it costs to get here, it is unlikely that you will ever feel fulfilled from less than two days on Con Dao. The islands are laden with beaches that offer even the most studious Saigonese businessman a welcome reprieve from his work, and these are all within easy-reaching distance of the main and only inhabited island, Con Son.

1.1. Day 1

You will arrive at Con Dao from the Vietnamese mainland and will almost definitely want to begin reclining on the beach straight away. Getting to the islands is not cheap or particularly easy, so if you are only looking to spend 2 days on Con Dao, then you will want to get the most out of the beaches here. 

An Hai Beach

Fortunately, from the front door of your hotel, you will have amazingly easy access to the two harbourfront beaches, each requiring no more than a 20-minute walk from practically anywhere in the main town of Con Son. With most of the best Vietnam beach destinations such as Phu Quoc, Mui Ne and Nha Trang, the main beach is usually the destination’s least appealing one, as its ease of access draws big crowds. The fact that Con Dao’s main beaches are both stunning and largely spacious is because, quite simply, there are two of them, along with just a small amount of locals and tourists to crowd them. Both An Hai and Lo Voi contain the ubiquitous formula of pearl-white sands, teal waters, verdant mountains, and an attractive smattering of colorful basket boats. These beaches offer great convenience for families and a welcome place for any adventurous passengers arriving by the arduous overnight ferry from Vung Tau to catch up on sleep.

You might need some gentle-to-heavy coaxing to leave the paradise of the beach, but once you do, you will find a gorgeous town with plenty of food and drink options. Spending many days on Con Dao can be done like a local, at one of the plentiful range of cafes with a Vietnamese coffee in hand. The town has a gorgeous French colonial architecture running through its wide, tree-lined avenues and this often extends to cafes, where entire days can be spent watching an alternative view - the meandering of laidback locals around a picturesque and happy town. Con Son Café is an ideal way to admire both the French construction in its beautiful building and the natural beauty out in front, where mountains provide a shaded background to the turquoise waters before them.

1.2. Day 2

Rise early today for a refreshing morning swim, available at a multitude of locations around the island. No matter how long your spend on Con Dao, you will want each day to start with something like this, as the beauty of the islands lie in the truly peaceful early hours of the day.

Perhaps today would be a good day to visit Con Dao Prison, the brutal detention center that made the islands infamous for their incarceration of political prisoners from North Vietnam. There are 15 individual sites making up the prison, none of which really keep with the laidback, stress-free atmosphere of the islands, but are a vital stop to learn more about their ruthless past as well as the war overall. A tour of the prison will show you the horrendous living conditions that prisoners, many of which were ambitious communist leaders, were forced to endure, demonstrated by harrowing mannequins that show how each prisoner lived. The notorious ‘tiger cages’ draw the biggest crowds here as the unspeakably terrible conditions that they forced their prisoners into were the cause of global outrage when a journalist printed photos of them in Life Magazine in 1970. Many Vietnamese come to the islands as part of a sort of pilgrimage, paying their respects to former detainees through prayers and offerings.

Con Dao Prison

Because a day spent in Con Dao is not spent properly without a visit to the beach, it is worth exploring some of the other options further outside of the main town. As one of the best beach destinations in Vietnam, Con Dao has a few more white-sand options than just its two most convenient, so rent a motorbike or take a taxi to visit any of the outlying beaches on the fringes of the island. Dat Doc beach is one of the most beautiful here, still managing to retain its windswept scrubs and unfettered view of the rocky, tree-clad mountains that rise up from its sides. The Six Senses Con Dao offers convenience here without spoiling the natural beauty, but if it’s truly an untamed experience that you’re after, then a visit to Suoi Nong will fulfill your isolated island paradise dreams in full.

Take the evening to discover the wonders of the Con Dao Night Market, an outdoor string of restaurants on Tran Huy Lieu Street offering excellent seafood in Vietnamese communal style. This market is still yet to take flight like other night markets have around the country, but growing popularity of the islands means more tourists and more time spent at Con Dao Night Market.

2. Three Days on Con Dao

The addition of another day really helps to Con Dao’s visitors to unwind further. Unexplored beaches still abound around the island after the two-day itinerary and Con Dao’s most treasured little critter still remains to be spotted. You can take care of both of these in three days spent on the Con Dao islands.

If you’re booked for three nights, then you should use the second night to engage in an overnight turtle tour, which run between July and October when the turtles flock to the isolated island of Bay Canh from the Philippines to lay their eggs on the sand. Tours are overnight affairs, as this is when endangered Green Turtles arrive to bury their eggs in the sand, so tours run from the late afternoon, giving you time to relax on the untamed beach before the mama turtles arrive. Transport and accommodation (a room of hammocks in the ranger’s station) are included, giving you a chance to nap in between turtle arrivals.

Release green turtles in Con Dao

Perhaps, at some point during your three days on the Con Dao islands, you might want to exert yourself a bit more than the previous day’s Con Dao Island Beach Holiday activities were allowed. Con Dao National Park offers excellent hiking options around one of the most unspoiled lands in the country, owing to the fact that it was one of the lucky few places to avoid bombing during the war. The wetlands here are a great example of this, housing mangroves and vines along with 144 species of endemic animal throughout the park. A trek to the 577m peak of Thanh Gia Mountain is the most popular as the views that the peak provides over the islands and their extended turquoise waters is nothing short of magical.

Hiking in Con Dao National Park

3. Four Days on Con Dao

If you’re looking at a 4-day southern beach holiday in Vietnam, Incredible Asia Journeys suggests hitting the sweet spot here. Four days is generally considered an excellent amount of time to spend on Con Dao as this allows you the time and freedom to check out most of the beaches, as well as the potential to explore a bit further afield.

You can round off your Con Dao tour with a visit to some of the other glorious beaches that kiss the pellucid waters here. It might not sound appealing, but on either side of the tiny Con Dao airport lies two fantastic beaches, Dam Trau and Bien Dong, both essentially accessible through the airport’s doors. The fact that seven flights land daily at Con Dao airport has done nothing to damage the beauty of these beaches, both of which would attract a wealth of tourists if they were located on the mainland. Services are minimal here, but a quick walk to the airport will provide you with all the convenience you need, including cheap transportation back to Con Son town.

Dam Trau Beach

For those ready to splash the cash, it might be worth eschewing all of the transport issues in favour of a charter boat, which can run up to about 6,000,000 VND ($260 USD) for a maximum of 12 passengers. These are some of the best things to do in Con Dao if looking to travel privately and efficiently. Utilising the services of a professional captain, you can explore some of the other 15 islands that comprise Con Dao and discover some of the completely untouched beauty that they contain.

Any time left at the end of the day can be spent back on Con Son, a burgeoning hipster’s paradise with a growing cafe culture. Café Con Son was mentioned on the first day, but more Vietnamese options are always available, including Lo Voi Café, a wonderful outdoor drinking space encompassing some of the more iconic Vietnamese ideals: bamboo, pottery, beautiful houseplants and an open, communal space in which to drink. Café Infiniti has been long established as an island favourite, with a colourful and modern style that seemed to set the coffee wheels in motion around Con Dao. This is one of the more eclectic cafes in Con Son town, with decorations made of doors and sofas comprised of sawn-off bathtubs.

4. How Long to Spend on the Con Dao Islands?

With a huge array of beaches, 15 uninhabited islands and a national park boasting a wealth of animals native to the island, Con Dao is a nature-lover’s paradise and should really be enjoyed over the course of at least three days. If it’s possible to spend more time on Con Dao, we would suggest four, just to guarantee that you have time to explore thoroughly while ensuring that your Vietnam tour is not oversaturated with sand.

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