Vietnam’s newest and most remote, tropical escape. An hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Con Dao is the largest of a chain of a national marine park of 15 islands and islets, ringed with picturesque beaches, unspoiled coral reefs, with the best diving in Vietnam, scenic bays, and partially covered in tropical forests with trails for hiking. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring deserted coastal roads there are interesting wildlife-watching opportunities, spotting such creatures the black giant squirrel and endemic bow-fingered gecko.
For decades the main settlement of Con Son was used by the French and Americans as an island prison for anti-regime activists and criminals. Several of these former jails are moving and harrowing sights to visit. The most difficult prisoners were singled out for particularly gruesome treatment in the infamous “Tiger Cages,” where they were kept in open-roofed pens, beaten with sticks and doused with lime. Over 20,000 prisoners died in Con Dao.
The islands' tiny capital is a delight to explore on foot, with (almost) traffic-free streets, a couple of traffic lights (which don’t work) and a solitary gas station (which closes for a siesta). This is Vietnam in the slow lane.
There’s not a lot of anything going here, unlike Vietnam’s other beach destinations, such as Phu Quoc or Nha Trang, but if that’s what you’re seeking then Con Dao is the place.
The Six Senses offers all the requisite castaway charm for an island retreat, featuring a breathtaking location upon a private white sandy beach, walled with the surrounding beautiful mountains. The secluded property prides itself for the unsurpassed sense of privacy it provides, making it a perfect place to escape to paradise. Wood-paneled eco villas, with private plunge pools, blend into their surroundings, and the interior design is exquisite.
Notes: This isolated island is tranquil with few distractions or sites of interest. The islands are not very developed and are relatively new to tourism – many travelers are lured instead to the more established Phu Quoc, a similar flight distance from Ho Chi Minh City, or Hoi An when the weather is better – so don’t expect somewhere especially geared to international guests.
The resort also struggles to find experienced staff and things do not always run smoothly (nothing deal-breaking; just your sundowners may take a while to be mixed). As with any Six Senses outpost, the spa is the highlight; this one is set in the shadows of the Lo Voi Mountains and surrounded by tropical gardens, with a yoga pavilion and outdoor treatment rooms. Stargazers can enjoy evenings in the observatory; scuba-diving, cookery classes, watersports and trips to the marine park’s turtle hatchery can also be arranged.
Not much... Con Dao is one of the region's most desolate island groups and new to tourism. Cycling the resort, snorkeling, short hikes, yoga class, and strolling the small town are brief distrations from the lounge chair.
Best time to visit Con Dao?
Visit November-May (June and July can be hot, but very wet); January and February are ideal months. For summer, consider Nha Trang to the north which has much less rainfall during June and July and is where the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay and Ana Mandara Resorts are located.
Also consider Koh Yao, in Thailand for an equivalent getaway in that region. Note: around late December and early January and the lunar new year, hotels fill months in advance.