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 island's tiny capital is a delight to explore on foot, with footpaths and traffic-free streets. This is Vietnam in the slow lane. A highlight is visiting during the turtle nesting season though there’s not a lot of anything else going on here, unlike Vietnam’s other beach destinations, such as Phu Quoc or Hoi An, 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.
This isolated island is tranquil with few distractions and engaging sites of interest, pleasantly undeveloped and are relatively new to tourism (as an alternative, the more established Phu Quoc, a similar flight distance from Ho Chi Minh City, or Hoi An when the weather is better offers much more to see and do).
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, water sports 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 distractions from the lounge chair.
Best time to visit Con Dao?
From May into October, turtles nest on beaches around the Islands (the resort logs where they are nesting and can arranges for you to witness the nesting and the hatching). During February to July, the waters around Con Dao are at their clearest for diving, with visibility averaging around 70 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters). Ideally, visit November-May (June and July can be hot, but also 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. Note that in late December, early January and the lunar new year period, the resort may fill months in advance. Also consider Koh Yao in Thailand or the renowned Song Saa off Cambodia's southern coast for an equivalent, remote getaway.