Story: Ngo Quang Minh
What makes this remote archipelago so intriguing?
The islands of the Con Dao Archipelago are associated with breathtaking natural beauty and sad stories from tragic chapters in our history. Before 1975, many political prisoners were held captive on these remote islands. Today, this archipelago is often called the most alluring destination in Vietnam, thanks to its fascinating history, the islands’ strategic defensive position, and their unique mangrove and mountain forest ecosystems.
It’s not easy to explore the entire archipelago, which includes 16 islands spanning a total of 76km2 and 140km2 of protected marine park waters.
The archipelago has a typical Vietnamese coastal climate and is influenced by subtropical monsoons. Con Dao’s dry season runs from December to April. The transition between spring and summer starts in March, when the sky turns clear blue and the winds drop, making this the perfect time for leisure activities. Then comes the seven-month rainy season. However, from May to September the sea is quite calm and rainfall remains low. This season suits visitors in search of a relaxing, peaceful retreat.
Con Dao’s coordinates are special. It is located on the same East longitude as Ho Chi Minh City (106°36′) and on the same North latitude as Ca Mau Province (8°36′). On the map, Con Dao resembles a big bear with its giant back facing the mainland and its paws stretching out to the East Sea. The archipelago’s center lies in the bear’s belly. Its two forelegs are formed by Lo Voi Beach and Co Ong Cape, while Hon Ba Island and Mui Ca Map (Shark Cape) form the hind legs. Dam Tre Bay is nestled at the northernmost point of the archipelago – the most pristine and mysterious location, not only because of its deserted scenery, but also thanks to the combination of mangrove ecology, large coral reefs, and a habitat that’s home to rare animals.
Venturing out to the East side, you will find Shark Cape, which, as the name suggests, is an interesting site. This is the best spot in Con Dao to watch the sunrise. From the town center, go south along Ben Dam Road, follow the path curving along the water and stop when you see a large white rock pointing out to sea. There, you can wait for the first rays of sunlight to appear over the horizon.
At sunset, don’t miss out on the magnificent view from Chan Chim (Bird Foot) Cape, said to be named after its three-sided crow’s foot shape. From here, visitors can also admire Bay Canh Island, the second largest island in the Con Dao Archipelago. Covered in verdant primeval forests it is home to the largest sea turtle conservation site in Vietnam.
To enjoy a peaceful walk on white stones next to calm azure water, no place is better than Nhat Beach, voted one of the six most pristine beaches in Asia. Lying at the south end, the beauty of Nhat Beach is only unveiled at low tide. It is often described as a “hidden charm”.
When daylight starts to fade, amidst pristine natural scenery with no signs of humans’ presence, gaze upon Love Mountain – shaped like a couple embracing. In the deep quiet, you might remember some lines by the poet Tung Van:
Con Dao is no longer what it was
Oh, dreamy golden forests and silver seas
Here, a message to those who return
Please stay faithful to the land’s shore!
In the past decade, Con Dao has seen a boom in “green tourism”, taking advantage of features praised by international travel magazines. Quotes include:
“It is home to steep cliffs next to pristine beaches and clear blue waters.”
“It is a natural paradise with dense forests, turquoise waters, white sands.”
“It is home to dugongs, dolphins, sea turtles, and spectacular coral reefs.”
Rich in diverse flora and fauna, the Con Dao National Park is proud to be recognized as an international Ramsar site – a Wetland of International Importance, one of nine Ramsar sites in Vietnam. In Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province’s development plans until 2030, Con Dao is a focal point for eco-tourism – leisure – entertainment, targeting both local and foreign tourists.
Besides charming visitors with its otherworldly beauty, Con Dao plays a key role in delineating Vietnam’s territorial waters. Con Dao has three out of the 11 baseline points that comprise Vietnam’s sea baseline, at Tai Lon Islet, Bong Lan Islet, and Bay Canh Islet, with two secondary points of Cau Islet and Ba Islet. These points help to establish the breadth of Vietnam’s territorial waters and establish sovereignty over Vietnam’s seas.
Understanding Con Dao’s vital role in Vietnam’s maritime border, while bathing in the bright sun and cooling breezes, you’ll better appreciate the peace and vitality in these islands. Despite having been the site of great tragedy and heroic sacrifices, this land still radiates with unforgettable beauty.
Again, in this dreamy faraway land, verses from the poet Nguyen Khoa Diem’s “Dat Nuoc” (“Country”) fill our thoughts: “When we grew up, the Country had long existed…”.