Côn Đảo – from “Hell on Earth” to “Tourist Paradise”

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Côn Đảo Islands is an archipelago and also a district of Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu Province in the Southeastern region of Vietnam. Located at about 185 km from Vũng Tàu and 230 km from Hồ Chí Minh city, the group includes 16 mountainous islands and islets whose total land area is about 75.15 km2 with 16 islands and the local population is roughly 5,000.
Photo: Vietsense Travel

The islands’ largest island, Côn Sơn (or Côn Lôn) Island is infamous for its penal facilities where Vietnamese and Cambodian nationalists were sent to serve their sentence for anti-French activities during the French colonial era. Many Vietnamese Communist leaders were “schooled” on this island as well.

Time your visit

From March to September is the best time of the year to visit Côn Đảo. From October to February, although there are often large waves, it is still worthy to visit because that is the time of the dry season with very lovely sunlight. In short, visit Côn Đảo at any time you feel like, as it always welcomes you.

Destinations

Đầm Trầu Beach
Photo: Foody

Famous as the most beautiful beach of Côn Đảo, Đầm Trầu beach is only 30 minutes drive from Côn Đảo town center. There is soft white sand, pristine forests and uniquely shaped cliffs for you to explore. At the beach, you can have fun in the water, enjoy the magnificent scenery or dive into the ocean for the coral reef.

Côn Đảo National Park
Photo: Mytour

Côn Đảo National Park is an area of nearly 6,000ha of land and 14,000ha underwater. Coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests here provide environment productive for breeding, nursing and preserving marine species. Here, you will experience many interesting activities such as fishing, diving, biking, walking and nature sightseeing.

Currently, Côn Đảo is home to the largest number of sea turtles in Vietnam. There are 17 sandbanks recorded as spawning grounds of turtles, of which up to four are recorded as having 1,000 mother turtles laying eggs each year.

Hàng Dương Cemetery
Photo: Vietnam Times

Hàng Dương Cemetery is the largest cemetery on Côn Đảo. This is where tens of thousands of revolutionary and patriotic Vietnamese soldiers have been buried for generations, from 1862 to 1975. There are more than 2,000 martyrs’ graves, including graves of famous patriots such as Võ Thị Sáu, Nguyễn An Ninh, Lê Hồng Phong, etc. A special experience you have to try here is to visit the grave at 12 o’clock. In contrary to the common thinking that at this time the grave will be very quiet and deserted, the cemetery at midnight is still crowded with tourists. The stalls at the cemetery are still lit up, providing tourists with incense and offering for the deaths.

Côn Đảo Prison
Image result for nhà tù côn đảo
Photo: baotainguyenmoitruong.vn

Côn Đảo Prison was considered “Hell on Earth” during the war against the French and the US. This prison system was built by the French to lock up dangerous prisoners to French colonialism, such as political prisoners, prisoners who were on death rows, etc. This prison was later also used by the United States to imprison prisoners during the American war.

The most famous place in the prison area is the “tiger cage“. The “tiger cage” was the harshest place of the solitary confinement. The prisoners, detained in rooms with only 5m² in size and no beds, were shackled and had to lie on damp cement floor. They were provided with poor food and sanitation while often tortured for interrogation in order to subdue the wills of the prisoners. To avoid the public opposition, the “tiger cage” was isolated and kept as a secret, and for a long time, no one outside knew about its existence.

There are many other fascinating destinations on the islands, but I will leave it to you to explore for yourself.

Activities

Snorkelling on the coral reef
Photo: Dulich.me

Côn Đảo consists of different islands such as Bảy Cạnh Island, Tài Island, Tre Island, Egg Island, Trác Island or Cau Island, which are the collection of the highest density of coral reefs in Vietnam. This is an amazing opportunity for tourists to truly explore the ocean world. At pre-dive coral reef sites, you will be guided through basic operations and experience diving with an instructor.

Fishing
Photo: Youtube

Located in the South China Sea, Côn Đảo is blessed with abundant seafood, and it promises an exciting adventure for you. Brave tourists can even challenge themselves with shark fishing. The most ideal place is Bãi Nhát, located at the top of Côn Đảo’s famous peak, Love. According to “expert” shark fishermen, the best time to go shark fishing is when the night falls, while the size of the fish more or less depends on the weather and the water.

Watch the turtles laying their eggs
Photo: Soha
You can experience a very quiet but charming night on Bảy Cạnh Island, watching the Chelonia mydas turtles (or green turtles) making their nests and laying eggs on the beach. You can contact Côn Đảo National Park for more information about the tour.

Transportation

Côn Đảo is 236km from Hồ Chí Minh City. You can get to Côn Đảo by land and waterway or by air.

Photo: otosaigon.com
Travel by boat

From Hồ Chí Minh City, you can catch a bus to Vũng Tàu City then transfer to Cát Lở port to get to the pier.

You should book boat tickets online, pay through bank transfer then call the ticket office to confirm payment. Even if you have paid, you still need to arrive at the port 5 hours before the departure time. If you arrive late, the tickets will be sold to others, even if you have paid.

Booking website: vetaukhachcondao.com.

If your schedule has specific departure and return dates, always book your return, and take them all at once at Cát Lở Pier, avoiding waiting time to buy tickets at two ports. During the booking process, when payment is finished, you should also check the boat schedule to see whether the trip is cancelled or not, or if you have to change boat. If so, you should call the ticket office and re-order the tickets, because if the weather is bad or the boat is not running, the ticket office will not notify you.

Travel by plane

You can fly directly from Hồ Chí Minh City or Cần Thơ to Côn Đảo. From Hà Nội, you will have to transit to one of the places above. From Hồ Chí Minh City, there are 4-5 flights every day and guests can bring a maximum of 20 kg of checked baggage and 7 kg of free portable luggage. The flight time is about 55 minutes.

If you have any questions regarding this article or are in need of assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are definitely thrilled to help.

Ngọc Lê


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