Photo: Con Dao beach scenes.


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Located off the southern coast of Vietnam, the remote and utterly beautiful Con Dao Islands offer visitors a rare experience not found anywhere else in the country. The isolated archipelago is comprised of 16 islands and islets: rugged mountainous masses of rock covered in dense forest, fringed by coral reef and drowning in sublimely turquoise-azure sea. Prepare to be dazzled.

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Sunlight beams through clouds illuminating jagged peaks that sharply tumble down to the water. Verdant forest clashes with barren craggy rocks, barren craggy rocks abut white sand silkily swept over by water so blue it seems digitally enhanced. Modern buildings stand amid crumbling French ruins slowly being strangled by tree roots and vines. A lone fishermen paddles to shore in a basket boat. The scenery is at once rich and desolate, a world of contradiction.

Strike a pose. Photo taken in or around Con Dao Islands, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Strike a pose. Photo: Cindy Fan

The only civilised way to reach Con Dao is by a one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City to the main island Con Son (also known as Con Lon or “big island”), which has one central town and a main harbour Ben Dam. The cost of flying and the limited number of flights means only a trickle of travellers can get to paradise. The islands are also a refreshing enclave of protected wilderness, a chunk of the land and waters belonging to Con Dao National Park. What this means is travellers will have miles of coastal roads, hiking trails and deserted beaches all to themselves.

Con Dao’s beauty is complicated. Not long ago the island knew only the pain and suffering of thousands who were imprisoned there, earning it the name “hell on earth” and the “Devil’s Island of Indochina”.

The Portuguese first landed in the archipelago in 1516. The English East India Company planted their flag in 1702, calling the island “Pulo Condore”, before the French East India Company settled in 1721 and named it Orleans. The French officially occupied the area in 1861, and this was the beginning of 113 years ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 1,300 words.)

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