The sixteen pristine islands that make up the Con Dao archipelago lie off Vietnam’s southern coast and the breathtakingly beautiful land and seascapes provide the perfect spot for watersports as well as cultural exploration. And did you know that Marco Polo paid a visit to Con Dao and mentions both Sondur and Condur islands in his 1292 book ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’.
The Vietnamese settled Con Dao in the 17th century under the Khmer Empire, the French Colonial rulers took control in 1861 and turned this island chain into a notorious penal colony. The British East India Company also established a settlement here in the early 1700s but the entire staff were killed by mercenaries, probably from Borneo. Con Dao also sports a Malay name; ‘Pulo Condore’ which roughly translated means the island of gourd fruits, hinting at past bounty.
Comprised of sixteen islands and islets, the Con Dao archipelago covers a total of 76 km² with the largest island, Con Lon (also Con Son) occupying two thirds of this. Much of the islands have been awarded protected status as part of the Con Dao National Park, which was established in 1984 to protect the rich variety of endemic bird and animal life that depends on this diverse habitat of mangrove, meadow and coral reef. Con Dao counts several endangered species as residents, including the green turtle, hawksbill turtle and dugong (a relative of the manatee, pictured).
The Con Dao National Park is slowly opening itself up to eco travellers who want to experience the region and authorities have worked closely with the WWF over the last decade to further establish protected areas to preserve the coral reefs for future generations. Turtle nesting season runs from May to November and dedicated ranger stations pop up to rescue and relocate threatened nests, as well as educate locals and travellers.
The National Park covers around 80% of the island chain and also offers interesting hikes through its dense primary jungle, which is teeming with endemic animals such as the black squirrel and the curiously named crab-eating macaque.
In addition to its offering as an eco travel haven, Con Dao also boasts pristine beaches, scenic bays and hidden lagoons, which is starting to attract watersports fanatics looking for the next ‘in’ destination.
At present very few tourists make it to this secret Vietnamese paradise… at the moment anyway. Get here quick!
Image credit: Julien Willem CC-ASA-3.0