Condao Islands in Vietnam, description and photos

Con Dao Island

Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands, of which Conchon is the largest. It has no particular historical monuments other than the dreaded prison and lighthouse.

Condao Island is not a single territory. It is a real archipelago of 16 small islands. It is located 185 kilometers from the shore of the South China Sea.

The area of all the islands is 76 square kilometers.

Today, the archipelago is known as an ideal place for family entertainment and water-related activities. The island is quite problematic to get to, as it is far from the coastline. It is because of this that Con Dao is famous for its secluded spots. Holidaymakers here today is a bit small due to the fact that tourism began to develop more recently. On the islands started building hotels, restaurants and shopping malls.

At the moment, the rest here can afford only rich tourists, as the island has built a few expensive hotels. Cheap hotels on the island is still a little, so for the ordinary travelers archipelago Condao is still closed.

In 1984, Con Dao was classified as a nature reserve.

More recently, the archipelago was known for holding dangerous criminals. Today it has become one of the famous luxury resorts.

At the time when Vietnam was considered a French colony, more than ten prisons were founded here. After a while, they found another use for them: they began to send into exile the revolutionaries. It is estimated that more than 20,000 prisoners died on the island. Today the islands have another hidden name – the infernal prison.

Despite the long stay of the prisons, the nature has not suffered from them at all, and remained as majestic and almost untouched.

Weather in Kondao

It is always warm on the archipelago, as it is located in the tropical zone. On the island as well as everywhere else is customary to distinguish the dry and wet season. There are no abrupt changes in temperature here. From December on Con Dao begins the dry season, which lasts until early April. There is no excessive humidity or extremely high temperatures here.

In May, the rainy season begins. During this period, the strongest winds blow and there is a lot of rainfall. However, the climatic features will not affect the rest, as it pours only at night.

But if you visit the island at a certain time, you can see a lot of interesting things, such as spawning turtles, crawling out in great numbers on the shore from May to November.

Divers will love the islands from February to June. During this time, the water in the sea is perfectly clear.

There are several options how to get to the islands.

  1. Airplane. There is a local airport on one of the islands of the archipelago. From Hanoi, Canto and other Vietnamese cities there are daily flights. Ticket prices range from $35. From the airport you can take a cab to your destination for three dollars.
  2. Ferry. Eight times a day a ship sails from Ho Chi Minh City to the island. And after an hour of travel, you will be there.

On Con Dao there is no public transportation at all, so to get to another part of the island, you will have to order a cab. You can only really travel between the islands by boat.

The island is not large, and is not yet recognized as a tourist center. We can conclude that there are not many hotels here either. However, in the available buildings you can find rooms in different price categories. But you should remember that there is not a lot of cheap accommodation. And if you really want to get to Con Dao, it is better to pre-book a hotel room.

Today, on the islands of the archipelago is built a huge number of guest houses and shopping centers. With their construction price for housing will decrease significantly, but also the tourists will be much more. If after all the lodging in a hotel you can not afford, you can use the services of the tent city, where for a very small fee, get a healthy holiday alone with nature.

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The authorities today face the question of overtaking the quality and quantity of beaches in Phuket. That is why the island is actively being built houses and improvement of the coastal zone. Recent studies have shown that today there are more than 20 beaches.

For tourists accessible to the beaches of the island of Konshawna, but because of the influx of tourists they are not as clean as the beaches in the interior of the archipelago. On the way to the airport you can find Datlock beach, which is famous for a large accumulation of seaweed.

As we know, Con Dao has a focus on quiet family vacations. There are no nightclubs or bars here. Tourists come here to take a break from the city and feel at one with the environment.

Of entertainment on the island can be highlighted by diving. On Con Dao founded two large diving centers, where the training takes place.

Well, how can you do without fishing, especially in such a place. The good news is that fishing is allowed wherever there is water and fish.

Attractions Kondao

The islands of the archipelago themselves can be called a landmark. But beyond that, there are several interesting objects that will definitely attract attention. Walking around the territory of the island Conchon, it is impossible not to notice the buildings that were built at the time when Con Dao was a French colony. Here you can see the headquarters of the prison along with the buildings themselves and the famous cemetery where war victims are buried.

An abandoned governor’s house now houses the prison museum. Almost all of the exhibits are closely related to prison themes and the revolutions that took place here. When you come to Con Dao, you will learn the whole history of the islands, walk through the old cells and even see ancient relics.

Conchon Island has an interesting hiking route to the famous Camp #7. It was discovered by the Americans on the opposite side of the island. Following the route, you will visit the most gruesome places where various tortures were carried out.

Of the natural attractions of Konshon stands out the bay of the same name, literally teeming with animals. Here you can meet dolphins, sharks, turtles and other aquatic life.

The bay is famous for the fact that here every year gives birth to over 60 thousand turtles. To observe this unique action, you have to sit on the shore for a long time, giving up smoking and drinking.

The island, as mentioned earlier, is a nature reserve. Its area is huge and amounts to 20 thousand hectares. More than 80% of the total area is occupied by water, the rest is dense jungle. The creators of the park with love and awe treat their offspring, especially highlight the coral reefs, which require great attention. This care is due to the fact that during the construction of the prison they were badly damaged. In addition to protecting the fascinating natural massifs, the administration does not forget about the animals, which are collected more than 2000 species. It is only possible to enter the park with a special permit and as part of a guided tour.

Along with Konshon, Baikan Island was also recognized as a nature reserve. It is here where you can observe the maximum number of turtles during the spawning period. Tourist agencies have agreed with the local authorities to hold an unusual night tour, during which you can observe the laying of eggs by turtles.

There is also a lighthouse built in 1887 on the territory of the reserve.

Summarizing all the above, we come to the conclusion that the archipelago is mostly interesting just for its natural attractions. Only the lighthouse and the prison constitute the historical fund of Con Dao.

If you want history, get on a plane and fly to other cities in Vietnam.

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Con Dao Islands

Con Dao Islands – an archipelago of 15 volcanic islands with a total area of about 76 square kilometers lies 180 km south of Vung Tau. The archipelago’s largest island, formerly known as Conchon but which changed its name to Con Dao in 1977, accounts for 52 square kilometers. For a long time, the island was known as “Far Eastern Cayenne” and “Indochinese Bastille. Thousands of opponents of the colonial regime and fighters for the unification of the country passed through Kondao Island Prison. Today, the prison cells have been transformed into a spooky museum, and the islands have become a national park open to tourists.

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History

In the 13th century, the Italian traveler Marco Polo mentioned the islands in his “Book of the Diversity of the World” called Sondur. The famous Venetian visited the islands in 1284 as a passenger on an Arab ship sailing from China to Arabia and took shelter among the islands from the storm. In 1516, Europeans, Portuguese sailors, landed on the Kondao for the first time. In 1686 you will hear French speech for the first time and in 1702 the British East India Company undertook to establish there a trading post and a base for its fleet. By that time the archipelago had long belonged to the state of Daiwiet, whose rulers kept a garrison of 200 hired Malay soldiers on the main island. The Malay who came to the British met them with no enthusiasm, but did not raise any obstacles. In 1705 emissaries from the king’s court sneaked on Kondao in the guise of fishermen and, promised rewards, persuaded the Malay to put up a belated resistance. Colonial Sipai soldiers recruited by the company in Makassar, Indonesia, joined the revolt. Taken by surprise, the British barely escaped by ship and made no further attempts to take possession of the islands.

In Europe the islands were known by the distorted Malay name Pulo Kondor (from Pulau Kundur, meaning Pumpkin Islands) . The archipelago was the first part of Vietnam to be claimed by France. The French had barely gained a foothold on the mainland when they began expelling anyone who dared to oppose the “new order” as early as 1861. The first prisoners had a particularly hard time: they had to build a prison for themselves with their bare hands. The stones were either hacked out on coral reefs or hauled from the mountains through the impenetrable jungle. The grueling heat, poor nutrition, and brutality of the guards killed people no worse than the guillotine. To this day, some of the buildings in the Pullo Condor “zone” bear names indicating the number of prisoners who died while building them – “Pier 914”, “Bridge of 350”.

The contingent of prisoners consisted exclusively of “annamites.” Criminals from the metropolis were not exiled here, so Pullo Condor is not as famous as the other French overseas penitentiary, on Devil’s Island in South American Guiana. The conditions in both institutions, however, were not much different. Those who wish to get a clear picture of the suffering of the prisoners can watch the 1973 film Mothman starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

In 1954, the South Vietnamese government inherited the prison from the departing French. The main island of the archipelago was renamed Conchon (Pearl Island), but the lives of the prisoners were not improved in any way. Moreover, conditions deteriorated as the victory of the Communist North approached. In May 1975, the last 200 prisoners of Konshon were released. In 1977 the “tainted” name of Conchon was changed to Kondao. In 1984, a nature reserve was created on the islands, which became a nature reserve in 1993. Currently, the islands are home to about 6,000 people, more than a third of whom are military personnel. Each year, Kondao is visited by more than 3 thousand tourists.

Location and transportation

The islands lie in a southeasterly direction from Vungtau. The largest island, Condao, is located in the center of the group. It is surrounded by smaller islets, among which Cau, Bai Kaen, Truc, and Bai An stand out. In the northeastern part of Kondao is the Koong Airport (So Ong) . VASCO (Vietnam Aviation Service Company) maintains air links between the island and the mainland. Since 2005, its 64-seat ATR-72 aircrafts have been making daily flights to the islands from Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau airports.

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On the opposite, southwest side of the island lies Bendam Fishing Harbor, connected to Koong by a paved highway (30 km) . The road goes from the airport to the southeast, passes the second highest mountain on the island – Peak Chua (515 m), rounding the Cape Chimchim and then goes along the southeastern and southern coast of Kondao.

About halfway from the airport to the fishermen’s harbor, there is a bay sheltered from the wind and waves, which shelters Konshon – the administrative center of the archipelago, as well as new resorts. The area of the island is small – the road from the airport to any of the local resorts takes 15 minutes at most.

Adventurers can venture to the islands by sea. Every ten days ships make two trips to the islands from the port of Vungtau (ticket price about 20 USD) . Oddly enough, the sea connection between Condao and the mainland is much more dependent on the weather, so the departure time of each ship should be clarified in advance. The journey from pier to pier takes 12-13 hours. Since the voyage ships are small and do not shine in luxury, the journey can be strenuous. For more information, contact the carrier, Con Dao Transportation (35, Truong Con Dinh St., Ho Chi Minh City) in Vung Tau .

Part of the island highway within Con Son Township plays the role of the waterfront and is called Ton Duc Thang Rd. A little further inland, parallel to it is Nguyen Due Thanh Rd. The third main street is Vo Thi Sau (Vo Thi Sau Rd.), crossing the first two at right angles to the northwest. The post office is located at the corner of Tran Phu Rd. and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, with internet access for 3000 VND per hour. The national park office, where you can get information about the nature and attractions of the islands, is outside the village, at Vo Thi Sau Rd (29, Vo Thi Sau Rd, tel. 830150, e-mail: vqgcdao@hcm.vnn.vn) . On the same street, but in the center of the village is the market, which is most lively in the early morning hours.

At the very center of the village’s shoreline stretches the ancient pier 914. If you stand at its very beginning facing the sea, immediately behind you will find the villa of the governor of the island, which now houses a museum. On your right hand you will see the Phi Yen Hotel, the Kondao Resort, and Anhui Beach. In the distance behind them you will see the outline of Cape Camap and the characteristic silhouette of Mount Thanh Gia (577m), the highest peak of the archipelago. On the left hand side will be Saigon Con Dao and ATS resorts, and behind them is Lovoi Beach.

There is no public transportation on the island. The sights and beaches within the village can be bypassed on foot, but to visit the more remote corners of the island is better to rent a motorcycle. You can do it in any hotel (from 10 USD per day).

Climate

Condao is one of the southernmost regions of Vietnam with a maritime tropical climate. Sea waters make the local air fresher and cooler than in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. At the same time, it is the sea that determines some not so pleasant features of the local weather. The rainy season and dangerous sudden storms last from July to September. During these months, the prevailing winds are from the west. From September to January is a period of easterly winds, bringing moisture to the eastern shores of the islands. From June to the end of January, the archipelago can be very frustrating for fans of marine sports, especially diving. The best time to visit Kondao is from March to June, when the weather is clear and the coastal waters are clear and fairly calm.

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Attractions

In the streets of the village you will see many buildings built by the French in the colonial style: once the prison administration was located in Conchon. Walking along its streets, you can visit the Con Dao Museum, the former prison buildings and the Hang Duong Memorial Cemetery.

Con Dao Museum

The museum occupies the former home of the island’s governor. This villa was once the first seen by prisoners who had just stepped off the ship at “Pier 914. The ticket price (35,000 dong) includes a guided tour of the exhibition and prisons (English or French) . Approximately 90% of the museum’s exhibits relate to the history of the prison in one way or another. In addition, there are some relics that tell about the life of the islanders outside the “zone”.

Since 1862, the French authorities have built 11 prisons on the island, the oldest and largest of which was ‘Prison No.1’ on Nguyen Duc Thanh Street, called Phu Hai Prison by the South Vietnamese authorities. It takes only five minutes to walk from the museum to its gate. Here you can see the gate with two watchtowers, a wide courtyard with a Catholic chapel, a guardhouse, and common cells inhabited by very realistic mannequins of exhausted prisoners, chained to long metal rods attached to the bare concrete beds. Fuhai Prison housed up to 5,000 prisoners at a time. Nearby is Phu Son Prison, also on the itinerary. A little farther down the same street are the buildings of the detention center. Here you can see the famous “tiger cages” – rows of cramped solitary cells covered with steel bars. Each prison building was divided into dozens of similar solitary cells. Guards walked along special walkways along the walls of the cells around the clock. In this way, guards watched the prisoners from above – like predators in a menagerie (hence the name) . The first “cages” were built by the French penal administration in the 1940s. There were a total of 504 “cages” on the islands with a total area of about 152 square meters.

The prison regime was particularly brutal during the period of South Vietnamese independence. It is believed that at least 20,000 people died in the cages on Condao Island over a period of 40 years. The graves of 1994 people can be seen in the Hang Duong cemetery behind the prisons. Only about 700 tombstones have nameplates with the names of those buried. The graves of Vo Chi Sau (1937-1953), a philosopher, journalist, writer and writer Nguyen An Ninh (1900-1943) and a young patriot, are much revered. She was shot in Pullo Condor prison a year before the end of the 1st Indochina War. Today, almost every city in Vietnam has a street of Vo Chi Sau. However, the most famous prisoner of Con Dao can be considered Le Zuan – the political successor of Ho Chi Minh, who saved enough power in the cells, for 17 years, almost alone to rule the country.

Two other places of remembrance related to the history of the prison are on the outskirts of the township. Camp Fubin was built with American help in 1971 and was originally called Camp No. 7. This part of the prison can also be visited with a museum guide. To the left of Vo Thi Sau Street, about halfway from the market to the national park directorate, is the Dung Pit. This was once a sort of backyard for the prison. The guards often used this place to punish particularly unwanted prisoners by keeping a bound man up to his neck in liquid cow manure for several hours.

Phi Yen Temple

Phi Yen Temple, located on the outskirts of the village, is dedicated to the memory of Queen Phi Yen, wife of Emperor Zia Long. Local legend has it that the monarch once found refuge on the islands from the rebel Taishons. The help he received from the French helped him defeat his enemies, but the queen unexpectedly allowed herself to express doubts about the true intentions of the Europeans. Angered, Zia Long exiled his wife back to the island, where she died in solitary confinement. The temple was first built in 1783 and may now be considered the island’s oldest monument, but the original building was, alas, destroyed in 1861 by the very French the empress feared. The present temple is a replica, erected in the late 1950s.

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National Park

The park covers a total area of 20,000 hectares, of which 14,000 are off the coast of the South China Sea and the remaining 6,000 are in the jungle. The administration is particularly concerned with coral reefs, which were badly damaged during the years of prison construction and uncontrolled fishing. Equally closely guarded are the seaweed “fields” – the grazing grounds of the dugong, a rare sea animal from the order of the sirens. The park is home to 1,300 species of marine fauna alone, as well as several endemic species of land animals and birds. Visiting most areas of the park requires a special permit and the presence of a guide (about 100,000 dong per day) . The only hiking route open to free visits by tourists begins at the Park Directorate building in Conchon. Moving northwest along Vo Thi Sau Street, you can reach the edge of the rainforest, which begins about 3 km from the village. On the way, see the ruins of Ma Thien Lanh Bridge, also known as the Bridge of 350.

Then you can follow a one-kilometre forest trail to Ong Dung beach on the island’s opposite shore to the village. It is difficult to get lost here – the trail is signposted in English. There are more interesting routes that require a guide. There is a 2-hour hike southwest of the township that includes an ascent to the top of Mount Thanhja. Another route begins near the airport and has a total length of about 12 kilometers, 6 of which are in the jungle. During this hike, which ends at Dam Tre Bay (Dam Tre, or Bamboo Lagoon) , you can see the coastal mangroves.

In addition to Kondao, the national park includes several smaller islands. You can visit Baikan Island (Bay Canh) . The island lies to the east of the village (45 minutes by boat) . From March to September, green sea turtles come to this island and lay their eggs on the beaches of Bay Canh. Every year up to 60 thousand tiny reptiles hatch here. Turtles come to the island shore at night, and to see them, you can buy (by agreement with the park management) a tour with overnight stay in tents on the island (from 30 USD). Besides at the east end of Baikan there is a beautiful 16-meter tower of the working lighthouse built by the French in 1887.

Kondao Beaches

The beaches of the archipelago are so numerous that they defy enumeration. The beaches of Conchon Village are the most accessible, but inferior to the more distant ones in terms of cleanliness. To the east of the village, in the direction of the airport, there is a beach called Bai Dat Loc. Here there are bushes of seagrass and there is a probability (however, very weak) to meet the dugong. To the southwest of the village, on the shore of Cape Kamap (Mui Ca Map), is a beautiful beach Bai Nhat . The beach of Bamboo Lagoon is small and full of sharp rocks, but a few hundred meters from the shore there are beautiful coral reefs. The beaches of Baikan Island are exceptionally good.

Active Recreation

A basic set of “mask, snorkel, flippers” can be rented at any hotel in Con Dao (from 50,000 VND per day) . Diving enthusiasts can contact the Rainbow Divers office at ATS Resort (tel. 064-630023, e-mail: bin@divevietnam.com) .

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