The history of Con Dao
One of the reasons that Con Dao is so interesting is it’s history. Con Son island was used to imprison political prisoners who were seen as a threat to the ruling regime, first by the French in the mid 1800’s and then by the South Vietnamese right up until the mid 1970’s when the country was re-unified. It was a place where many people died, kept in appalling conditions, tortured and worked to death. A visit to some of the prisons on the island, including the site of the infamous tiger cages discovered by journalist Tom Harkin in 1970 provide a humbling and thought provoking experience. It’s possible to visit the oldest prison Phu Hai, Phu Tuong (the site of the tiger cages) and the new museum on Ton Duc Thang street in one morning or afternoon (we walked in between the sights which was roughly 1km). Everything closes between the hours of 11 and 2 (or there about, it’s very hard to get the definitive answer from anyone) so visit in the morning (8-11) or the afternoon (2-5). You need a ticket, which we got for 20,000VND each at Phu Hai prison.
Con Son is a place that many Vietnamese travel to in order to pay their respects to the people that died here meaning that there are many monuments around the island where you can witness people praying and leaving offerings, visit the cemetery where Vo Thi Sau was buried to witness local people and other Vietnamese paying their respects from 10pm onwards but be sure to dress modestly (knees and shoulders covered).
Scooters can be rented all over the island but the best place we found was from Bar 200 (see below) where they arranged a scooter for us for 120,000VND. It’s hard to get lost on the island and it’s a great way to explore and see the beautiful scenery, views and beaches which are right at your fingertips. Head to Dam Trau beach to watch the sunset and the waves by driving out on the airport road and taking the dirt track on the left (badly signposted) 300m before the airport.
Where to stay in Con Dao
We spent 2 weeks in Con Dao and stayed in 3 different places, one for each kind of budget:
Phi Yen (budget option)
34 Ton Duc Thang
We really hope you don’t have to stay here. Although the sea view over the road is beautiful the room was dirty and the place was noisy. In fact on our first night there the people in the restaurant next door played that irritating song by James Blunt on loop until 5.30 am.
ATC Resort (mid range option)
8 Ton Duc Thang
Same beautiful sea view (if you have a room at the front), clean(er) rooms and friendly staff (some of who speak good English). There’s a big pool and they made us vegan breakfast every morning (although we did need an MSG detox afterwards).
Six Senses Con Dao (luxury option)
Dat Doc Beach
Needless to say Six Senses Con Dao was vegan heaven. Everything was perfect. We never wanted to leave. If you can, stay here for a laid back luxury stay where they really embrace veganism. The chef is particularly amazing and the food was out of this world (you can also go and visit the restaurant ‘By The Beach’ if you don’t get to stay here). You can read our deatiled review of Six Senses Con Dao here.
Where to eat in Con Dao
Nguyen An Ninh
(opposite Cong vien Pham Van Dong Park)
There isn’t a name for this local vegan restaurant and no one seems to know about it, despite the huge ‘Quan Chay’ (meaning ‘Vegetarian Restaurant’) sign outside, 3 dishes are served, all Vietnamese and all vegan with rice, noodles, mock meat, tofu and the usual Vietnamese herbs and condiments. The food was tasty and exciting because it’s just vegan versions of local dishes, opening times were a bit erratic, she’s open at 6am until 11am, although she was sometimes closed when we went by during ‘opening hours’ but when we passed by and looked hungry at around 5pm she cooked for us.
Pham Van Dong
(near the market)
Owned by the team behind Dive Con Dao this is the hangout for divers and anyone just wanting a nice cold beer and a chat. There is a good selection of pizzas and other western food but they put parmesan in their tomato sauce making it not suitable for vegans. Their bread has egg in it too. Aaaarrrrgh! But they were very helpful to us, telling us where the best places in town for vegan food were, helping us identify mystery street food and sorting out a good quality scooter so we could go off on an adventure. Plus, the beer is really cold and you can always get a portion of chips for that vegan junk food moment.
Corner of Pham Van Dong and Tran Huy Lieu Street
Update January 2019 – One of our readers said there was no longer vegan food available here…
A funky little restaurant and coffee place with good service, good food and a good atmosphere (plus they have a proper coffee machine and good coffee). Vegan options include delicious pizza and pasta as well as fresh handrolls and for breakfast there’s awesome banana jam and pineapple jam to go with the best (and only) vegan baguettes in town.
7 Vo Thi Sua Street
This is a tough one because Thu Bar is actually a seafood restaurant and like a lot of places in Vietnam, they keep their live seafood in water tanks in the restaurant (on the left hand side as you walk in, not a happy sight). However, they’re one of the few restaurants that have a vegetarian menu and the owner speaks excellent English and will happily create vegan dishes that aren’t on the menu, the prices are good and the portions are huge but most importantly the food is fresh and good quality.
Con Son Cafe
Ton Duc Thang Street
Nice place for drinks on the sea front. The music sucks, the coffee is awful but there’s something about this place that’s really lovely. Probably the peaceful moments where the muzak stops playing and watching the world go by is the only thing to do.
Con Dao Market
Pham Van Dong street near Bar 200
Mainly open in the morning until 10am and then in the evening between 4-6pm the local market is the place to go for fresh fruit and veg but also a few tasty street food snacks along Pham Van Dong, at the edge of the fresh market there’s a stall that sells banh mi and bread rolls (only in the morning) but we don’t think they’re vegan so beware. But, there are a few stalls that are selling all kinds of sweet, deep fried vegan goodies (mainly made from coconut, sesame seeds, flour and sugar). These are the stall that you should visit if you want to get your deep fired vegan bread fix.
Along Ton Duc Thang Street
The seafront along Ton Duc Thang fills up with people in the late afternoon and there’s a few people selling street food, no one appeared to be selling anything vegan, apart from the sweet potato lady who sits cooking her potatoes for hours on hot coals.
Six Senses Con Dao
Dat Doc Beach
You can book a table in one of the restaurants at Six Senses Con Dao and treat yourself to an amazing vegan meal. Choose from Vietnamese or Western cuisine, healthy or indulgent; it all tastes spectacular. For something out of the ordinary try the ‘Banh Bao’ burger or if you’re really feeling like spoiling yourself, spend the night at the Chef’s table. You won’t be disappointed. Here is our review from By The Beach at Six Senses Con Dao.