The Con Dao islands have “an utterly unhurried ambience,” writes Iain Stewart at the UK Telegraph. Two traffic lights, one gas station, only one road -- “I'd spent the previous week embracing Vietnamese city culture and its furious energy and commerce, but was now in need of some serious hammock time.” Located off the southern coast, the isolated archipelago is comprised of sixteen islands and islets: “rugged mountainous masses of rock covered in dense forest, fringed by coral reef and drowning in sublimely turquoise-azure sea,” explains Travelfish.
But there are two distinct sides to the Con Dao Islands, explains Vietnam Coracle. You can spend one day “swimming in the clear sea, walking upon white sand beaches, driving along deserted coast roads, and drinking cocktails on the seafront promenade,” then spend the next day “visiting the prisons, learning about former inmates -- many of whom are celebrated national heroes -- and witnessing remnants of their forced labour, which caused hundreds of prisoners to die.” The first scenraio is “the future of the Con Dao Islands as a tropical paradise.” The latter is “its past as a penal colony, set up by the French colonial administration.”
Con Son is “a world away from Vietnam’s well-beaten tourist trail,” observes Tom Westbrook at the BBC. Known as “Southeast Asia's Devil's Island,” Con Son was once a penal colony “used to brutal and cruel effect first by French colonists and later during the Vietnam War.” The French “worked 914 men to death building the island’s jetty,” while Vietnam War prisoners “were kept in infamous tiger cages, where captives -- actual or suspected Communists -- were shackled to the floor of deep concrete pits with steel bars for a roof.”
Despite its “gruesome history,” Con Dao’s main draw today “is its beaches,” says Time Out -- they’re “some of the most spectacular and unspoilt in the region.” Even Bai An Hai, the easiest public beach to reach here “feels wild and untamed.”