Con Dao, an island off the coast of southern Vietnam, is best known in history books as a prison island. Once housing thousands of prisoners during the French colonial era and wartime, Con Dao has now become a peaceful retreat for international holiday makers who are seeking to discover the last few untouched islands of Southeast Asia and local Vietnamese who are coming to Con Dao for pilgrimage purposes.
So what makes this destination one of the last pastures in Southeast Asia, let alone Vietnam, to be discovered? We meet with Quynh Le, one of the owners of the Poulo Condor Boutique Resort & Spa, who shares with us what makes this place so special.
What potential did you see here in Con Dao that encouraged your family to develop this resort?
My father had so many memories with the island. He was a prisoner in Con Dao during the war. He wanted to express his thanks towards the island as he could, unlike some of his friends who passed away. I fell in love with Con Dao and convinced my dad to invest here after my first trip with him and his veteran friends during their pilgrimage journey to the island in 2007.
The island is fascinating, both for the location – in Vietnam, there aren’t many beach islands you can name – and its dramatic history and legends. It has so much potential to develop as a luxury destination with limited boutique resorts.
Besides, unlike the other remote islands of Vietnam, the infrastructure of the island is quite established. My first time here, I feel like I was back in the early 80’s, when the streets were quiet even during the day. You hardly hear engine sounds; daily life is slow and peaceful.
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What other destinations has your family looked at before?
We had one beach resort in Ho Tram. We usually look for unexplored and beautiful beach destinations off the tourist map. Only a 1.5 hour drive from busy Saigon, it’s very convenient to reach Ho Tram, where you can find a nice, quiet and relaxing beach destination.
What’s the best season to go to Con Dao and why?
Beach are clean and pristine clear year round, with variations in rain. From March to April, it’s the best time in the year, no rain, no wind, and the weather is very pleasant. From the summer through late September, there might be some rain, but it’s typical tropical rain, which might be very heavy but fleeting with the sun returns quickly.
What are your top three dining recommendations in Con Dao off the resort?
Definitely try the local street food. First, there’s bún mắm, a tangy seafood noodle soup which is a very local and very typical street food. Second is lẩu đuôi bò, oxtail hotpot, which is found on a quite secret street that you can find after some google research. Third, I recommend the Thu Ba restaurant.
What can we expect next from the Poulo Condor team and experience?
We are developing more spa and wellness programs in the resort to attract more guests who seek out immersion in ‘deep nature’ away from technology. The resort’s facilities and surroundings are very fit for the retreat purpose. Also, we are investing more in customer care, such as villa hosts for all staying guests, to provide personable service for a remarkable travel experience.
What are some of the top reasons for travelers that you meet for coming to Con Dao?
With foreigners, most are looking for an excursion, nice and quiet beaches and unspoiled nature of the island. With locals, it’s mostly for pilgrimage purposes and very few are coming for scenery and the beach. Hopefully, we can change that.