Dense jungles, brooding mountains, endless waterways, towering cliffs, hairpin bends: the potential for adrenaline-fuelled adventure is limitless in Vietnam.
Whether you prefer to scale the heights of jagged peaks or plumb the depths of coral reefs, Vietnam will deliver something special. Heck, just being here is one long adventure, but these experiences will take it to a whole new level.
Kayak Halong Bay
Photo by Halongluxuryjunks
Use paddle power to explore this incredible forest of karsts that jut out of the South China Sea like stone sentinels. Kayaks go where other boats cannot, such as into hidden caves and secret lagoons, and will reveal to you the very best of the bay.
Conquer Mount Fansipan
Photo by Tuoi Tre Newspaper
OK, so it is not Mt Everest, but at 3,143m, it is the highest peak in the country. Meet some of the people on the trek before tackling the elements to arrive on the roof of Vietnam.
Motorbike through the deep north
Photo by Tieu Phong
Saddle up for the ride of a lifetime in the mountains of Vietnam’s deep north. The roads are absolute rollercoasters, the scenery is simply stunning.
Photo by Nam Vinh
Forget about those newfangled engines and pedal through the back roads of the Mekong Delta – a patchwork of emerald greens. Stick to the roads less travelled or jump on the odd boat or two for the full Mekong experience.
Photo by Tuoi Tre Newspaper
See Vietnam from a different angle by scuba diving off its curvaceous coast. Tank up, buddy down and explore the reefs off Nha Trang. Other options are Phu Quoc Island or, the final frontier, Con Dao.
Photo by Tuoi Tre Newspaper
If all that underwater stuff sounds too deep, then float above it all with something more carefree like kitesurfing. Mui Ne is the unashamed kitesurfing capital, but the sport is (literally) taking off, up and down the coast.
Explore Vietnam’s national parks
Tourists explore Ninh Thuan national park – Photo by Phung My Trung
Vietnam’s jungle is massive – well at least in some of the protected areas. Track shy wildlife, hike to hidden waterfalls or mountain-bike down paths less travelled in one of the country’s remote national parks, such as magnificent Cat Tien.
Source: BBC/ Lonelyplanet
The international resorts and spas management and development firm Six Senses will open a new destination resort on Con Dao Islands not far from the southern beach town of Vung Tau on December 20.
The 12-hectare, US$34-million resort will feature 50 villas dotted along the sandy beach. Six Senses is the only five-star resort on the archipelago.
The firm further claims that all building materials will be taken from natural, sustainable and local sources.
At the heart of the resort is the Vietnamese kitchen, using charcoal and wood fired ovens to offer Vietnamese street food from fresh noodles, rice, soups, rolls and wraps. Interested guests can also join daily cooking classes.
The investor said other restaurants at Six Senses Con Dao will also serve only fresh ingredients, locally caught, bought and picked.
Despite being just an hour away by airplane from Ho Chi Minh City, Con Dao archipelago has remained largely undeveloped and untarnished.
More than 80 percent of the area is national park, including a 140-square-kilometer marine reserve.
The five-star Six Senses Con Dao becomes operational on December 20.
Source: Thanhnien News
Along with Con Dao Island in the top 10 are Yemen’s Cocotra, Australia’s Torres Strait, Japan’s Yaeama, Guyana’s Illes du Salut, the RoK’s Ulleungdo, Panama’s San Blas, Taiwan’s Pengu, Honduras’ Bay and Hog island and Uganda’s Ssese.
According to Saigontourist, Con Dao Island was also a favorite places for honeymoons in the 2010 wedding season. Tourists traveling there have a peaceful time on the beautiful beaches, offshore islands and breathtaking landscapes.
Until recently, the 16-island archipelago of Con Dao, 180km south of the southern beach town of Vung Tau, was a place most Vietnamese wanted to forget. For 113 years, this island was home to one of the country’s harshest prison systems, known the tiger cages, established by French colonists in 1862 and later ruled by South Vietnamese and American forces until Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. Its name has been tied to an ugly history that evokes images of torture and cruelty.
But despite its not-so-pleasant past, Con Dao is one of Southeast Asia’s most untouched and breathtaking getaways. Its surrounding waters offer a visual feast, with over 1,000 hectares of stunning coral reefs teeming with a colorful array of marine life. Travelers with a special interest in nature will be thrilled with the diverse range of plants and animal life growing in the island’s forests.
Though there was indeed a lack of development for several decades, the number of flights from Ho Chi Minh City to the archipelago continue to increase. The reason why many are lured to Con Dao is its natural beauty that is unrivaled with the rest of Vietnam. Of the archipelago’s total area, 83 percent is protected by the Con Dao National Park, including over 50 square miles that make up the country’s first marine reserve.
With its abundant beauty, the islands seek to take advantage of its tourism potential to good effect. Compared to the massive numbers of visitors that arrive in Phu Quoc Island or Nha Trang every year, the 35,000 to 40,000 tourists that come to Con Dao may be just a small fraction. In 2005, authorities decided tourism should play a key role in Con Dao’s development and plans were made to increase its population to 50,000 and the number of tourists to between 500,000 and 700,000 annually by the year 2020.
Having seen the wonderful tourism possibilities of the archipelago, many investors around Vietnam and from across the world wooed the Con Dao District People’s Committee on their investment offers to expand it touristic segments. However, unlike Phu Quoc and Nha Trang, the people and authorities of Con Dao do not want to exploit what people had come to see. Though developments are always welcome, it should never change the immaculate image and pristine state of the island. With help from organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations Development Program, the park has just won approval for a $16.5 million development plan through 2020, which will finance natural resource protection, research and eco-tourism.
In April 2009, 20 fishermen were selected to assist the project in replanting an area of 40 hectares of coral reef. Their involvement in the project greatly helped in increasing the fishermen’s interest in coral conservation and discouraging them from engaging in destructive fishing practices.
Even up to now, despite the island becoming more a tourist destination, only a handful of tourism companies are offering tours to Con Dao. The island also is also limited in terms of tourist accommodations. Other tour companies are looking at offering more diving and trekking services on the archipelago. The UNDP Sustainable Development Cluster implemented a project that assisted three fishing households to provide tourism transport. Such project helped provide livelihood to locals along the coast.
The park has also recently made an effort to regulate tourism activities in small islets. Such move is important to allow tourism, yet still prevent the disruption to nature and the species’ ecological balance. Several developments are visible and more are still underway. These days, officials on government-sponsored group tours make pilgrimages to the crumbling stone prisons, which have been turned into museums that depict the suffering endured by their comrades. Other buildings constructed by the French have been converted into cafes and private homes in the main town, which consists of little more than a daily market, a few seafood restaurants and a couple of souvenir shops selling shells, carved wooden canes. The entire Con Dao indeed is so far from what it used to be when it was ran by the French.
All investment projects now ran in the island ensured to follow the sustainable development principles of having minimal impacts on its environment and natural resources. Such efforts allowed tourists to still enjoy peace and quiet and have close encounter with untouched nature despite being in a tourist site.
Dam Trau is a long deserted tropical beach on Con Dao Archipelago.
At one end is the Co Ong Airport runway where the occasional plane breaks the silence as it comes into land. At the other end is a rocky headland jutting into an azure sea. The white sandy beach is clean and backed by forested hills. It can be accessed from the road by a few rough tracks.
Tuan Anh, our tour guide tells us a sad love story about Dam Trau Beach where a clever, hardworking guy named Truc Van Cau who lived in Co Ong Village fell in love with a beautiful girl named Mai Thi Trau.
Everyone in the village thought they were a beautiful couple, until Cau’s father told him that Trau was actually Cau’s sister because the father had an affair with her mother many years prior. So the love was forbidden.
Knowing that they couldn’t love each other anymore, Cau left his village for a small island and lived there. People called this island Hon Cau (Cau Islet). Trau was pregnant with Cau’s child and she went to the cliffs where they used to meet and waited for him every day. Finally she committed suicide. The place where she died, people in Co Ong Village called Dam Trau Beach. Cau never returned and stayed on the island for the rest of his life.
A local saying goes, “Remember telling Cau, how far from Hon Cau to Dam Trau?”
The answer is 10km according to our tour guide.
Source: The saigon Times
Vietnam tourism is about to finish the 5 year development period of 2006-2010 to enter a new development era. According to Mr. Nguyen Manh Cuong, Deputy General Director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, in the next 10 years, Vietnam Tourism will move its focus from “quantity” to “quality”, in which tours to explore sea, culture, ecotourism, communitiy development are among top priorities.
Vietnam boasts world-class beaches, bays and islands including Halong bay, Nha Trang beach, Mui Ne, Phu Quoc island, Con Dao island, etc. The facts indicate that in recent years, sea tours have attracted a great number of overseas tourists and brought about the largest portion of total tourism income of the country, Cuong said. Nevertheless, sea exploitation for tourism development is still considered spontaneous and wasteful. Long term planning strategy is therefore needed to ensure sustainable development in the coming time.
The tourism sector will target maintaining growth rate while improve tourism income by developing high value-added products. The sector tries to earn US$ 8.9 billion in revenue, accounting for 5.2% of GDP by 2015; US$ 15.9 billion and 6.0% of GDP by 2020.
In the new development period, increasing tourism income will be the core issue. The industry aims at exploiting both domestic and international markets while giving priority to luxury clients to attract foreign currencies, maintain traditional source markets.
Vietnam will concentrate on luring tourists from ASEAN, Northeast Asia, Western Europe, North America, Northern Europe, overseas Vietnamese…; place sea tourism at the core position in the development strategy of the industry to draw tourists, earn big income and create lots of jobs.
Waier Island in the Murray Island Group, Torres Strait Islands.
Looking for a romantic spot that’s (almost) all yours? Here’s a list from our brand new Best in Travel 2011 guide to reignite your love affair with desert islands, with picks from across the globe.
1. Socotra, Yemen
You just have to be intrigued by a destination that describes itself as ‘the most alien-looking place on earth’. Ripped from the coast of Gondwanaland by plate tectonics, the four desert islands that form the Socotra group are a treasure-house of biodiversity, with thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. Topping the weird list are the barrel-trunked cucumber tree and the dragon’s blood tree, which oozes blood-red sap. Despite being closer to Africa than the Arabian Peninsula, Socotra is administered by Yemen, which keeps the islands off the tourist radar.
Modern-day Sinbads can fly to the tiny capital, Hadibu, from Sana’a and Aden with Yemenia Airlines.
2. Torres Strait Islands, Australia
As far as you can go in Oz without falling off the map, the Torres Strait Islands are Australia as it might have been if Europeans had never arrived. Spilling north from the tip of Cape York, the 274 islands in the Torres Strait preserve a unique tribal culture that bridges the divide between Aboriginal Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Great Barrier Reef is right on the doorstop and there are airstrips and hotels on Thursday Island and Horn Island, but access to other islands is at the discretion of local tribal councils.
Permits to visit outlying islands must be obtained at least one month in advance from the Torres Strait Regional Authority.
3. Yaeyama Islands, Japan
If Godzilla should ever rise from the sea to destroy Tokyo and Osaka, there’s only one place to ride out the storm – the idyllic Yaeyama Islands, tucked away at the very southern tip of the Japanese archipelago. Looking more like the Caribbean, the islands of Iriomote, Taketomi and Ishigaki serve up generous portions of sun, sea, sand and sushi. Ishigaki has the best of the beaches, while Taketomi is famous for its traditional Ryukyuan houses and Iriomote is a jungle playground with an open-air onsen (hot springs).
Japan Transocean Air flies daily from Tokyo to Ishigaki, which is connected to the other islands by regular ferries.
4. Îles du Salut, French Guiana
Most people have heard of Devil’s Island, but few would be able to stick a pin on a map. The smallest of the three Îles du Salut, this infamous former penal colony is separated from the coast of French Guiana by 11km of treacherous, shark-infested waters. Steve McQueen tried to escape the islands repeatedly in Papillon, but most modern visitors are willing castaways, lured here by waving palms, chattering macaws and spooky ruins from the penal colony days.
Access to the Îles du Salut is by catamaran from Kourou and the only place to stay is the clubhouse-style Auberge des Iles.
5. Ulleungdo, South Korea
It’s easy to see the appeal of tiny Ulleungdo. Midway between South Korea and Japan, this rugged volcanic island is said to have no pollution, no thieves and no snakes – in other words, this is perfect hiking country. Ferries run daily from the mainland to the tiny port at Dodong-ri, where trails climb to the rocky summit of Seonginbong Peak (984m). If you want to really push the boat out, continue to the Dokdo islands – a tiny collection of outcrops that are hotly disputed between Japan and South Korea.
Perched beneath a towering cliff wall, Chusan Ilga Pension offers comfortable but satisfyingly rustic accommodation on the rugged north coast.
6. San Blás Archipelago, Panama
Panama probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of the Caribbean, but this Central American nation has coral cays to rival anything in the Caymans or the Virgin Islands. Run as an autonomous province by the Kuna people, the San Blás Archipelago is a crescent of 365 tiny islands basking in the warm waters of the southern Caribbean. Forget luxury resorts – the only hotels are homestays in village houses and dinner is whatever the fishermen bring home in their canoes each evening.
Air Panama has regular flights to several San Blás islands, including the capital, El Porvenir.
7. Penghu Islands, Taiwan
If Taiwan is the other China, then the Penghu islands are the other Taiwan. Administered from Taipei, the 90 islands of the Penghu archipelago are – within Taiwan at least – for their glorious scenery and ‘touching nostalgia’, which translates to unspoiled traditional Taiwanese culture. Away from the capital, Makung, this is a land of ox-carts, fish-traps, stone-walled fields, basalt cliffs and ancient temples dedicated to the sea goddess Matsu. If sun and sand are more your cup of shochu, the beaches and windsurfing are pretty impressive too.
From May to October, Penghu’s beaches are a nesting ground for endangered green turtles – locals leave turtle-shaped offerings at temples across Penghu as part of the Lantern Festival, 14 days after the New Year.
8. Bay Islands & Hog Islands, Honduras
Forget Pirates of the Caribbean – the sand-dusted islands that float off the coast of Honduras are the real deal. In their heyday, the islands of Roatán, Utila and Guanaja were home to 5000 cutthroats, brigands and buccaneers, including the infamous Henry Morgan (aka Blackbeard). These days, the Bay Islands are better known for their beaches, diving and laid-back tropical vibe. You can turn the volume down ever further at the nearby Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) – 13 languorous coral cays and one secluded resort in a sea of brilliant blue.
The driftwood Plantation Beach Resort is the Hog Islands’ only accommodation, but camping can be arranged on uninhabited islands.
9. Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Another prison-turned-paradise, the Con Dao islands were home to the most notorious penal colony in Indochina, and continued its grim work until the end of the Vietnam War. Now preserved as Con Dao National Park, the 16 islands are a natural wonderland of dense jungles, jade-coloured waters and white-sand beaches, home to dugongs, dolphins, turtles and spectacular coral reefs. For now, tourist developments on the islands are limited to a single dive shop and a handful of resorts in Con Son township.
Timing is everything with Con Dao – the islands are lashed by squalls from the west from June to September and squalls from the east from September to January.
10. Ssese Islands, Uganda
Why would a landlocked African nation appear on a list of desert islands? Thank Lake Victoria. The Ssese Islands tick all the right boxes for an island paradise – golden beaches, whispering palm trees, exotic flora and fauna – they just happen to be in the middle of Africa’s largest lake. Most of the 84 islands in the Ssese group are undeveloped, but a handful of resorts and beach camps grace the sands of Buggala, Bukasa and Banda. Aside from basking in the sun, the main activities are combing the jungle for exotic creatures and canoeing across the lake.
Boats run daily to Kalangala on Buggala island from Entebbe, Kasenyi and Bukakata on the mainland.
|Lauded by The New York Times as “one of Southeast Asia’s most untouched and breathtaking getaways”, Viet Nam’s Con Dao archipelago has begun to welcome a growing number of tourists who wish to experience its pristine natural landscape.
The New York Times recently featured a photo essay of the archipelago in its Travel section which followed a previously published online article about the 16 islands on its website in May.
We took a 45-minute flight to travel the 230km distance from HCM City to Con Dao Airport, located on the archipelago’s largest island Con Son, which is commonly called Con Dao Island in the southern province of Ba Ria- Vung Tau.
One of the guy’s in our group, who has a fear of flying, quickly recovered after stepping off a Fokker aircraft and taking a deep breath of fresh, ocean air.
Far away from noise, pollution and crowds of the city, the islands offer an escape into the great outdoors – a world of deserted beaches and peaceful seaside towns.
On the way from the airport to our hotel, which offers seaside wooden bungalows, the kind driver told us about some of the must-see spots on the island.
Although many say the best times to travel to Con Dao are February, June and October, we had perfect weather during our five-day vacation in August except for a bit of rain on our second day. However, the shower brought a beautiful surprise along with it: a big bright rainbow. I never knew that a rainbow could bring such joy! We jumped and yelled like children in happiness.
I still remember how relaxed I felt when I sat in a beach chair on my bungalow’s balcony, listening to the sound of the waves crash onto the shore and watching black squirrels swing on tree branches overhead.
Don’t expect to find a taxi on the island. The only way to get around is to rent a motorbike, which will give you access to every single corner of this little bit of paradise.
We started our journey of discovery on motorbikes hired from the hotel. Bai Nhat Beach, a white sand stretch surrounded by a shark-shaped mountain range, was our first stop. Except for another group of young people who were preparing seafood BBQ the rocks, we had the beach to ourselves. We made friends quickly and were invited to join their feast. All of the seafood was fresh, purchased at the island’s only market.
Our seafood extravaganza didn’t stop there! We had dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant, which was highly recommended by our taxi driver. We were not disappointed, as it offers an abundant menu featuring local seafood specialities at very reasonable prices. Connoisseurs can have a look at the tanks filled with different kinds of live seafood, some of which I’ve never seen in my life, to decide what looks good for dinner.
The next day, we visited Dam Trau, another pristine beach, which we were able to access after following a 2km slushy and bumpy path. We were the only human presence in that dramatic landscape, where blue sky and water meet in harmony.
“Maybe the feeling of being in paradise is the exact same feeling we have when lying here on the smooth sand beach,” said my friend, Duy Tung.
Our driver also recommended we visit Ong Dung Beach. To get to the beach, you have to drive up a mountain, then leave your motorbike and follow a trail through the jungle. You will be impressed when you see the ocean so close to the jungle. However in my opinion, Ong Dung is not an ideal place for swimming because there are many rough rocks under the water.
If you want to learn more about the wildlife, you can book a “Turtle Tour” at the national park office. You will have to travel to another island for the tour, and you may even get to see a turtle laying eggs. Any trip to Con Dao Island should include a visit to its historical sites. It is infamous for a cruel prison network, which was first run by French colonists. Due to its remoteness, the French used the main island to jail anti-colonial protesters. During the American War, the US-backed Sai Gon regime continued the tradition, sending revolutionaries and activists to the more than 10 prisons on the island.
Nowadays, a visit to any of the prisons, including the oldest Phu Hai Prison, which was built in 1862, most people have a visceral response and actually feel the cruelty of “Hell on Earth”. Examples of “tiger cages” and “cow cages”, the infamous cells and punishment areas used to incarcerate several leading Vietnamese revolutionaries, are on display.
About 200,000 prisoners were incarcerated in the prisons and 20,000 died in atrocious conditions. The Hang Duong Cemetery holds the remains of the many prisoners who perished here, including heroine Vo Thi Sau. A revolutionary activist, Sau was caught by the French and imprisoned in Con Dao Prison before being sentenced to death in 1952 at the age of 19.
For many years, the only way to get to the island was either by boat from the coastal city of Vung Tau or a flight from HCM City. The first-ever direct flight from Ha Noi to Con Dao recently launched by the new airline Mekong Air, which is expected to contribute significantly to the island’s development.
As tourism on the island has yet to fully develop, you can count on your fingers the number of accommodation options for tourists. The opening of the eco-luxury Six Senses resort from the Bangkok-based company next month suggests that Con Dao might soon become part of the international travel scene.
The five-star resort boasts “ultra-contemporary architecture designed to enhance the natural beauty of the site”.
All materials and resources have been locally chosen, and from sustainable sources, the resort developers say.
The resort has 50 villas, each with its own private infinity pool and unobstructed views of the East Sea with a total capacity of 200 guests. Each villa has both space and privacy along with indoor and outdoor bathrooms.
Con Dao is part of a 16-island archipelago around 200km from Vung Tau city.
This week the NYT headed off-the-beaten-path in Vietnam in search of a little respite from the hustle and bustle that is the rest of the country, and where they found it may be a little surprising: Con Dao (in Vung Tau province) — the infamous island chain known more for their prisons than for their visitors.
Until recently, the isolated 16-island archipelago of Con Dao (its largest island, Con Son, is commonly called Con Dao Island), 110 miles off the mainland’s southeastern coast, was a place most Vietnamese wanted to forget. For 113 years, this island was home to one of the country’s harshest prison systems, established by French colonists in 1862 and later ruled by South Vietnamese and American forces until Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, at which point the prisons were closed.
Not surprisingly, with this history, few visitors visit the islands to this day. In fact, only about 20,000 visitors stopped by last year, and of those only 2,600 were foreigners. (They compare that number to the millions that head to the popular beach destinations Nha Trang and Danang every year.)
And what should you expect to find? Try some of Vietnam’s best coral reefs, empty beaches, varied wildlife, and a huge expanse of protected land (83% to be exact, including the country’s only marine reserve). In short, go to escape, go to avoid tourist, and just go.