Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao islands are one of Vietnam's star attractions. Long the preserve of political prisoners and undesirables, they now turn heads thanks to their striking natural beauty. Con Son, the largest of this chain of 15 islands and islets, is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in tropical forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring deserted coastal roads there are excellent wildlife-watching opportunities, such as the black giant squirrel and endemic bow-fingered gecko.
Although it seems an island paradise, Con Son was once hell on earth for the thousands of prisoners who languished in a dozen jails during French rule and the American-backed regime. Many Vietnamese visitors are former soldiers who were imprisoned on the island.
Until recently, few foreigners visited Con Dao, but with the commencement of low-cost boat connections this looks sure to change.