Con Dao islands are a group of 16 islands. The largest island is known as Con Son.
Con Dao served as a prison island for political prisoners during the French colonial era, when it was known as Poulo Condore, and in later years the Saigon regime imprisoned opponents of the regime in the infamous cells known as the "tiger cages". The old prison buildings are still standing and are open to the public as is a small museum tracing the island's history.
The prison system is not unlike the prisons on Phu Quoc except that Viet Cong were held here during the American war while the prisons on Phu Quoc were for the regular North Vietnamese Army. Being traitors to their own country (The Republic of South Vietnam) the conditions on Con Dao were especially harsh. Surprisingly jailers and former inmates live here in peace.
Besides having an interesting history, (Marco Polo even stopped over) Con Dao is also an island of immense natural beauty with forested hills, deserted sandy beaches and extensive coral reefs making for some excellent diving.
The Con Dao Islands separated from the mainland about 15,000 years ago. This has resulted in the development of dozens of undiscovered or undocumented species of wildlife.
The entire archipelago falls under the oversight of the Con Dao National Park.
Con Dao is another sad example of a National Park doing little to preserve the environment, however due its remote and little known location it has been preserved (So far) from the effects of development. 80% of the land area of the archipelago is a National park offering primary jungle teeming with interesting life such as the endemic black squirrel and the crab eating macaque. Beautiful beaches and hidden lagoons are also to be found here, with very few tourists Con Dao is a paradise off the beaten track. For now at least.
Most of the surrounding marine are is a no-take marine protected area (MPA). Sadly as in all of Vietnam the national park is a travesty. The national park is in no way responsible for the amazing health of the pristine reefs that surround the islands, home to a large variety of marine life incomparable to anywhere else in Vietnam.
Recently (2011) funding was withdrawn by a key aid organization DANIDA, as evidence was produced that they were operating in violation of their charter and that the Park was run for personal profit at the expense of the environment. Consider carefully and ask around on the island before using any of the National Park services.
International oversight is desperately needed to be sure the environmental abuses are halted. Recent reports (2010) to the National Park of the spotting of slaughtered turtle shells drying in the sun on the roof of the Anh Dao hotel have produced no inquiry, investigation or prosecution of the hotel. There was a recent (2012) N.P. operation undertaken by the Park against Anh Dao Hotel, the receptionist was caught trafficking in about 200 Green turtle eggs, she was fined USD $250 and not made to reveal who she was buying them for, anything for a price.
Despite the overall lethargy, the National Park seems to be rousing from its long sleep as more and more pressure is brought to bear by international visitors. Some real positive actions have been noted and while credit is due, these actions are the job of the Park.