Located in the East Sea close to the province of Ca Mau, Con Dao is the wildest part of Vietnam. A national park protected by the army, this archipelago is home to some of the most unspoilt scenery in Vietnam.
The Beach With No Name
Memory is an odd thing. Some experiences remain, jolted back with the right trigger. Others are insignificant. They get forgotten.
I have many memories of my first trip to Con Dao, a three-day journey that took me down almost every path and road on the main island. But two stick out. The forts we climbed down to on the cliff and the deserted beach.
It really is a deserted beach. It’s nameless, too. People on the island might well have a name for it. The maps don’t.
To get there you have to go to Bai Dam Trau, the beach near the airport, then walk to the rocks at the far end and climb the rocky, jungle path to the bay on the other side. That’s what I do for the second time, hoping for tropical paradise to emerge as I clamber over to the other side.
The weather isn’t so good — the sun glistening off the river and the coastal vegetation doesn’t have the same effect as on my first visit. But the only footprints on the sand are my own, and the only sounds are the roar of the sea, the breeze through the trees and the occasional uproar of cricket calls from the jungle.
I am alone, totally alone.
Vietnamese people I know would comment, “But you’re by yourself. Don’t you feel sad?”
Sad? No. The opposite. Solitude. Solace. A feeling of peace. These moments are rare.
Barefoot I walk through the shallows of a nearby river. Then I find a rock to perch on, to write, to contemplate.
This, I realise, is why I was so determined to return to this wild archipelago. This one, secluded beach.
I love the rustic luxury of the resort I stay at, Six Senses. I like visiting the island’s old prisons, steeped in dogma and pain, a poignant reminder of the horrors of man; this was the Devil’s Island of Vietnam. I adore the wildness of the beach, mangrove, mountain and jungle, and the history of the old French villas.
But the sound and feeling of solitude. This beach. The wildness. That is what makes these islands special. — Nick Ross
The wind is swirling and whistling. The clouds are turning to a darker shade of grey.
We’ve been warned. The storm is coming.
I watch from my villa as its wrath unfolds. First drops, then steady rain. With a bang and crack its full force emerges from behind the mountains, its ferocity sweeping across the sea and beach, right up to the doors of my villa.
I change into shorts and watch, waiting. I want to go outside, but not while the winds swirl at 60 km/hour. I wait. Watch. Wait and watch.
Then as suddenly as the storm has arrived, it disappears.
On the beach water channels have formed across the sand, symmetrical patterns leading to the sea. The sky is still grey, the sand a glistening muddy brown, the sea an azure blue. The colours blend, vibrant, shining. The air is sweet. Cool, fresh and sweet, the humidity washed away.
This is the aftermath.
I leave my villa and walk towards the end of the beach. Black volcanic rocks rise up high, forming into mountains. Emerald green vegetation glistens with raindrops. White, colourless crabs scuttle across the sand. All the guests remain inside their villas. I have the beach to myself.
At the end of the bay, the rocks and sand merge together to form a promontory. Above is a viewing point, part of the resort. I’m at Six Senses. And beyond, undeterred, the fishing boats have returned. Storm or no storm, they have to make their catch.
As I get back to my villa, the sky brightens, and other guests emerge; a muscled up Japanese couple a few doors down, two German men in their 60s, a young Latin-looking couple and a Vietnamese family.
I return inside and change. The storm and its aftermath have receded. — Nick Ross
Life’s a Dive
For the past four days we’ve been talking about the weather. Storms were predicted over the weekend but never quite materialised. The question was visibility. How bad would it be?
But when we arrive we have about three metres, enough to make the two dives worthwhile, to make the coral and tropical fish shine through the underwater gloom. Our destination is Hon Tai, a small rocky, jungle-covered island in the Con Dao archipelago, the kind of place that Vietnam has in its hundreds. But development, the destruction of marine habitats, and overfishing has meant that diving in this country no longer submerges you fully in the marine paradises of yesteryear. The colour and wonder is still all there, but in patches. It’s still enough to make it worthwhile.
As we scramble onto the converted fishing boat at the end of our first dive, the clouds finally break, and the storm erupts from the heavens. Twenty minutes and it’s cleared. Ten minutes later we’re back under the water.
There’s something quite magic about the tropics, the way you are beholden to the extremes of sun and rain. And diving, come rain or shine, puts you in its midst.
Just next time, a bit more visibility please.
“You should have come here in April or May,” says Rhys from Senses Diving. “It was so clear.”
I can't wait!
To see more articles in this story, please click on the links below:
The Undiscovered Coast
Undiscovered Binh Thuan
The Paradise of Ninh Thuan
The Wildness of Con Dao
The Rocks of Phu Yen
The Beaches Around Quy Nhon
The Abandoned Church
The Other Side of Halong Bay
North of Cua Lo
The Islands off Phu Quoc
Where The Mekong Hits the Sea