Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands are the two most attractive destinations in Vietnam for beaches. Both islands are just a short flight from Saigon and offer stunning beaches.

However, these two southern islands have very different characters and therefore appeal to different types of travelers. As most visitors or expats only have time to see one, which island would you choose? In this article, I compare Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands based on criteria that will help you decide what’s right for you.

Phu Quoc: 574 km²

Con Dao: 76 km²

1. HOW TO GET THERE

Phu Quoc and Con Dao can be reached by air or sea. A flight to either island from Saigon takes less than 45 minutes. Flights from Saigon to Phu Quoc run almost every hour and there are also flights from Hanoi. With three airlines operating on this route (Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar, Vietjet), competition keeps prices relatively low (under $100).

The new international airport in Phu Quoc was built to accommodate large planes with the hope that visitor numbers will increase significantly in the coming years. Indeed, there are already charter flights from Russia, and it won’t be long before Phu Quoc is directly connected to regional hubs such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and beyond.

Con Dao

compagnie nationale vietnam airlines

Con Dao has a small airport whose runway is limited by the island’s rugged topography and can only accommodate small propeller planes. Only Vietnam Airlines flies to Con Dao; from Saigon and from Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. There are four or five flights a day from Saigon and four flights a week from Can Tho: average prices are between $100 and $150.

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is accessible by boat from two Mekong Delta ports: Rach Gia and Ha Tien. The latter is particularly convenient for travelers coming from or going to the beaches of Cambodia to the west. There are generally two trips per day from Rach Gia and Ha Tien: the journey takes 2 hours and 50 minutes and 1 hour and 30 minutes respectively. One-way ticket prices are around $15.

bateau superdong phu quoc

For Con Dao, there are about four trips per week from the port of Vung Tau (2 hours east of Saigon). It’s a 10-hour journey in fairly specific conditions on a small vessel. Tickets are only $10, but very few travelers choose this option.

Taxis are inexpensive and easily organized on Con Dao and Phu Quoc. Motorcycle rental is $7 to $10 per day and is an excellent way to see and get around either island.

2. PRICES ON THE SPOT

As with all islands, prices on Con Dao and Phu Quoc are a bit higher than on the mainland. In particular, you will find that prices on Con Dao are significantly higher than elsewhere in Vietnam. This is partly because the island is so small and mountainous that very little can be produced there: almost everything is shipped from the mainland.

Con Dao

But it is also partly because Con Dao has not yet seen major development, so the lack of competition keeps prices high. Hotels, food and drinks, transportation, and excursions to the surrounding islands are more expensive than on Phu Quoc. However, this is all relative: Vietnam is still a very cheap place to travel, so even if you pay $5-$10 more for food and accommodation.

Phu Quoc

marche de nuit phu quoc 1

Due to the development on Phu Quoc in recent years, competition – especially along Long Beach – keeps prices at an acceptable level. In particular, accommodation, food, and boat tours offer good value for money. That said, during the high season – from December to April – all businesses catering to tourists increase their prices by up to 50%. Similarly, in the off-season, prices are very low. In general, if you’re trying to stick to a tight budget, it’s easier to do so on Phu Quoc.

3. DEVELOPMENT OF THE ISLANDS

Phu Quoc

phu quoc village pecheurs hon thom

The pace of change and the number of visitors to these two islands could hardly be more different. Phu Quoc has undergone major transformations in recent years: a new international airport opened in 2012; the old single-track roads have been widened and repaved; new roads have been laid along the coast; new ports have been opened; massive and upscale resorts now stretch along some of the previously isolated beaches. But things are still in the early stages, and Phu Quoc remains incredibly underdeveloped compared to Thai or Malaysian islands.

It’s still easy to find your own deserted beach path and even the sands of Long Beach – the most developed on the island – are not yet overcrowded. However, all this changes on weekends and especially during the Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year), when the island is crowded. Phu Quoc is much larger than Con Dao, so it can absorb more development, but if you like your tropical islands to be serene, relaxed, and beautiful, now is the time to visit Phu Quoc; before it becomes another Phuket.

Con Dao

con dao vietnam

Then you have Con Dao, where development is slow, and you hardly notice it. And that’s a good thing because Con Dao is small and fragile with a very rugged coastline, which limits potential development to a few areas. The number of foreign visitors is still extremely low: most of the time, you’ll have the beaches, roads, museums, and restaurants to yourself.

The government wants Con Dao to be a high-end destination of sorts. But it is also wary of turning Con Dao into a luxury and leisure spot due to its past as a penal institution. In 2010, the discreet but luxurious and expensive Six Senses Hideaway opened, but progress has been slow. For now, the majority of visitors to Con Dao are Vietnamese pilgrims, paying homage to former prisoners.

4. ACCOMMODATION

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc offers a wide range of accommodations for all budgets, while lodging on Con Dao is limited to a dozen hotels and a luxury resort of international standard. On Phu Quoc, most are around the town of Duong Dong, and along Long Beach. From upscale resorts to backpacker dormitories.

In particular, the beach resorts on Long Beach are excellent: my favorite is Thanh Kieu Resort. The rest of the island is dotted with accommodation; there is a particularly attractive group of resorts on Ong Lang Beach, including rustic bungalows. Budget travelers will find nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) in Duong Dong.

Con Dao

Almost all accommodations on Con Dao are located in the small town of Con Son. In the quiet back streets, nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) offer accommodations from $10 to $20, while the handful of beach resorts on the waterfront promenade go for around $100 a night. The most affordable beachfront lodging is Con Dao camping but for the best location (and sublime sea views), get a room at Con Dao Resort.

The island’s first luxury accommodation, Six Senses Hideaway, opened a few years ago. On its own beach, northeast of Con Son Town, Six Senses is secluded and private. It received global media attention in 2011, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie spent a family vacation there.

5. RESTAURANTS

Unsurprisingly, seafood is celebrated on both Con Dao and Phu Quoc. However, finding really good seafood is not always easy on either island, since much of the catch is sent to restaurants and markets in Saigon.

Phu Quoc

plage phu quoc vietnam

On Phu Quoc, the most popular place to eat is the night market in Duong Dong town. The seafood is fresh and there’s a lively atmosphere, but it has become somewhat of a tourist trap these days. The beach resorts on Long Beach all have decent restaurants, and recently, many international restaurants – including Indian, Italian, and Spanish – have opened along Long Beach road.

For a more local meal, head to 30/4 street in Duong Dong town. Phu Quoc has its own noodle soup: bún kèn, which is a specialty of the island, and most mainland Vietnamese have never heard of it.

Con Dao

plage con dao vietnam

When it comes to food, Con Dao is an anomaly: it’s the only place in Vietnam where there are very few places to eat on the island. The larger hotels and resorts have decent restaurants, the best of which is ATC Resort. In Con Son Town, several informal eating places have opened at the market, offering hotpots and BBQs. A night market has recently opened but it’s not exceptional. The food at Six Senses Resort is exceptionally good.

6. NIGHTLIFE

Phu Quoc

For an island in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc’s nightlife is quite tame. But there are bars all along Long Beach, including Rory’s Beach Bar. Enjoying cocktails at the beach resorts, watching the sunset over the gulf, is pleasant. The nightlife – like everything else on Phu Quoc – is expected to take off in the coming years.

Con Dao

Con Dao has no nightlife to speak of: a relief for some; a disappointment for others. Options are limited to a drink on the seafront promenade at Con Son Café, in the old French customs house, or cocktails in the cozy atmosphere of Infiniti Bar, located near the town’s park.

7. WEATHER

Phu Quoc

phu quoc meteo 3

The weather on Phu Quoc is fairly straightforward: from November to May it is mostly dry, sunny, and hot; from June to October, the weather is rainy and humid. The best time of the year is from December to February, when the skies are clear, the seas are calm, and the nights are cool.

Con Dao

The weather on Con Dao is more complicated. From September to December, the weather can be very windy, with winds whipping up waves that crash against the shoreline. The summer months bring a mix of heat, humidity, rainfall, and blue skies. The best time to visit is from February to May, when temperatures are (relatively) mild, the skies are clear, and the sea in Con Son Bay can be as flat as glass.

8. BEACHES

Phu Quoc

plus belles plages de phu quoc au Vietnam

While most of the island of Phu Quoc is surrounded by sandy beaches, the coastline of Con Dao offers much less sand. The western coast of Phu Quoc is essentially one long, beautiful beach. Long Beach is roughly at the center, but the sand continues both north and south from these two “poles” of the island. The northwest beaches, Vung Bau and Dai, are particularly peaceful and welcoming. The eastern side of Phu Quoc is less appealing: the main ferry ports occupy two large bays, and waste and jellyfish make swimming nearly impossible.

The northeast coast is pretty and secluded, but few travelers explore the area because the coastal road is difficult to navigate. However, the eastern shoreline boasts an excellent beach: Sao Beach is a crescent of white sand with sapphire-colored water in the southeast of the island. For many people, it’s their favorite beach on Phu Quoc. In recent years, due to the influx of day-trippers, Sao has lost a bit of its rustic charm.

Con Dao

que voir a Con Dao

You can count the number of beaches on Con Dao on one hand, but the few that are there, are exceptionally beautiful. The main town of Con Son is just north of a dense white sand beach, lined with palm and casuarina trees, and surrounded by an imposing wall of mountains to the south. At the bottom of the island, low tide reveals Nhat Beach: a spectacular strip of white sand.

The coast here is wind-swept, there’s no shade to escape the sun – but the mountainous backdrop could be straight out of a Jurassic Park movie. Dam Trau Beach, to the northwest, is a picturesque semi-circle of golden sand with plenty of shade, reached by a dirt road.

9. ACTIVITIES

Con Dao and Phu Quoc are part of small archipelagos, consisting of dozens of tiny peripheral islands. These can be visited via chartered boats reserved by tourism companies, as well as scuba diving and snorkeling equipment. Most of the small islands are uninhabited and very beautiful. Diving in Con Dao is by far the best in Vietnam.

The road network in Phu Quoc is now quite extensive, while Con Dao only has a few roads, but they are in good condition, free of traffic, and very picturesque. The interior of both islands is covered with dense jungle. The majority of the islands of Phu Quoc and Con Dao are part of national parks. The park can organize hikes in the forests to streams, waterfalls, and secluded bays. Con Dao has particularly beautiful walks, and you will almost certainly see wildlife.

IN CONCLUSION

If you have a preference for nature, the island of Con Dao is highly recommended. It is authentic, wild, and much less developed at the moment than its larger sibling.

The island of Phu Quoc is more modern, less wild, less authentic but cheaper.

I definitely preferred Con Dao for its authenticity and wildness.

I am a history teacher who traded the classrooms of Marseille for expeditions across Vietnam. Fascinated by the country's ancient and contemporary history, Marc resides in Saigon, where he dedicates himself to studying and writing about the imperial dynasties, colonialism, and the impact of the Vietnam War. His in-depth knowledge of the Mekong Delta and southern Vietnam enables him to guide readers through authentic experiences while preserving the natural beauty of the region.

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