INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
I’ve always thought it inexplicable why so few travellers visit the Con Dao Islands. For many Vietnamese, I would imagine it has something to do with Con Son Island’s dark past as a penal colony. But, for foreign travellers, maybe the relatively high airfare from Saigon, or the cheap but long and arduous boat ride from Vung Tau (the only alternative to flying), has kept them away for so long. Now, however, there’s a third way to get to the Con Dao Islands: a daily passenger ferry from the Mekong Delta. The new Superdong ferry, which is fast and comfortable, connects Tran De port in Soc Trang Province with Con Son Island, meaning that travellers can now add the Con Dao Islands (which is, without doubt, one of the most remarkable destinations in Vietnam) onto their Mekong Delta itineraries. It also makes a Con Dao loop a viable option: by combining the ferry to/from the Mekong Delta with a one-way flight to/from Saigon and Con Son. Motorbikes and bicycles can travel on the Superdong ferry, but not cars. Below is my full guide to taking the ferry from Soc Trang to Con Dao.
GUIDE: SOC TRANG→CON DAO FERRY
The first thing to note is that the Superdong ferry doesn’t leave from Soc Trang city; it departs from Tran De port, at the mouth of the Hau Giang River (a branch of the Mekong), about 40km southeast of Soc Trang. There are bus connections to Soc Trang city from all major towns across the Mekong Delta, and from Saigon’s Mien Tay bus station (roughly 6 hours). From Soc Trang city, there’s a Superdong shuttle bus to Tran De port. On Con Son Island, the ferry arrives at the beautifully situated Ben Dam port. The crossing takes between 2-3 hours depending on weather conditions. Below I’ve written a full guide to taking the ferry from Soc Trang to Con Dao, including tickets prices, schedules, contact details, places to stay at Tran De port, a description of the boat and the voyage, and a map of the route.
Click an option below to read more about it:
- Ferry Operators & Contacts
- Schedules & Sailing Times
- Ticket Prices & Booking
- Departure & Arrival Ports
- The Boats
- The Voyage
Ferry Route: Tran De port to Ben Dam port (Con Son Island)
View in a LARGER MAP
Ferry Operators & Contacts:
There is only one company operating ferries between Tran De and Con Son: Superdong. The Superdong website is pretty good, including ferry times and prices for all Superdong routes (not just the Con Dao one). However, despite an icon suggesting English language, the site is in Vietnamese only. But it’s still easy enough to figure out what’s what.
Superdong have offices in Tran De (at the boat pier [map]; (0299) 3843 888), Soc Trang (193 Le Hong Phong Street [map]; (0299) 3616 111), and Con Son (Tran Phu Street [map]; (0254) 3630 138), as well as in all the other places from which they operate, and an office in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). They can be contacted in person at any of these offices (staff are generally very helpful, and there’s usually at least someone who speaks decent English), or by phone on any of the numbers above (again, some English is usually spoken), or by email: [email protected] For full contact details for all Superdong offices see this page.
Schedules & Sailing Times:
There’s at least one sailing in each direction everyday. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, there are two sailings in each direction, but an extra sailing will also be provided on other days if demand is high enough. Sailing time is between 2 hours to 2.5 hours depending on weather conditions. However, all sailings are subject to change or cancellation due to bad sea conditions (if you have an appointment to make on the mainland, don’t count on the ferry to get you there on time). This is most likely to happen during seasons with strong winds (generally November to March, but also June-August). Superdong staff will attempt to inform you in advance if there is a chance of cancellation or delay. The schedule is also liable to change without notice: for example, you can’t necessarily trust the sailing times published on the Superdong website. At the time of research (March 2018) the schedule is as follows:
- TRAN DE→CON DAO: 8.00am (daily) | 1.00pm (Fri, Sat, Sun, or days when demand is high)
- CON DAO→TRAN DE: 1.00pm (daily) | 8.00am (Fri, Sat, Sun, or days when demand is high)
Ticket Prices & Booking:
Tickets can be booked in person at any of the Superdong offices (even those located in other towns and places, such as Phu Quoc, Ha Tien, Rach Gia, and Saigon), or over the phone, or by email, but not online through the Superdong website. (See the Contact section for office addresses, phone numbers, and email). Tickets for motorbikes and bicycles can be reserved with passenger tickets, but payment for motorbikes and bicycles is made at the boat itself. On weekdays, it’s usually not necessary to book in advance, however, it’s still advisable to do so, especially if you’re on a tight schedule or if you’re travelling with your own wheels, because the number of bikes is limited. From Friday to Sunday, and all public holidays, advance booking is essential. Passengers should arrive at the docks at least 30 minutes before departure, particularly if you have a motorbike. Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adult: 310,000vnd (one way)
- Adult over 62 years | Passenger with disabilities: 260,000vnd | 230,000vnd (one way)
- Child 6-11 years old (under 6 years go free): 220,000vnd (one way)
- Motorbike: 180,000vnd
Departure & Arrival Ports:
Boats come and go from Tran De Port on the mainland, in Soc Trang Province, and Ben Dam Port on Con Son Island, the biggest island in the Con Dao Archipelago:
TRAN DE PORT: A small town at the mouth of the Mekong River, Tran De is way off the beaten path. Some 40km southeast of Soc Trang city, and a good six hours’ drive south of Saigon, Tran De is a fishing town that no one would have thought of visiting until the Superdong ferry put it on the map for travellers. The ferry pier is currently located at the end of the canal as it meets the river, but is due to be relocated a couple hundred metres south of here to a dedicated Superdong terminal in the near future. As boats leave at 8.00am, it’s a good idea to overnight in Tran De. There are several decent guest houses, all offering clean, simple rooms for around 200,000vnd. Ngoc Quy, Tan Hung Thinh, and Quan Ngoc (view map) are all fine for a night. There’s enough street food to fill you up in the evenings and mornings around the canal bridge on road QL91C as it passes through town. Note that it can get very busy on the narrow road leading to the ferry pier (and the ticket office can get swamped) leading up to departure times, but hopefully this will change when the new pier opens.
BEN DAM PORT: Ben Dam Port is in the southwest of Con Son Island. Beautifully situated in a lagoon between Con Son and Hon Ba islands, with rocky, forested hills rising all around, Ben Dam is as scenic a port as you could hope to find. Things can get a bit chaotic on the pier during arrival and departure, but everything seems to work out in the end. There are a few scruffy shops and rice eateries down the pier near the road. Ben Dam Port is 11km via a spectacular coast road to Con Son town, the main settlement on the island. Taxis meet the ferries, or if you have pre-booked accommodation on the island, they should be able to arrange a pick up for you. (For much more information about the Con Dao Islands see my complete guide.)
As always with Superdong ferries, the boats are long, narrow vessels with two levels of indoor, air-conditioned, coach-style seating, and a fair amount of deck space at the stern. On board, the ferries appear to be modern, clean, and well-equipped, with space for over 300 hundred passengers. Seats are soft, reclinable, and comfortable; there are toilets (which are kept reasonably clean), USB sockets to charge your phone, and even on-board WiFi (although it was very weak and not really usable). Entertainment comes in the form of TVs suspended from the ceiling, showing soap operas, martial arts movies, and game shows, but the volume is bearable. The back deck (which is closed for the first and last 20 minutes) is quite spacious and great fun to be out on as the boat ploughs toward Con Son Island. There’s even a little bar on deck, serving cans of beer (great for your sea legs, no doubt), soft drinks, coffee, and light snacks. Life vests seem to be plentiful and staff are generally friendly and helpful.
The ferry is very popular with Vietnamese travellers: some of whom are the older generation, coming to pay their respects to those who died or were incarcerated on Con Son when it was a colonial prison; but many are the younger generation, coming to enjoy the island’s beaches and take selfies at all the scenic spots. The latter are dressed up in all their trendy beachwear, and there’s a pleasant sense of anticipation as everyone gathers on the pier before departure. (As yet, there are very few foreign passengers on this ferry route.)
On board, it’s pretty relaxed, quiet and calm. Passengers are mostly content to sit in their seats watching TV, snoozing, or snacking. Sadly, the doors to the outside decks are locked for the first and last 15 minutes of the journey. I suppose this is a safety precaution, which, considering Vietnam’s terrible maritime safety record, is a good thing. But it does mean that you miss seeing the departure and arrival, which I think are the most exciting times to be on deck (the windows are large, but it’s not the same as being outside). However, when the doors do open, it’s great to be out in the sun and spray. The mouth of the Mekong is vast: there’s very little to see, but for a line of coconut palms on the distant banks. Soon, the ferry reaches open water. Gradually, the colour of the sea – stained brown by the emptying of the Mekong – turns a deep blue.
As the journey progresses, passengers begin to gather on the deck: smoking, drinking, selfie-taking and, in some cases, looking rather seasick. But the voyage can be fairly rocky at times, and the railings are low and the floor is wet and slippery, so be extremely careful when walking around outside.
If conditions are good, the crossing may only take 2 hours. When the boat slides into the straits created by the islands of Con Son and Hon Ba, there’s a palpable sense of excitement on board. It’s a spectacular arrival: Ben Dam pier is situated in the middle of a blue lagoon with forested peaks rising sharply all around. Everyone is itching to get ashore, but disembarkation can be a bit of a shambles. When I arrived, it was low tide, so the level of the boat’s decks was 2-3 metres below the level of the pier. All baggage had to be relayed up to the pier, including the motorbikes, in a precarious rope lift/pulley arrangement. But regardless of how chaotic the arrival is, when you look around you at the bay, nothing else matters.
Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: all my content is free and all my reviews are independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I enjoy this ferry journey and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here
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