Isolated, quiet, and pristine, the Con Dao Islands in southeastern Vietnam make up a lush 15-island archipelago of white sand beaches and verdant rainforest. It’s a natural paradise that calls to the adventurer in everyone above the ground over scenic hiking trails and below the water over miles of coral reef.

Today’s serene islands belie a past filled with intrigue. During the French Colonial era, political prisoners were banished to the islands, kept in crowded “tiger cages” in the thick jungles. Today, the history of the area can be retraced in the original prison buildings and museums, and the jungles remain thick as ever.

Like many places in the world, the public’s long aversion to the islands has served to protect much of its natural beauty. You won’t find towering skyscrapers or buzzing highways here, nor is it over run with resorts. Luxury has only recently arrived to the shores, and is making an effort to blend in with the panoramas of fishing boats and rocky outcroppings in the brilliant waters.

Like in many parts of Southeast Asia, Con Dao is a blend of tradition, nature, and progress, be it ever so slow. Here man has adapted to nature over time, and continues to take careful steps into the future.

Conservation efforts are evident on the islands, owing to 80 percent of the land area belonging to the Con Dao National Park and much of the surrounding water a marine protected area. This is Vietnam’s primary turtle sanctuary, and a great place to spot the rare dugong.  Diving here is a vibrant nautical encounter, the waters a haven for sea turtles and the elusive dugong that frequent the gorgeous reefs and shallow lagoons. Most of the beaches are all but deserted, making Con Dao an ideal destination for those in search of true peace and quiet.