Located in Con Dao district, the Con Dao Islands
are an archipelago of Ba Ria-Vung Tau
Province, in southeastern Vietnam
, and a district of this province. Situated at about 185km from Vung Tau and 230km from Ho Chi Minh City
, The Con Dao archipelago is comprised of 16 islands and islets with rugged mountainous masses of rock covered in dense forest, fringed by coral reef and drowning in sublimely turquoise-azure sea.
Con Son is the largest of 15 islands in the Con Dao Archipelago; 80km from the mainland Mekong Delta region and 230km from Saigon. The island’s remoteness and former use as a penal colony have kept it in relatively pristine condition: 80% is still forested. The thick canopy provides habitat for all sorts of exotic sounding animals endemic to the archipelago: the Con Dao bow-fingered gecko and Con Dao black giant squirrel are just two. The islands are rugged and mountainous; the highest peak reaching 557m. The ocean is home to dugongs (sea cows) and sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches from March to August. The winter months on Con Son are dry, but rough seas and strong winds from the northeast make the island feel fantastically remote at this time of year. The summer months bring occasional monsoon rains, but the seas remain calm and clear; the bays beautiful and tranquil.
Con Son is the location of a former prison complex (named Con Son prison, also Con Dao prison) constructed in the late 1800s. The prison system was built by the French colonists to detain and torture political prisoners who triggered the danger to the French colonial regime. This place locked up Vietnamese patriots and many key political cadres who fought against the colonial government. The prison system used to detain and exile nearly 2,000 revolutionary fighters. The communists were brutally tortured by jailers, but they were not deterred or discouraged. The prison system with shackles, chains and all the utmost brutal tortures were built in order to pull down the blaze of revolutionary fighters. The prisons were finally closed in 1975, ending a horrifying chapter in history where more than 20,000 prisoners died. Since then, Vietnamese come on sombre pilgrimages to remember national heroes or relatives who were imprisoned or died on the island. Perhaps the most famous of all the victims of the Con Son prisons is Vo Thi Sau. Involved in anti-colonial activities from the age of 14, she was eventually captured by the French and imprisoned on Con Son. In 1952, at the age of 19, she became the first woman to be executed on the island. Today her grave is the sight of a nightly vigil where Vietnamese come to pay their respects with offerings, including combs and mirrors which symbolize her youth.
Nowadays, the prison is no longer used to jail or torture, it is open to visitors, and recognized as a special and important national historical site. With unforgiveable evidences about the crime of the French and American in the past, Con Dao Prison is the place where more and more visitors come to explore and to understand about the patriotism of Vietnamese people and the brutality of colonialism and imperialism.
Besides having an patriotism history, 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 which surely makes your exploration a must.