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“Good Morning Vietnam!!”

Côn Đảo

“Good Morning Vietnam!”

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The Côn Đảo Islands are an archipelago of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province, in the Southeast region of Vietnam, and a district of this province.

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Route to Con Dao, Vietnam

Josh Ash WatermarkSituated about 185 km (115 mi) from Vũng Tàu and 230 km (143 mi) from Ho Chi Minh City, the group includes 16 mountainous islands and islets. The total land area reaches 75.15 km2 (29.02 sq mi) and the local population is about 5,000.

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The islands are composed of magmatic rocks of different ages. Hon Bay Canh, Hon Cau, Hon Bong Lang composed of Cretaceous microgranit rocks. The Northern part of Con Dao Island composed of quartz diorite and granite – granodiorit of late Mesozoic- early Cenozoic age, and is partially covered by Quaternary marine sediments.

The Southern part of this island and Hon Ba island are composed of the riolit and intrusive formations of unknown age. On the western slope of Con Dao Island, there exist of outcrops of diorite and microgranit penetrated by big quartz bands.

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Map of Con Dao

History of Con Dao

The island group is served by Côn Đảo Airport situated on the largest island in the Archipelago: Côn Sơn Island.

Formally a Khmer Empir territory known as Koh Tralach islands were settled by the Vietnamese by the 17th century.

On June 16, 1702, the English East India Company founded a settlement on Pulo Condore as an entrepôt for ships plying between India and China. Three years later on March 2, 1705, the English agents were murdered, the factory destroyed, and the remaining settlers were expelled by the Vietnamese.

The Lotus Fountain right in the center of the Con Dao Gardens

During the internecine wars for the Court of Hue, the Nguyen Prince Nguyễn Phúc Ánh ceded the islands to France in the Treaty of Versailles (1787) in return for military assistance. The treaty however was abrogated as France failed to provide the aid.

con dao map
Con Dao Map 2

 

It was only under conquest that the islands came under French control in 1861. During the French colonial era, the island was made infamous for its penal facilities and the notorious “tiger cages”. Vietnamese nationalists were sent here to serve their sentence for anti-French activities. Many Vietnamese Communist leaders were “schooled” on Côn Đảo Island as well.

The French Indochinese government named the group of islands Poulo-Condore Islands, a name that derives from the islands’ Malay name Pulo Condore (pulo as a corruption of pulau, meaning “island”).

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Côn Đảo National Park

Detailed Map Of Con_Dao
Detailed Map Of Con_Dao

Many of the islands were given protected status in 1984 as part of Côn Đảo National Park. This natural preserve was subsequently enlarged in 1998. Endangered species protected within the park include the hawksbill turtle, the green turtle, dolphins, and the dugong.

Ecosystems represented in the park include seagrass meadow, mangrove and coral reefs.

Côn Đảo National Park is working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vietnam to further protection in the marine areas, with programs to establish a Marine Protected Area that protects coral reefs, seagrass beds and species, while also developing sustainable nature-based ecotourism. The island’s management is strongly geared towards sustainable use, hoping to learn from previous experiences in Vietnam and the region to balance development with conservation.

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Hey, Uncle Ho Chi Minh!

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So where do I come into all this? Well, its simple, I flew over from mainland Vietnam to this group of islands and of course landing on the biggest of them all which is Con Dao Island. Have a peek at some of photos I took of this wonderfully historical and at times creepy place, yes creepy because of its dark past….yes, the French colonialists captured, threw into jails or rather ghastly penal facilities scattered around the island (one or two I dared to see for myself), whilst beating and torturing them like beasts, hardly feeding them, forcing them into untold sitting positions and the whole ugly nine yards. We’ll get this gory part soon enough….Vietnamese I’m afraid will never forget this grissly past..and its evident in the looks I encountered whilst roaming around the island when I was eating their rather strange cuisine.

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For starters here is a list of all the islands in this archipelego:

Côn Sơn Islands include 16 islands, with a total area of 76 km² (square km)

  • Côn Lôn Island or Côn Sơn (Grande-Condore), Phú Hải, 51.52 km²
  • Little Côn Lôn Island (Petite-Condore), or Hòn Bà, Phú Sơn, 5.45 km²
  • Bảy Cạnh Island, or Bãi Cạnh Island, Phú Hòa, 5.5 km²
  • Cau Island, or Phú Lệ 1.8 km²
  • Bông Lan Island, or Bông Lang, Bông Lau, Phú Phong, 0.2 km²
  • Vung Island, or Phú Vinh 0.15 km²
  • Ngọc Island, or Trọc Island, hòn Trai, Phú Nghĩa, 0.4 km²
  • Trứng Island, or Đá Bạc Island, Đá Trắng Island, Phú Thọ, 0.1 km²
  • Tài Lớn Island, or Phú Bình 0.38 km²
  • Tài Nhỏ Island, or Thỏ Island, Phú An, 0.1 km²
  • Trác Lớn Island, or Phú Hưng 0.25 km²
  • Trác Nhỏ Island, or Phú Thịnh 0.1 km²
  • Tre Lớn Island, or Phú Hòa 0.75 km²
  • Tre Nhỏ Island, or Phú Hội, 0.25 km²
  • Anh Island, or Trứng Lớn Island
  • Em Island, or Trứng Nhỏ Island

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Vung-Tau-Map
Vung-Tau Map – the center of it all where I stayed for a while

It’s a rather desolate location on the island and the town area is equally quiet, not much going on and pretty quiet by dusk as most people tend to stay indoors, the town centre being very small with very few shops, no mall and a few government buildings and one or two vietnamese banks to boot. Have a look at the follow slideshow of more photos I shot whilst there until I moved to stay at the Six Senses Resort and Spa up the mountains and over to the inlet and bay further from the main town.

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Getting up every morning for some free breakfast and looking around what surrounds me was interesting to put it midly and below are some of the interesting photos I shot during my stay in town, what I saw whilst walking around the town, down backstreets and whatnot before moving over to the Six Senses Resort and Spa.

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The Six Senses Resort and Spa, Con Dao, Vietnam

About three weeks later, I decided to move on and decided to make my way to this six star luxury resort and stay here – which last another four weeks, well almost. Six Senses Resort, Con Dao is an amazing resort and the accomodation is out of this world!

And in keeping with their motto: True to Six Senses’ philosophy of selecting remote yet accessible destinations in areas of outstanding natural beauty, Con Dao is a breathtaking location, which has been protected for decades as a national and marine park.

Look at this amazing view from my villa

Six Senses Con Dao, the first five-star resort in the archipelago islands, is contemporary in design and reflects the essence of a traditional fishing village. Im not so much a fan of the beaches or even swimming, even though I was an avid swimmer in my youth, it was more the scenery and the amazing landscape of the bay that enthralled me each and everyday, especially at dawn and dusk. Breathing in the fresh air was absolutely heavenly.

The little bus took me from downtown up some hills, a good twenty minutes drive until one reaches this haven. From the reception one can view the bay and the array of wooden chalets perched along the ridge facing the sea. You can well imagine the beauty of this place, for peace of mind and a true getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life which I really dont like.

Have a look at these pictures of the resort and dream of being there;

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The Dark Side Of Con Dao

Tens of thousands of political prisoners were held on Con Son Island between 1862 and 1975. The prisons became known as ‘university’ for a generation of independence activists from all over Vietnam.

Many, who were unaffiliated to political groups when detained, were hardened by the treatment they received in the prisons, and left as members of one party or another, particularly the Indochinese Communist Party – predecessor of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

Some prisoners were famous independence advocates before entering the prisons, others grew to fame after being released from Con Son, having learnt much in the ‘Schools of Bolshevism’ on the island. Many, however, never left the island: they died from malnourishment, mistreatment, hard labour or were executed. They became martyrs for their cause, commemorated on the island and throughout Vietnam today.

Hang Duong Cemetery
Hang Duong Cemetery

An estimated 22,000 prisoners lost their lives on Con Son Island. Most of the dead were dumped in the shadow of a mountain behind Con Son town. In 1975 their remains were collected and buried in Hang Duong Cemetery, which occupies the site today.

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The prisons closed in 1975.

Since then, Vietnamese come on sombre pilgrimages to remember national heroes or relatives who were imprisoned or died on the island.

Con Son Island Prison
Con Son Island Prison

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.

Portrait_of_Võ_Thị_Sáu
Vo Thi Sau

Today, Sáu is considered a nationalist martyr and a symbol of revolutionary spirit. She is venerated by the Vietnamese people as an ancestral spirit, and has amassed almost a cult-like following of devotees who venerate her grave in Hàng Dương Cemetery on Côn Sơn Island.

But, as Vietnam becomes more popular with foreign tourists and flights to Con Son more regular, it is the natural beauty of the island that most visitors come to see.

For tourists, it’s impossible to ignore the island’s grim past, but for pilgrims too, it’s equally impossible to ignore the scenic surrounds of the former prison island.

Vietnam today is a youthful country – over 50% of the population are under the age of 25 – and most of them are increasingly likely to think of Con Son Island as a place of relaxation and recreation, rather than one of sober reflection.

This is the past and present of Con Dao Island(s) and to be quite frank, there isnt much going on but if you look deeper, there is more than you can handle, especially if youre into history, plight of the Vietnamese people, and the great beaches and resorts that await you.

For me it was pretty simple, a place I will never forget.

Wanna find out more about the islands of Con Dao in detail click here: http://vietnamcoracle.com/con-dao-islands/, a very comprehensive guide to it. I’ll end with a nice video posted on the above link for you all to watch and enjoy:-)

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“Good Night Vietnam!!”

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