Words and Images by Thuc Anh Cao Xuan–
We went to Côn Đảo at the beginning of its rainy season (from late August to February) but we were lucky because it wasn’t too rainy. Côn Đảo, or Poulo Condor as the French named it when they tried to colonize Vietname, is an island that belongs to Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu province in the South of Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh City, we took a 45-minute flight to Côn Đảo.
1.) Stay in Poulo Condor Resort
We stayed at Poulo Condor Resort Boutique near the airport. There was nothing for us to be upset about the resort because both the service and the room were great, except for the fact that it was 12 km from the town center so we had to take its shuttle bus or taxi every time we wanted to go into town.
2.) Visit the Tiger Cages
Côn Đảo is famous because the island was the prison for many Vietnamese nationalists during the war. There are now several prisons open as relics for visitors to understand about Vietnam history. Among its most famous are the tiger cages. This type of prison has 2 floors. The lower is cramp cells that lock war prisoners and the upper is for jailers to look down, torture and abuse them. Several cages were destroyed when the country reunited but some are kept as a museum. They put statues of prisoners and jailers featuring past torturing scenes inside the cells. Though we came at noon, the dead silence and the scary scene made us shiver.
3.) Go Scuba Diving in Rainbow Drive
Aside from the historical values, Côn Đảo also amazed us with its natural beauty. The beaches are not as damaged as some others in Vietnam. At the south end of the island located Bãi Nhát, a beach not only famous for its beauty but also because it was where 198 prisoners tried to escape but were caught and received capital punishment. We didn’t go there because of a lack of time but the local taxi driver told us it was the prettiest beach on the island.
Our biggest goal was to go scuba diving and we spent half a day for the activity. We chose Rainbow Dive, and it cost us $150 each for the service. We went on a small boat that took us to Hòn Bảy Cạnh, a smaller island near Côn Đảo. There were 5 of us and 2 guides. We went down twice and the deepest was 8m under the water surface. Although it took me some minutes to get used to the water pressure, the scene was totally worth the price and the effort.
You may also visit Côn Đảo Museum and Hàng Dương Cemetery to learn about the history. There is also a national park on the island but we skipped it. At night, on our way back to the hotel we gazed at the sky above and saw the sparkling stars. For a person who has always lived in a big city like me, such chances were so scarce. Try it for yourself!