Tag Archives: travel photography

Prisons and cages in Con Dao

This is going to be a sad post.
If you want a happy and cheerful one, you will not find it here.
If you want to learn more about the brutal and inhumane past of Con Dao, keep on reading,

During 113 years (1862-1975) Con Dao became the biggest and most brutal prison with the longest time of existence in Indochina. The most barbaric torture and custody took place here, especially in the so called “Tiger Cages”. Many kinds of savage torture and punishment were used, comparable to what happened in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Thousands of Vietnamese died here.

A visit to the Tiger Cages (there are French and American ones) is a spine chilling experience. Even more so when you are the only tourist in the entire complex. Dark prison cells, cages bars instead of ceilings, lifelike models that show how inhumanely prisoners were treated, eerie silence around you except for creaky metallic doors.

The new Con Dao museum, just before the French Tiger Cages, is a must visit for those who want to learn more about the island’s past (not much is recorded on the usual travel guidebooks, and online information is quite fragmented). Well arranged displays and detailed descriptions in English cover the history of Con Dao from its first discovery to the liberation in 1975, and now, with a main focus on the brutality of what happened in prisons and cages.

Remembrance is quite strong and you will always find Vietnamese people paying tribute to those who died in Con Dao. The revolutionary heroine Vu Thi Sau is still celebrated every night at the local cemetery.

As a note at the museum states: “This is the place for generations of
Vietnamese to follow, to learn, to imitate, to care and to preserve” [sic].

So if you visit Con Dao, don’t forget to look beyond the natural beauty of this island and learn about its past!

Welcome to Con Dao!

“Cabin crew, prepare for landing”.
What?! We’ve only just taken off! Not long before reaching its cruising altitude, the 68-seater ATR42 starts its descent towards Con Dao airport. As we land, I notice that the runway is by an amazing beach. Not a bad start, I think.

Getting on board
Getting on board

The Con Dao archipelago, still unspoilt and made of sixteen islands, can be reached by a 14-hour boat ride from Vung Tau or a 45-minute flight from Saigon. What would be your travel choice?

Con Son, the main island, is the only inhabited one and used to be a penal colony during the French occupation. Nowadays it is a very quiet place with amazing scenery, lush tropical forests, and beautiful beaches. Tourist facilities are still limited but this adds to the island’s appeal. Very little English is spoken here, making it challenging at times, yet people are very friendly and always willing to help.

I am about to discover more about Con Dao, so stay tuned!

Impressions of Saigon

First of all let me explain why I insist on using the old name ‘Saigon’ instead of the city’s post-war name of ‘Ho Chi Minh City’. It has nothing to do with its significance in history. It’s just shorter and quicker to say/type. End.

Regardless of how you call it, this incredibly chaotic and buzzing with life metropolis is the most modern and quickly expanding of all cities in Vietnam. It reminds me of Bangkok.
But my very first impression on my first visit here last December was: “Omg, and now how do I cross the road?!”.

And now how do I cross the road?!
And now how do I cross the road?!

It was quite terrifying! Hundreds of scooters, motorbikes and cars swarm around you as you try to make your way to the other side. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings are ignored in equal measure. Crossing the road becomes a fearless act of faith: if I believe that I will make it safe to the other side of the road, I will! And as you start walking slowly but at steady pace amidst the traffic, you realise that drivers are so used to avoiding pedestrians that the risk of being hit is actually quite low. And what initially seemed some sort of mission impossible easily turns into a mission accomplished.

Being back here after three months since my first visit is strange. The receptionist at the guesthouse still remembers me from my first visit, making me feel at home. Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker area) and the city centre look so familiar. I still managed to get lost a few times while walking around town, but there’s something interesting to see at every turn so it’s not all bad!

Here’s some more photos.