Con Son is both a nice island and prison island paradise in Vietnam. It becomes a famous places and attracts many tourists every year. It is the largest of this chain of 15 islands and islets, is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in thick forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring deserted coastal roads and beaches, there are excellent wildlife-watching opportunities such as the black giant squirrel and endemic bow-fingered gecko.
The news carries loud and clear over the tiny township of just 5,000 residents, two sets of traffic lights and one seaside promenade. Visiting the largest island in the Con Dao archipelago – a group of 16 mostly uninhabited picturesque islands in the South China Sea – is like stepping back in time.
Vietnam’s prison island paradise
Most of the visitors are domestic Vietnamese paying homage to the island’s dark past. Known as Southeast Asia’s Devil’s Island, Con Son was once a penal colony used to brutal and cruel effect first by French colonists and later during the Vietnam War. The French worked 914 men to death building the island’s jetty, while Vietnam War prisoners were kept in infamous “tiger cages”, where captives – actual or suspected Communists – were shackled to the floor of deep concrete pits with steel bars for a roof. The main prison walls still dominate the town as a constant reminder.
Though the horrific memories hang heavy still, modern life is languid and laid back. Con Son’s steep green interior is fringed by warm turquoise water and coral reefs. Flame trees and bougainvillea give licks of color to the jungle, and frangipani and magnolia trees line the wide, quiet boulevards. A single main road wraps about halfway around the island; a motorbike ride along the shoreline takes in ponds filled with lotus flowers, spectacular reddish-orange cliffs and one empty white-sand beach after another. The sea is calm, clean and perfect for swimming year-round.