Con Dao Prison, once known as "Hell on Earth", is a chilling testament to the dark history of Vietnam. The grim cells, haunting corridors, and brutal conditions of Con Dao Prison serve as a haunting reminder of the atrocities of French colonialists and the great sacrifice of Vietnamese revolutionaries.
1. About Con Dao Prison: Why was it called hell on earth?
- Location: Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, Con Dao Island, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, Vietnam
- Opening hours: 08:00 AM - 06:00 PM
Con Dao Prison, also known as Con Son Prison, is a grim symbol of oppression and brutality in Vietnam's history. Built in 1862 by French colonialists and then used by American imperialists, it was a notorious facility for incarcerating political prisoners and dissidents.
As Con Dao is an isolated area located in the middle of the East Sea, about 100 kilometers away from the mainland without transportation, it was difficult for prisoners to escape. This prison complex consists of 127 detention rooms, 42 cells, and 504 isolated cells called "tiger cages" in Con Dao.
The prison's grim notoriety earned it the chilling moniker "hell on earth". Inside its walls, prisoners endured unimaginable suffering, subjected to torture, malnutrition, and deplorable conditions. Many lost their lives within the prison's confines, making Con Dao Prison a haunting testament to the cruelty inflicted upon Vietnamese political prisoners.
Over 20,000 Vietnamese people were imprisoned here for over 100 years. After the country's reunification in 1975, Con Dao Prison was dissolved. Later, it was designated as one of Vietnam's 23 special national monuments. It has now become a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world.
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2. Highlights in the structure of Con Dao Prison Complex
2.1. The system of prisons
- Phu Hai Prison, built in 1862, was the oldest and main prison of Con Dao Prison Complex. It comprised 10 collective cells and 1 isolation cell. Facilities such as playgrounds, wells, kitchens, toilets, etc. were constructed to mislead public opinion at the time. After failing to "educate" and persuade patriotic soldiers, jailers imprisoned and tortured the prisoners.
- Phu Tho Prison initially had 3 rows of cells (2 collective cells and 1 isolation cell). Since 1945, only 2 rows remained. This prison was used to detain new prisoners brought to Con Dao by the French. Phu Tho Prison was also known as the "Chicken Cage" due to the additional isolation cells built by the Americans.
- Phu Son Prison, built in 1916, is located adjacent to Phu Hai Prison. This prison has a similar design to other prisons but on a larger and more robust scale, featuring numerous cell blocks.
- Phu Tuong Prison, built in 1941, consisted of 8 collective cells, a kitchen, a warehouse, a clinic, and a garden. Behind the garden lied a system of brutal “tiger cages” and torture chambers. Prisoners were confined in barbed wire, enclosed by stone walls. They were stripped and exposed to weather until death.
- Tiger Cages: One of the most brutal torture areas was Con Dao Prison Tiger Cages. This area is divided into 2 sections, with a total of 40 cells, or “cages” in each section. The size of each cell is only 1.45m x 2.5m, housing up to 12 people. Here, the prisoners struggled to eat, sleep and even excrete. Above, guards would pour quicklime and water on the prisoners, further burning their already damaged skin.
- Phu Phong Prison, built in 1962, consisted of 12 cells, housing 36 female prisoners who were transferred from mainland prisons due to dissenting opinions. Both prisoners of war and civilians were held here.
- Phu An Prison consisted of 20 cells with a concrete roof that intensified the oppressive heat of Con Dao. This prison detained prisoners who were awaiting sentencing and political prisoners.
- Phu Binh Prison, also known as American Tiger Cages, comprised 96 cells with a total area of 25,768 square meters. Each cell measured only 5 square meters and housed from 8 to 10 people.
- Phu Hung Prison was built by Americans after they took over Con Dao Prison Complex. Covering a total area of 26,200 square meters, it consisted of 10 cells. There were times when this prison held up to 1,500 prisoners.
- Cow Shed was another brutal torture area in Con Dao Prison Complex built by the French, covering an area of 4,410 square meters, including isolation cells, an animal husbandry area, and a waste storage area. Prisoners were submerged in the waste storage area and beaten, leading to severe infections.
2.2. Con Dao Governor’s Palace
Con Dao Governor’s Palace is a historical landmark near Con Dao Prison. This palace has a total area of 18,600 square meters. It served as the residence of 53 governors, including 39 during the French colonial period and 14 during the American imperial period, spanning 113 years. Visiting this place, you will have a glimpse of the heroic history of the nation and the sacrifices of Vietnamese revolutionaries against the extravagant lifestyle of the foreign governors.
2.3. The prison departments
Besides Con Dao Prison, there are various prison departments built by foreign forces. Each department had different purposes, including providing food, reforming prisoners, or torturing inmates. Nowadays, more than 18 prison departments are open for tourists to visit.
In addition, you should not miss out on other Con Dao attractions including Jetty 914, Hang Duong Cemetery, Cong Quan House, and Con Dao Museum.
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3. How to get to Con Dao Prison?
Boarding a flight or taking a high-speed ferry are two popular ways to get to Con Dao Island. Upon arrival in Con Dao, you can take a taxi or shuttle bus to reach Con Dao Prison.
Otherwise, if you want to ride a motorbike to the prison yourself, follow this direction:
From Con Dao Market, go straight and turn left onto Tran Phu Street. Continue on Tran Phu Street until you reach an intersection, then turn right. After a short distance, turn left onto Nguyen Hue Street. Once you reach the end of Nguyen Hue Street, turn onto Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, and you will arrive at the prison.
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In addition to exploring the historic stories of Con Dao Prison and the natural beauty of Con Dao Island, tourists should visit other captivating destinations in Vietnam, such as Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, and Ha Long. These places offer stunning landscapes, authentic experiences, and remarkable memories for your Vietnam travel.
When you explore these destinations, it is crucial to find the perfect accommodation for a comfortable stay. Notably, Vinpearl's hotels and resorts offer a blend of luxury and elegance, complementing Vietnam's breathtaking landscapes. With top-notch facilities, exceptional dining options, rejuvenating spa treatments, and more, Vinpearl ensures to meet all your needs.
Con Dao Prison stands as a solemn reminder of the dark chapters in Vietnam's history. Its haunting structures and stories of torture showcase the immense suffering endured by prisoners. Remember to add this place to your Con Dao Island tour and get ready for a lively journey to the past!