Côn Ðảo is a Vietnamese island group in the South China Sea (Biển Đông) in Vietnam. There are 16 islands including various islets in the Côn Ðảo Archipelago of which the largest island is known as Côn Sơn. The island can be reached by boat or plane and is located 234km south of Ho Chi Minh International Airport. A flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Côn Sơn takes approximately one hour. Most permanent inhabitants of the islands are either fishermen or farmers.
Côn Sơn is the location of a former prison complex constructed in the late 1800s by the French colonisers who used it as a brutal labour camp and political prison. The island was subsequently used by the US-backed Saigon government during the 1960s until the end of the Vietnam-American war. The prisons include the infamous “Tiger Cages” where some of Vietnam’s current leaders were held captive until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. A national cemetery situated near the various old prison camps include grave sites of 2,000 former prisoners.
Côn Sơn town centre has a small historical district close to the old French prison complex. Amongst the remaining buildings include the former headquarters and residence of the French governors. Constructed in 1873 the building has remained unchanged for 137 years and is the oldest surviving building on the island. It now houses the Côn Ðảo Museum. There are a number of other culturally significant sites close by, including Pier 914 – the name refers to the number of prisoners who died while construction the pier. Various prison buildings remain on the island and can be visited by guided tours or on one’s own accord. Today, none of the prisons are in use and most of Côn Sơn, its surrounding marine area, islands and islets have been declared a national nature reserve. Additionally, the Vietnamese authorities have recently applied for the location to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.