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Vietnam’s outpost in the sea
Daniel Ebbett
Tuesday,  Dec 5, 2017,16:52 (GMT+7)

Vietnam’s outpost in the sea

Daniel Ebbett

A view of Van Son Tu Pagoda - PHOTOS: DANIEL EBBETT

I recently had the extreme pleasure of visiting Con Dao Island, Vietnam’s lovely outpost in the sea south of Vung Tau. It is a place of poignant history and serene natural beauty. It wears its colonial architectural heritage with pride and maintains its past as a prison island with dignity. 

As a child, I vaguely recall the grim images in American news magazines which made Con Dao infamous as a place of suffering to be noted for posterity—much like Robben Island is for South Africa and Tasmania for Australia or Devil’s Island for France.

Nowadays Con Dao is cheerful, quiet place despite the past. The climate is cool and inviting.  It seems to be the model of local pride and cleanliness—the sort of place that Brits would award the title of ‘tidy town.’ So, they ‘roll up the sidewalks at night,’ as we Americans say of quiet places. That is fine by me. There are enough casinos and nightclubs in other places.

The beach in front of our bungalow was clean and calm, with only a little hum of activities from the fishing boat pier. The seafood, needless to say, was excellent.  Cool clouds hung over the horizon and carpeted the island’s heights. However, one does note the serious signs of beach erosion, so there must be times of serious flooding during cyclone season.

Hilltop view of Van Son Tu Pagoda

Outside of town, a lovely hilltop pagoda offers a pleasant panorama of the south side of the island.  It gives a view of the higher slopes as well, too steep for agriculture and a realm of mist and clouds.

Con Dao is both a place for reflection and relaxation. I wanted to go back as soon as I had arrived. I should very much like to do more walking and rent a motorbike. I even mused about the possibility of finding a job as an English teacher and being the place’s only foreign national—a voluntary exile.

This lovely small island chain is only a short plane ride from the hustle and bustle of Saigon, yet I do hope it will not change too much. Maybe its frontier and outpost character will protect it. Maybe the airstrip is too short for the large aircraft mass tourism requires. I certainly hope so.

A view of Con Dao Beach


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