With the fast pace of development in Phu Quoc, Con Dao has become one of the last unscathed island paradises in Vietnam. Formed by 16 islands in front of Vung Tao, it is a wonderful place for a bike ride through empty roads in the middle of the nature. And, of course, a wonderful choice for a relaxed vacation by the sea. But it also happens to be one of the most notorious haunted places in Asia, as many locals claim that they have seen ghosts.
In thisNational Geographic TV show, a witness says he has seen a spirit with long white hair and white trousers coming to him near Ma Thien Lanh bridge, an abandoned structure in the middle of the jungle. Another woman claims she has seen two ghosts in a former prison. Why would such a beautiful land be haunted? As other places on Earth, such as the nazi concentration camps or Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, Con Dao island has a horrifying past as a torture place for prisoners during French colonial rule and also during the American war. Many Vietnamese believe that the soul of a person who had an unjust death, or was tortured before dying or starved to death will never be satisfied and will not reincarnate. It will just wander around.
Though more difficult to believe for rational Western minds, if there is a place to be haunted in Vietnam, it is Con Dao island, formerly known as Poulo Condore (island of squashes). Let’s have a look at some of the supposedly haunted places on the island. The aforementioned Ma Thi Lanh bridge, for instance, is an unfinished bridge in the middle of the jungle that the French wanted to use to build watchtowers along it. It was built by prisoners working in horrible conditions under the torrid tropical heat, with little food and water and no medicine against illness. 356 prisoners couldn’t resist it, died there of starvation, exhausted or victims of tropical diseases. According to some locals, their souls stayed there, wandering in the middle of the jungle.
Since the late nineteenth century Con Dao had been a penal colony where the French rulers sent political dissidents fighting for independence. There have been four prisons in a century and locals believe some are still haunted by the sufferings of their inmates. In some of them, such as Phu Tuong prison, the French, and later the Americans, used the so-called tiger cages for the most defiant prisoners. These were small 4 square meters concrete pits and each held about six prisoners who could only lie down. Steel grates covered the top of each pit and guards used to beat them from above. According to an account by journalist Bob Swartzel, “after months of internment, prisoners would lose the use of their legs, develop tuberculosis, gangrenous feet and life threatening dysentery”.
About 200.000 prisoners were overall incarcerated in Con Dao island and 20,000 of them died. Wether you believe in ghosts or not, a quick look at the island’s history is scary enough. That said, you should visit and cycle in this Paradise that used to be hell not so long ago.