Video – Tormented Beauty on Côn Sơn Island
On the surface, this untrampled island in the South China Sea is the sort of place travelers dream of finding. But its former political prisons reveal a history of torture.
By Dave Fox with Jeff Nesmith
Côn Sơn Island (Côn Đảo Archipelago), Vietnam
“…The prisons were chilling. I had heard that they were here. I knew they were here. But until you see them, you really can’t fathom the horrors that people went through….”
You can read about places where humanity disintegrated, where politics and hatred grew so unthinkably cruel that systematic, government-sanctioned torture occurred on a mass scale. But until you step inside a former torture chamber, and sense the presence of the ghosts for yourself, you cannot fully understand the energy such a place evokes.
Côn Sơn Island, an island in Vietnam’s Côn Đảo Archipelago, is a place I had been wanting to visit for a while. I had read that its untrampled beaches were a traveler’s paradise – but also that its former prisons were nothing short of hell.
I traveled last month to Côn Sơn Island (also known as Côn Đảo Island) with Saigon-based filmmaker Jeff Nesmith. We didn’t understand the full scope of the story we were seeking until we arrived.
On our last day on Côn Sơn, Jeff and I walked to the end of a short pier known as Pier 914, so named because 914 political prisoners died there, worked to death while constructing it. Jeff did a short interview with me about our time there and has produced this short video about what we experienced.
This video does not tell the whole story of Côn Đảo. We hope to return later this year to dig deeper into this serene place in the South China Sea (or the East Sea, as Vietnam calls it), which on one level reeks of humanity at its worst, but which also shows how society can bounce back from its horrors and once again find beauty.