|Young hero: A statue of heroine Võ Thị Sáu at the centre of Côn Đảo Island. - VNS Photo Hải Ninh|
By Trần Hoàng Nam
When Lý Thu Trang set foot on Côn Đảo Island, the first thing she saw was a coconut tree, its trunk bent over on the white sandy beach. It’s exactly like the scenes she often sees on postcards. Now it appears in front of her eyes.
It’s an amazing feeling that can’t be described in words, she said. Côn Đảo looks like paradise on Earth. “Blue sky, emerald sea and white sand – the landscape is wonderful and I can take beautiful photos no matter where I stand,” said Trang.
Trang had only 24 hours to discover Côn Đảo Island, but the trip brought her unforgettable experiences and memories, making her want to visit again and again.
For many people, Côn Đảo offers two different experiences in one journey – one a spiritual trip to recall the glorious history of the nation, the other a trip to discover local life, specialities and landscape.
|Emerald seas: The beautiful landscape of Côn Đảo Island. - VNS Photo Hải Ninh|
The first thing many people do when they come to Côn Đảo is to visit the grave of heroine Võ Thị Sáu at Hàng Dương Cemetery.
There are many legends about this girl. The most popular story is upon her execution she asked the enemy not to blindfold her. She wanted to see the country until her last breath. When the guards put their fingers on the triggers of their guns, she began singing the national anthem.
Sáu was born in 1933 in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province. She began her revolutionary career at the age of 13. In an attack in 1948, she used a grenade to kill a French officer and injured 14 others. She was arrested in early 1950 when she launched another attack. She was put in jail and given a death sentence in Chí Hòa Prison in Sài Gòn (now HCM City). She was sent to Côn Đảo Prison, the place for the most dangerous Việt Minh soldiers for the French colonialists.
Among 20,000 graves of Vietnamese martyrs at Hàng Dương Cemetery, only 700 are identified.
“We have heard many stories from the friendly locals. We all felt painful knowing that soldiers imprisoned here were cruelly tortured. Most of them died while trying to escape.”
|Catch of the day: Fresh seafood of Côn Đảo Island. VNS Photo Hải Ninh|
“The trip is really haunting,” said Trang.
“But it’s worth it because we had the chance to learn more about the history and sacrifice of the fallen. Sometimes, young people seem to ignore the past. Thanks to the trip, we all are aware of patriotism.”
People often visit Hàng Dương Cemetary from sunset until midnight. They believe that this is the ideal time to enjoy a spiritual connection with the fallen and their prayers will be heard.
“It’s very touching and sacred moment,” said Trang.
|Natural features: Beautiful scenes along the coastal road. - VNS Photo Hải Ninh|
“People brought white flowers to the cemetary, symbolising the youth of the martyrs. In the flickering light of thousands of candles, we commemorated their sacrifice.”
Another holy place to visit is Vân Sơn Tự (Pagoda of Clouds and Mountain). The beautiful pagoda is a place to worship the Buddha and fallen soldiers.
Tourists have to climb up the mountain to reach the pagoda. Walking on stone steps, people can enjoy the tranquility and the purity of the green canopies. The pagoda is located on the mountain peak, where people can enjoy the stunning view over the sea. It’s really relaxing to enjoy free ginger tea offered by the monks and listen to the music from the many bamboo wind chimes.
|Holy place: The view of Vân Sơn Tự on Côn Đảo Island. VNS Photo Hải Ninh|
Côn Đảo Island is a pristine land which hasn’t been exploited for tourism. Visitors often ride motorbikes or bicycles on a road along the sea to enjoy the beautiful view and fresh air. There are various places to take photos and go trekking.
“The seafood is cheap and fresh,” said Trang.
“There are many kinds of snails that we haven’t heard of before. The taste is delicious and the locals don’t cook them in a complicated way.”
Trang suggested that people should visit Côn Đảo Island at least once. The place has spectacular, pristine and peaceful landscapes, but in the past, it witnessed a painful period in the country’s history. — VNS