The New York Times has included southern Vietnam’s 16-island archipelago, Con Dao, in its list of “52 places to love in 2021”.
The American newspaper described Con Dao in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, a rising star on Vietnam’s tourism map, as a “tropical paradise with a terrible past.”
The paper typically releases an annual list of 52 best travel destinations. However, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, it termed this year’s version “52 places to love in 2021” and instead of using recommendations from travel writers, asked readers to write about a place of special significance.
From a list of more than 2,000 suggestions, The New York Times compiled the final list of 52 destinations.
Thang Dac Luong, a lawyer and a writer in Sydney, chose Vietnam’s Con Dao “as a place of special significance.” He said his journalist father was once imprisoned on Con Dao from 1961 – 1963, the Vietnam War time.
“I spent three days on Con Dao. I visited a cemetery, where relatives of those who had died or suffered in prison could bring offerings. There’s also a marine conservatory, where baby turtles are raised.”
“On the last day, as I swam in the warm, turquoise water, I burst into tears. It’s important to have places where we can remember those we’ve lost. Someday, I’d like to take my children there so they could learn more about their grandfather,” The New York Times quoted Luong as saying.
Hon Bay Canh is the second largest island of Con Dao Archipelago and is covered by primitive forests, boasting 882 plant species and 150 species of animals. Photo by VnExpress/Khanh Tran.
Located around 230 kilometers (143 miles) southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Con Dao Archipelago was once dubbed ‘Hell on Earth,’ home to a brutal prison where the French and American invaders jailed and tortured many Vietnamese freedom fighters during the 19th and 20th centuries.
This is not the first time Vietnam’s prison island has been highlighted by prestigious publications.
In 2017, CNN praised it as one of 12 paradise islands in Asia, while U.S. magazine Time included Con Dao in a list of 13 places around the world to amaze travelers with its blue water.