This was a place in living hell. Inmates would share small cells. They would be chained with heavy metal and squeezed into tiny areas. They were hungry, malnutrition took over. Some were tortured. Most lived a life of misery. Others networked and made connections. Some died.
Bonjour Bagne Une, as the French would say. This was their pet name for the place. The French knew how to build prisons. This one dates to 1962. They had experience across Indochina. Like most, the opposition was a bit of a threat. They wanted to quieten the enemy. Torture was a good choice. Stories and depictions are spread out amongst the prison in the form of characters and other stories. This was a 12,000 sqm jail. Around 1,500 sqm was used for inmates. Daily chores, daily torture and daily strife. This was the norm.
It was quite the community. The cells held up to 200 prisoners. There were a rice milling cellar and rock-forming area. A storage warehouse kept everything stoked. A barbershop was here as well as a kitchen and a dining room. The chapel gave room for religious belief, with an auditorium and garden being available for any little rest time people were given. The club allowed inmates to socialise to a certain extent.
This might have backfired for the French Colonialists. This was one of the places where an uprising began. Communism spread across the grounds. Many ringleaders were punished severely. Ton Duc Thang, Vo Sy, and Vo Thuc Dong are three such political figures stuck in the prison. Information can be found here. This was a prison enacting punishment and slavery in the most terrible form.
The grounds surrounding Phu Hai are very pleasant. Surrounding by trees, petite hillsides and flowers which create a different atmosphere during each season, you’d be forgiven if you forgot you were there to see a Jail. This prison is a national monument. There are other places to see close by. Phu Son Camp is one. The revolutionary museum, Hang Duong Cemetery and Con Dao National Park are the others. This is an enlightening day trip. It’s also gruesome. Be aware.
Phu Hai Camp is located at Lê Văn Việt, Côn Đảo. Opening hours are 07:30-11:30, 14:00-17:00. Ticket price is 25,000 vnd.