Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam, located in the southwestern part, within the province of Kien Giang, covering an area of nearly 600 square kilometers. It’s a place often referred to as the “Pearl Island” (according to Wikipedia) yet it holds the harrowing memories of the Vietnamese people for over 40 years at a place known as “Phu Quoc Prison”.
Today, Phu Quoc Prison is a tourist destination that many Vietnamese tourists as well as foreign tourists visit to learn about the history of this place and leave a stick of incense for the war heroes and martyrs, who left their own life in this place.
General introduction to Phu Quoc prison
Phu Quoc Prison, also known as the Phu Quoc communist prisoner of war prison, is located in the An Thoi district, approximately 26 kilometers south of Duong Dong town on Phu Quoc Island. During the Indochina War, this place was served as a detention center for prisoners of war which was owned by the French colonialists and then was owned by Americans and Their Puppets Goverment. Over 32,000 prisoners, including political detainees were held here, and this number could have reached up to 40,000 individuals. During the French colonial period, the An Thoi commune was known as the Coconut Tree commune, which is why Phu Quoc Prison was locally named the Coconut Tree Prison.
Main areas at Phu Quoc prison
In 1972, Phu Quoc Prison was divided into 12 zones numbered from 1 to 12 (zones 13 and 14 were constructed later in that year). Each zone had a capacity of approximately 3,000 prisoners.
Each zone was further divided into multiple subzones, typically named as A, B, C, and D. Each subzone contained nine cell blocks spaced 100 meters apart, accommodating 950 prisoners, along with two interrogation room and solitary confinement rooms. All the cell blocks were constructed with sturdy metal and had cemented floors to prevent prisoners from digging escape tunnels. To guard the prison zones, each zone was surrounded by a guard fortification equipped with heavy machine guns and manned by numerous guards to ensure tight security and prevent any escape attempts. The prison was supervised by three military police battalions: the 7th, 8th, and 12th battalions.
Within the subzones, subzone B2 was specifically designated for the confinement of officers. The highest-ranking prisoner detained here was a Colonel. Additionally, there was a penitentiary for criminal prisoners in Duong Dong district, on the west side of the island. This facility typically housed prisoners who had been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
- B2 Subzone Entrance: It has multiple layers of barbed wire and is guarded by military police.
- B2 Isolation Cell: This cell measures 9×3 meters, with steel walls punctured with small holes, a canvas roof, a cemented floor, and extremely sharp wire mesh. This area reenacts scenes of prisoner torture using clubs, spiked shoes, and live burials.
- Tiger Cages in Phu Quoc Prison: These cages are approximately 2 meters long, 0.5 meters wide, and 0.5 meters tall, placed outdoors and constructed with barbed wire, where prisoners were held.
- Barbed Wire Fencing: This system consists of multiple layers of sharp barbed wire.
- Dining Halls, Restrooms, and Kitchen Area: This is where prisoners prepare food (recreated as models) and scenes of prison officers fine prisoner to cleanup.
- Detention and Torture Areas: Numbered from 1 to 18, these areas reenact daily life, resistance against oppression, forms of torture, and escape tunnels.
Visiting the B2 subzone of the prison, you will have the opportunity to witness detailed reconstructions. All of this provides you with a clearer perspective on the atrocities of the colonialists and the unwavering spirit of Vietnamese soldiers during the wartime.
Where is Phu Quoc Prison?
The prison is located at 465 DT46, An Thoi, Phu Quoc, Kien Giang Province. You can ride a motorcycle from Duong Dong town to get here. Along the way, you will pass through several famous tourist spots in Phu Quoc, such as the Phu Quoc Pepper Farm, the Sim Garden, and the sim wine production facility of Thanh Long, Phu Quoc Dog Conservation Center, Suoi Tranh Ecotourism Area,etc.
History of Phu Quoc prison during the years of resistance
The Resistance War against the French colonies
In 1953, the French colonialists established a prison on the southern part of Phu Quoc Island, covering approximately 40 hectares, known as the Coconut Tree prison. This facility held nearly 14,000 prisoners, mostly communist detainees who were captured by the French from battlefields in the North, Central, and South Vietnam and brought here.
Similar to other places, the prisoners at this camp organized resistance, suppressed the guards, and attempted to escape. After a little over a year, nearly 99 individuals had lost their lives, and around 200 managed to escape.
Following the Geneva Accords of 1954, the French handed over most of the prisoners to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Vietnam War period
The Vietnam War (also known by other names) was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955[A 1] to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. (according to Wikipedia)
- In 1955, the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) constructed a prison at the former Coconut Tree Camp location. Initially, it covered an area of 4 hectares and was named the Coconut Tree Reeducation Camp, also known as the Coconut Tree Labor Camp. The camp had separate sections for male, female, and elderly prisoners.
- In 1956, nearly 600 prisoners from the Gia Dinh reeducation center were transported here by boat, having previously been relocated from the Biên Hoà reeducation center. Subsequently, many political prisoners were also brought to the Coconut Tree Labor Camp.
- Also in 1956, around 100 prisoners attempted to escape, with several being shot and killed while trying to breach the fences. Due to the perceived instability, political prisoners were transferred to the mainland, and some were exiled to Con Dao Prison.
- A larger prison spanning over 400 hectares was built about 2 kilometers from the former Coconut Tree Camp location, situated in the An Thoi Valley. The prison was divided into 12 zones, each subdivided into 4 subzones, with over 400 cell blocks in total. Each subzone had two rooms for interrogation, punishment, or solitary confinement. This prison is often referred to as the Phu Quoc Prison Camp.
Today, the prison has become a historical landmark on “Pearl Island”. It is also a tourist attraction for both domestic and international visitors. The site includes indoor and outdoor exhibits, with many artifacts preserved in their original locations.
Sightsee Phu Quoc prison – a place that preserves the history of war crimes
Visiting the prison, you will pass through five primitive houses, including the detention building, dining hall, kitchen, and two guardhouses of the superintendent. The escape tunnels, barbed wire fences, guard towers, tiger cages, memorial towers, and more are all meticulously recreated. All of this provides you with a clearer perspective on the atrocities of the colonialists and the unwavering spirit of Vietnamese soldiers during wartime.
You will come across many reenacts documenting the brutal methods employed by the colonialists. You can’t help but be moved and saddened when you witness and listen to the narrations provided by the on-site guide. These are the crimes of the imperial colonialists, as well as the physical suffering that Vietnamese soldiers once had to endure.
Others parts of the Phu Quoc Prison historical site.
- The Gate of the 8th Military Police Battalion: Constructed with a solid iron core and bricks, with two square pillars on each side, it has been faithfully restored to its original form.
- The Gate of the 7th Military Police Battalion: This gate has been relocated inside, about 15 meters from its original position, and nearby, there is a plaque summarizing informations of the 7th Military Police Battalion.
- The Gate and Command Building of the Prison: Made of reinforced concrete, with a corrugated iron roof and wooden window frames. The main gate is constructed with iron bars and barbed wire.
- Prisoner Graveyard
- Exhibition Hall with 43 artifacts and 100 documentary images about the history of Phu Quoc Prison, including methods of torture and prisoners’ memorabilia.
- Memorial on Sim Hill: Designed with big strong wave-like on the sides, with a hollowed-out central block with the shape of a soldier, symbolizing the special meaning of “Brave people whose left (die) this place.”
With unwavering determination, the soldiers not only refused to yield to the enemy but also demonstrated their courage and ingenuity in dealing with them. Their methods of resistance ranged from remaining silent, infiltrating the enemy ranks, thwarting thug, to even setup escape attempts to save themselves and other prisoners. All of these things are vivid, and you can learn more about them when visiting Phu Quoc Prison.
The existence of 6 years, along with the painful losses, hundreds of deaths, and thousands of injuries, make Phu Quoc Prison a destination that evokes deep emotions for visitors who come here.
Cost of tickets to visit Phu Quoc prison
You won’t have to pay any entrance fees for the visit. However, if you want to hear more detailed historical stories about Phu Quoc Prison, you should consider hiring a tour guide, and you may tip them for their services.
You will be deeply moved and saddened when witnessing and listening to the narrations provided by the guide. These are the crimes of the imperial colonialists, as well as the physical suffering that Vietnamese soldiers once had to endure.
Let’s come to Phu Quoc Prison once to visit the brave soldiers who sacrificed themselves courageously for the nation’s cause and light incense to show your respect and offer solace to their souls.