Coconut Prison in Phu Quoc (Di Tích Nhà Tù Phú Quốc)
Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam. Today, tourists from all over the world come here to relax and see the local attractions. One of them is a historical museum. In the past, its territory was a prisoner of war camp.
It’s hard to imagine that just half a century ago, events took place on Fukuoka that no one would wish to see even in their most nightmarish dreams.
Located on the south side of the island in the town of An Thoi. During the Indochina War was the central prison camp in Vietnam and was called Coconut Prison.
Despite the beautiful name, it is a place of torture, death and thousands of murdered souls. There is speculation that Coconut Prison was named for the many plantations of palm trees where prisoners had to toil.
History of Phu Quoc Prison
The prison camp was built by French colonizers in 1949-1950 – during the Indochina War – to hold unruly rebels. In the mid-fifties, when the French left the land of Vietnam, the prison was not closed. They began to exile criminals here.
Later, when the Second Indochina War broke out and the South Vietnamese leadership was supported by U.S. troops, North Vietnamese prisoners of war were held there. High-ranking Vietnamese leaders were also detained there.
When the French seized Vietnamese territory, a large portion of Phu Quoc Island was set aside for the prison.
This also included areas where prisoners who had fought the French invaders were held. The camp was officially used for about a year (from June 1953 to July 1954).
Fukuoka Coconut Prison: purpose and intricacies of construction
Until 1972 the camp consisted of 12 zones, later two more zones were built. Each of the 14 zones was divided into a large number of mini-parties, where up to 950 prisoners were to be held, and a total of about 3,000 people were held in one zone.
A separate space was used for detained officers. All 14 zones were surrounded by multi-layered barbed wire and provided with electric lights.
The prison area was guarded by armed soldiers from 4 units who carried intercoms. The outside of the camp was supervised by the navy. Escape from this hell was practically impossible, since, in addition to secure fences, there was one escort for every two prisoners. Between 30,000 and 40,000 political prisoners were held on the prison grounds.
The History of Fukuoka: The Civil War
The arrival of French colonizers in Vietnam led to the formation of rebel movements. In 1945, the leader of the communist patriots for independence, Ho Chi Minh, declared the Republic of Vietnam an independent democratic country. All loyalists to their leader and fighters for justice occupied the northern part of the Vietnamese state.
France was not about to lose the captured territories and positioned itself in the south of Vietnam. With the military buildup, where Ho Chi Minh was assisted by China and the French by America, both sides of the mainland began to prepare for civil war.
According to the Geneva talks, a demilitarized zone was established on the 17th parallel, which divided the state in two into South and North Vietnam. The two territories formed began to fight each other.
It was at that time that a prison camp for prisoners of war from the North, named Coconut Prison, was erected on 40 hectares.
Torture for prisoners
Prison conditions for prisoners were particularly brutal. Among the many painful ordeals, people had to endure violence that not everyone could withstand. A vivid example was the tiger cage of barbed wire.
Active political prisoners were placed there for the purpose of restraint, as well as prisoners from other camps. Often only underwear was left on the fighters of the communist movement. Staying in a metal barbed frame was considered one of the most terrible tortures. Prisoners were kept there for days and nights without food or drink, only occasionally given some water and rice.
People were forced to stay in the punishment cells in the heat and cold. The size of the cells made it impossible not only to straighten up, but also to sit down or change posture. Sharp prickles pierced the body and ripped the skin until it bled. People were not allowed to go to the toilet and had to relieve themselves. Many could not stand the ordeal and died on the spot.
The Katso Cage.
A type of torture at Coconut Prison was also the Catso Cage. The iron container without windows or slits served as a kind of isolation cell. To kill the will of the prisoners, they were locked several at a time in their underwear and left for several days without water or food.
The temperature varied as much as 16 to 17 degrees. The air was heated to 30-32 degrees during the day and cooled down to 15 degrees at night. They could not get out and went to the bathroom in the same place. Being in the iron box in this way, even the strongest rebels broke down.
Escapes from Coconut Prison
The hellish conditions and thirst for will drove the prisoners to attempt escapes. Not all of them were successful. Of the 300 cases, about forty are considered successful. Prisoners tried to get outside the camp territory by any means, so they escaped during their commute to work or during transport.
They took guns from the guards and also carried out digging. There were as many as 7 successful tunnel escapes during the existence of Coconut Prison. The earth was dug with tablespoons for months at a time. The longest tunnel was about 20 meters long. The underground passage led outside the prison grounds.
During the period of detention in the Cocos prison about 4 thousand prisoners of war could not withstand the ordeal.
After the end of the Vietnam Civil War, the prisoners were released, but many, having experienced cruel, inhuman torture, were released with injuries and mental illnesses.
Museum in memory of those who died in prison
Despite the many attractions and attractions of Fukuoka, every year about 10,000 tourists to the Vietnamese island visit the historic site, Coconut Prison. Among them are former prisoners of war.
Tours are conducted in three languages – Vietnamese, English and French. Once inside the camp, one will be able to imagine all the tortures the POWs had to go through and see the patriotism of the country’s heroes.
The former Coconut Prison opened to the public in 1995, when it was honored as a national relic. It is now a historical site that tells the story of communist resilience. The hand-shaped monument installed in the museum is a symbol of the enslavement of the people and the unbroken will of the patriots. During the restoration of the camp, a cemetery of dead prisoners was left behind.
The executed model of the prison gives an opportunity to imagine the events of past years. The size of the prison camp resembled an entire city, with hundreds of houses replaced by iron barracks. The small, tin-covered structure held up to 150 prisoners, who had to sleep in stacks without any means of shelter from the cold. There were no toilets either. Instead a hole was dug in the center. The prisoners worked hard and were tortured and humiliated.
A monument was erected at the site where the remains of the prisoners’ bodies were found. When you look around and see a lot of barracks in the form of matchboxes, 10-15-layer barbed wire fences, guards with dogs, it is horrible of all this situation. So people with frail nerves and those who come on vacation with children, you should think – is it necessary to book an excursion to the territory of Coconut Prison?
But those who have visited these places begin to understand why Vietnamese residents still feel hatred for the occupiers, despite the fact that in today’s world they are more supportive of the Americans and blame supporters of guerrilla movements. Being among the barracks, one involuntarily changes one’s views. In the museum you can see the names of all the prisoners, their clothes, dishes, drawings and other personal items.
In 2008, an excavator operator, while doing another job, stumbled upon the bodies of 500 dead prisoners.
If local chatter is to be believed, one of the prison guards who destroyed more than one human life and carried out brutal torture of prisoners of war still lives quietly on Fukuoka. The jailer is now about 80 years old.
How to get to the Cocoanut Prison Museum. Opening hours.
The main road connecting the island’s airport and An Hoi port leads to the prison museum. If you go to Bai Sao beach, you can see a former camp on the way. It is impossible not to notice the blue monument, located on one side of the highway, and in front of him the barracks behind barbed wire.
You can get to the museum from Duong Dong in 45 minutes by car. The cost to visit the historical sites is 30,000 dong with a tour guide who introduces the past events in one of three languages. Although, according to many tourists, they were able to get into the Coconut Prison for free.
You can see the famous camp of Phu Quoc Island by booking a sightseeing tour or get to the designated place by bike.
The events, reproduced in the layout, allow you to feel the horror that the Vietnamese patriots had to endure. What you see cannot leave any visitor to Coconut Prison indifferent. As long as people feel the pain of other people’s suffering, they are human beings.
Since 2013, I have been living with my wife in different countries, including China, the Philippines, the USA, and Vietnam. I photograph and write about travel blogs.
Coconut Prison on Fukuoka. The infernal past of the island paradise
December 2016 (updated: 08/15/2018) 12
Less than 50 years ago, Phu Quoc was not the dream island where tourists from all over the world wanted to go. It was a hell of an island, where nightmarish events took place. No tourism in those not-so-distant times no one could even think about. Coconut Prison Phu Quoc is a memorial to those events.
Coconut Prison Phu Quoc Vietnam
In Cambodia, we visited a similar place we told you about in Tuol Slang or Genocide Museum, where you can see the shocking events during Pol Pot’s reign. Meanwhile, atrocities and genocide were also taking place in Fukuoka. I believe that in such special places one gets a sense of history, getting a better impression of the country.
Several rows of barbed wire around the perimeter and guards with machine guns and dogs
Why was the coconut prison called a “coconut prison”? According to researchers, the prisoners on the island worked on coconut plantations, hence the name.
History of the coconut prison on Fukuoka
The prison was built by the French and South Vietnamese who exiled intransigent communists here. It was later developed during the Vietnam War and continued to incarcerate North Vietnamese soldiers and other dissenters.
The Coconut Prison served as a torture camp. Prisoners were held in inhumane conditions. Some were placed in cages and held under the scorching sun. Some episodes are recreated on the compound in barracks and on open grounds. Every day the innocent were beaten and humiliated. Many died not only at the hands of the guards and torture, but also from disease.
This was not the only prison on Fukuoka. About 400 barracks were built on the entire island, where about 40,000 prisoners were held during the Vietnam War. They decided to recreate this memorial so that every Vietnamese could come and see a piece of their history. And not only the Vietnamese, but anyone else who wants to.
Sculptures of tortured people that look like the real thing.
Kitchen. You could feed them, you could starve them.
There were about 40,000 people in prison. More than four thousand of them died. A few dozen prisoners managed to escape. Through unbelievable efforts, hungry, half-dead guys, with an ordinary table spoon dug a tunnel for themselves for two months and got out into the wild behind the barbed wire fence. The complex recreates this tunnel.
The very same escape tunnel
Museum in memory of all those who died in the coconut prison
There is a small museum on the compound with personal items found over the years. Photographs, items used by the inmates, pictures of the mistreatment of people, all are preserved.