Con Dao: Hang Duong Cemetery

Due to the history as prison island by the French and the US you can find several historic sites on Con Dao. Probably the most important (and the most emotional) one is the Hang Duong cemetery, where nearly 2.000 of the 20.000 victims of the prisons are buried. Unfortunately only around a third of those are known by name, so there are a lot of anonymous graves on the cemetery.

it is located just north-east of Con Son Town. Just follow Nguyen An Ninh, which turns off from Nguyen Hue at a little park. The road will lead directly to the car park of the cemetery. For a visit at night get a taxi or use a scooter – walking that road in the dark might not be too pleasant.

At the entrance a huge arc will welcome you to the cemetery. The layout is quite straightforward. After entering you will face a middle section with two memorial statues but no graves.  The foot path divides into two leading around of this green part. On both sides of the path you can then see various sections with the graves, smaller path leading away from the main part of the cemetery.

The graves are in very good conditions, a clear sign how much care is taken for this site. In front of each grave you can find a little pedestal with a star on top of it. While some graves remain anonymous other have names and even a photos on this pedestal. On most graves you also see flowers or incense sticks left by visitors.

On the top of the middle section the two path join there is the main memorial – a large obelisk. You have to climb a few stairs onto a platform to get a full view of the memorial.

The whole cemetery is well look after and you realise the importance of this place.

However, the best time to visit it is not during the day, but at night, preferable after 10 or 11pm. This is the time where most Vietnamese visiting the island head to the cemetery with bags and carts full of offerings they brought with them from their home to pay their respect to the death. I saw groups arriving with trolleys full of food, flowers and other items.

The whole place lies in darkness except of the arc, the memorials and some graves lighten up – providing a very special atmosphere to this place. You instantly get a feel how important this cemetery is.

During a visit at night the most important place will be the north-west section of the graves where you will find the grave of a national heroine – Vo Thi Sau. She was the first Vietnamese woman who was killed by a firing squad at the age of 19. Most visitors visit her grave and leave offerings on her grave, like food or mirrors. Next to it is a little fireplace where visitors can lighten up incense sticks they leave at the various grave. Even if they do not know the name of the person buried, they put a new incense stick as soon the previous one is burned down. You can feel how important this visit is for the Vietnamese

For me visiting this site was really moving and emotional. So coming here at night is something you really should do. But please show respect when visiting this important site for the Vietnamese. Do not interrupt them when they remember those who found death on this island. Stay in the background, and do not use flash for your camera.

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