Like many other historic prisons in the world, Coconut Tree Prison or Nha Lao Cay Dua Prison became a tourist attraction due to its horrific past. Located about 5 kilometers (3 miles) north of the southern town of An Thoi, the prison was built by the French colonial administration in the 1940s that served as a gulag for revolutionaries. From four areas it was then expanded to 12 areas by the United States government at the peak of the Vietnam War to house more than 40,000 Viet Cong guerrillas.
From the tropical paradise atmosphere and the white powdery beach nearby, it is hard to imagine that this tranquil environment once housed a brutal past that tortured and killed prisoners. Getting into the buildings and taking a peek at the exhibit of the developing museum, one gets a glimpse of how these seeming war atrocities happened including crucifixion, boiling and other forms of torture. Visitors are led to wonder how the catso tiger room, a cramped completely dark room, and the tiger cage, a small cylindrical barbed wire enclosure could allow a prisoner to survive for days. Statues and dioramas of how such tortures were practiced are also found in the prison-turned-musuem.
All the pieces and articles inside Coconut Tree Prison depict the French colonialists and the American forces as the oppressors during those years, especially since North and South Vietnam were reunified. No matter how other sides view the wars that happened in Vietnam, there is no denying that the horrors of war leave scars and lessons from it need to be learned.
The conversion of the prison into a complete museum has been slow and a few more modern-day prisoners are still housed in the 40-hectare compound. Their presence in their respective areas has not deterred the 10,000 or so visitors to come to Coconut Tree Prison annually. Former prisoners who perhaps need closure of their sad experience in the camp also visit the prison, including young people and foreign tourists to learn about war’s destruction and appreciate the peace of modern life. Tourists may contact +84 77 384 6331 to arrange visits.