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Lovely oceanic outpost of the French colonial era – Bay Canh Lighthouse

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The French colonial era lighthouse is perched 212 meters atop the island’s highest peak on Bay Canh Mountain. This is one of the 16 islands of Con Dao archipelago, surrounded by sea from the East, South and West. The lighthouse was built up to the height of 16 meters, lighting effect about 35 nautical miles by day, and 26.7 nautical miles at night. There are 4 floors inside the lighthouse tower. A spiral staircase made of steel wire with 55 stairs leads to the top of the lighthouse. A secondary backup light is used if the main light was broken, situated on the top. It plays the role as a landmark at sea and ensures that international ships can pass by safely and smoothly. Besides maritime guidance function, Bay Canh lighthouse also contributes to protect the largest ecological conservation area of sea turtle on Con Dao Island.

French colonial era Bay Canh lighthouse quarters

French colonial era Bay Canh lighthouse quarters

Con Dao Island is located 97 nautical miles away from the mainland. This is a sacred place of the Fatherland. The lighthouse is located on Bay Canh islet away from the center of Con Dao. It takes us about 30 minutes to come here by canoes. We can see the lighthouse rising majestically from a distance. The lighthouse is in a convenient position of the navigable road link Europe and Asia. Con Dao was known as an important strategic position soon by Westerners. Immediately after asserting the French sovereignty on Con Dao Island by a declaration in 1862, French fisherman found a favorable position for the lighthouse.

Lighthouse beacon on Bay Canh Island, Con Dao at dusk

Lighthouse beacon on Bay Canh Island, Con Dao at dusk

What an awesomely lovely but lonely oceanic outpost this must have been to its French lighthouse keepers. At the top, a low stone wall encloses a garden and the lighthouse quarters with its beacon tower, as sturdy as it was more than a century ago. Thick walls braced the huge arched entrance and long windows that opened out to a long, wide portico all around. Inside, a spacious corridor flanked by rooms on both sides led to the spiral staircase and up into the beacon tower. I climbed the dizzy stairs and just below the beacon chamber I looked closely at the French engineering inscriptions and trademarks of 1887 embossed onto the rotation machinery that now turns a modern beacon.

Bay Canh lighthouse interior. Corridor flanked by rooms lead to beacon tower

Bay Canh lighthouse interior. Corridor flanked by rooms lead to beacon tower

Bay Canh lighthouse spiral staircase to beacon tower

Bay Canh lighthouse spiral staircase to beacon tower

There is a stone path leading from the foothills to the lighthouse. Upstream the revolutionary history of Con Dao, there is the place born the stamp of the revolt of prisoners since the early days has built the lighthouse. French built a detention center with capacity of about 150 prisoners at the foot of the lighthouse. The prisoners are patriotic warriors taking part in the resistance against French in the Southern. Prisoners were mobilized to build the lighthouse. However, with the spirit of patriotism and desire to free themselves, prisoners revolted to destroy the chains on Bay Canh Islet.

Portico surrounding the lighthouse quarters

Portico surrounding the lighthouse quarters

Rowing a coracle over the reef to Bay Canh Island lighthouse landing point.

Rowing a coracle over the reef to Bay Canh Island lighthouse landing point.

Bay Canh lighthouse on Con Dao Island is adjacent to international navigable channels. This position ensures international ships can pass by safely and smoothly. This also located on the outpost territorial waters of our motherland linking Vung Tau, Ho Chi Minh City and the Southwest territorial waters. Thus, the lighthouse plays a role as a hallmark for international transport at sea.

View from Bay Canh Island lighthouse, Con Dao Archipelago Vietnam

View from Bay Canh Island lighthouse, Con Dao Archipelago Vietnam

The large sandy beach at the foot of the lighthouse is a paradise of nature reserves especially sea turtle conservation activities. Here is the islet having the largest number of turtles laying eggs of Vietnam. In July every year, sea turtles from Phu Quy, Binh Thuan, Phu Quoc, Kien Giang, Khanh Hoa and the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia islands come here again to lay their eggs on the sandy beach at the foot of the lighthouse. Forest management force protected and helped turtles come ashore to lay their eggs at night. Sometimes the number of sea turtles can be up to 30 turtle mothers. About 80% of the eggs will hatch into juveniles. They are released back into the sea to begin a new life cycle. About 30 years later, the surviving turtles will return to this sand for spawning. It is also the law of survival for millions of years of sea turtles. The maritime space at the foot of the lighthouse not only is the place for sea turtle conservation, but also planned for ecological restoration zones and it are strictly protected. Coral reefs, sea cucumber are cared cautiously by Con Dao national park staffs.

Giant clam (juvenile) embedded in the reef flat of Bay Canh Island

Giant clam (juvenile) embedded in the reef flat of Bay Canh Island

Starfish at low tide, Bay Canh Islan

Starfish at low tide, Bay Canh Islan

When sunset comes, it is time of the task of the lighthouse. It still lights up diligently and always stays in the most dangerous position. The highlight of peace does not only direct ships about safe sailing in the region, but also protect the valuable natural resources of our country.

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