Midway between My Tho and Ben Tre are numerous small islands, the best known among them being Con Phung or Phoenix Island. This was the lonely bastion of the Coconut Monk. On this small spot of dry land, he built his quaint little temple complex. On a circular base, about 75 ft (25 m) in diameter, are several free- standing blueandgold dragon columns, support ing nothing but the air above them. Nearby is a latticework structure that rather resembles a roller coast er. This is flank ed by minarets and the monk’s impres sion of a moon rocket. On the upriver side, a huge funerary urn lies on the back of a giant tortoise sculp ture. A small coconut candy factory operates on the perimeter of the island. Neighboring Phoenix Island are several little islands, which make good venues for picnics. These include Con Tan Long or Dragon Island, home to bee- keepers and boat wrights ; Thoi Son or Unicorn Island, full of narrow canals that irrigate lush lon gan orch ards; and Con Qui or Tortoise Island, known for its coconut candy and pot ent banana liquor. Pineapples, jack fruit, and mangoes are also grown here in abun dance. Each of these islands is served by a scheduled ferry.
The given name of the Coconut Monk was Nguyen Thanh Nam (1909–90). A student of chemistry, he eventually discarded the trappings of com fort and ded icated himself to medi ta tion and absti nence. Subsis ting on a diet of coconuts and water, he even started a reli gion, Tinh Do Cu Si, a whimsi cal blend of Buddhism and Christianity. He challenged the authorities on how to reunify the nation and restore peace after its partition in 1954, and often ended up in jail because of his views. His bizarre headquarters on Phoenix Island remain his most enduring legacy.