It’s one of those blessed four-day national holidays, so thirteen of us decided to board a van and head to Co To Island — a place in the north east of Ha Long Bay that I’ve always dreamed of visiting.
Our itinerary is to get to Cai Rong Wharf in Van Don Province, about 50km north of Ha Long City, and take a boat from there to Co To. There is no official website about the boat schedule, but I was told by a friend who has just done the same trip that there is one fast boat (90 minutes) at 1.30pm and one slower boat (three hours) every morning. But as it’s the holiday weekend more crossings would be available.
The roads out of Hanoi are crammed with long lines of cars, buses and other vehicles all trying to escape the city at the same time. After a five-hour drive we finally make it to the wharf, and are soon informed that the only fast boat has left. Owners of other boats immediately offered us carriage on their boats. We get on one that’s ready to depart — and it’s overcrowded already.
The light breezes, the ocean smell, the deep blue water and tiny green islands along the way make the three hours on board the boat pass quickly, and soon our destination appears on the horizon.
Popular Vietnamese writer Nguyen Tuan has more than once confessed his love for the beauty and charm of this island. “How can I name the colour of the sea today? Why does it have such an unreasonable blue? Is this the colour of a young banana leaf? Or an old banana leaf? Or is it like the green colour of the young rice field?” he wrote in his book A Journal to Co To. Tuan finally gives up as “the moment you say the colour, it has changed to something different.”
The island has all of the best ingredients for a dream getaway. Hong Van and Van Chay beaches are referred to as sunrise and sunset beaches, respectively. They are 20 minutes away from each other by motorbike and both offer pristine long, sandy beaches. While Hong Van has smaller waves and is great for swimming, the latter will better suit those with a penchant for paddling and surfing. You’ll need to bring your own board, though.
On Bac Van beach you can rent a local fishing boat (VND600,000 round trip) that will take you to Co To Con — a little island east of Co To that remains uninhabited. A further forty minutes around the island is the east beach of Co To Con, which has the island’s clearest water with beautiful coral and scores of starfish.
For those who aren’t beach bound, renting a motorbike is another fun way to explore Co To. It gives you the freedom to explore the green rice fields, the peaceful residential areas and the tree-lined streets. You can also test your driving skills on the hilly, rough and unpaved road that leads to Cau My, where you can enjoy views of the island’s most striking cliffs. Love Valley at the bottom of the hill has huge copper-coloured rocks with a surface similar to that of a fish’s fin, crafted by the water over thousands of years. A must is a ride to the mountaintop lighthouse for panoramic views of the entire island.
Non-Vietnamese visitors require permits to visit Co To. Visit the Quang Ninh Immigration Office’s website at www.quangninh.xnc.vn or call (03) 3379 8114. To apply for permits, Mr Minh from Coto Lodge can also offer assistance and advice. Visit www.coto.vn or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember to bring your original passport and visa upon your arrival. Copies will not be accepted
For the fast boat contact Mr Quang on 0985 351833. For the slow boat contact Mr Huong on 0912 263597
Thanh Trung Hotel
For camping call Mr Tung on 0986 509564. Expect to pay VND150,000 per person including a seafood meal.