Co To Island is known only by a small select few- which is exactly why it should be at the top of your travel wishlist. The most commonly talked about things by those who have been there are the white sandy beaches, the turquoise waters, the craggy cliff faces, cheap and delicious seafood, and the much-heard mantra of “go now before everything changes”.
Anchored comfortably in the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Tonkin is the Co To Island District, the larger archipelago which homes Co To Island. In Quang Ninh Province in the northeast, Co To Island is the furthest inhabited island from the coast, whose highest peak reaches 170 meters. The island, which measures in at about 47 square kilometers, is surrounded by a cluster of 40-50 smaller islands, all of which are only accessible by boat.
The island is composed of a scattering of hills, and much of the coastline is rocky cliff faces. There are, however, a few choice sandy beaches to satisfy even the most insatiable seaside addicts among us. Make your way to Trinh Sat Beach, Hong Vanh and Van Chai and more often than not you may find you have the whole place to yourself.
What to do There:
The island is small enough to tour around the entire thing but big enough that you will be happy to have your own mode of transportation. Because the tourism industry is still so young in Co To Island the infrastructure still has to catch up- roads are ok, but taxis are scarce. You can easily and affordably rent a motorbike (or bicycle) and tour the island at your own speed.
If strolling around is more your thing, there’s a beautiful walkway suitably named the “Love Road” that leads up to the Co To Lighthouse. Take your time pacing along the red tiled path that meanders through the populous trees, and enjoy a welcome break from the urban rush.
You’ll have to tackle some steep bends and 100-odd steps to get up to the lighthouse, but it is worth it to get a glimpse of that 360 panoramic view of the island.
Whether it’s catching some rays, taking a cooling swim, or gazing out at the fisherman combing the sand for clams, the beach is the pinnacle of what Co To has to offer. Why not hire a small boat for the day and cruise around the coastline, you can even choose to visit the other surrounding islands (you won’t need any extra permits to do so).
Where to Stay
The amount of hotels in Co To Island has been steadily increasing over the past 2-3 years, as though developers are already anticipating a tourism boom on its way. Co To Ecolodge comes in highly recommended. They used to have a number of wooden bungalows right on the beach but they have been shut down for renovation, and a new location 200m inland has opened up in the interim.
How to get There
From Hanoi, you can take either a private vehicle or the bus to get to Van Don (we recommend a private vehicle because the bus tends to be quite slow, you’ll run the risk of missing your connecting ferry). Boats bound for Co To Island depart from Cai Rong Pier in Van Don. Boat will run through Bai Tu Long Bay, Quan Lan Island and finally to Co To Island
There is a fast speedboat option that leaves from Cai Rong Pier daily at 1 pm (155,000d, 1½ hours), as well as an extra morning departure on Saturdays at 6 am. Slow ferries for Co To leave from Cai Rong Pier every day at 7 am (70,000d, 3 hours).
*NOTE: Due to the military presence on the island a permit is required by all foreign travelers who plan to stay there, which will need to be arranged either through an agency or in Halong City beforehand. If you arrive in Co To without a permit you risk either being fined or sent back to the mainland.