On Co To Island, the only thing you’re likely to encounter other than natural landscapes are the peaceful fishing villages that sprinkle the coast.
Co To is located off the far eastern stretches of northern Quang Ninh province, about 80 kilometers from the mainland. The island district has nearly 50 small islands, where tourists mainly explore the island clusters of Co To, Co To Con (Small Co To), and Thanh Lan.
Each of the four seasons brings its own unique beauty and charm to Co To. The best seasons to visit Co To are summer and autumn, particularly in April and May when there are no storms or rain and the temperature is moderate. Travelers can still visit Co To between June and July, but there are often summer storms. Prices are lower than they are during the peak season of September and October, when the weather is still nice but it is beginning to cool and rain more frequently.
Regardless of the time of year, you need to check the weather forecast before booking your ticket in order to avoid getting stuck somewhere because boats are not allowed to sail during storms. If a storm occurs unexpectedly while you are on Co To, follow the advice of local authorities and your tour guide for safety guidelines.
There are mosquitos in the afternoon and it gets cold at night, so bug spray and light jacket are recommended for your trip.
The most attractive part of Co To are its beaches with fine white sand and clear water. On the Big Co To island, there are beautiful beaches such as Van Chay, Tinh Yeu (also known as Tau Dam beach), Hong Van and Bac Van.
Small Co To Island has South Beach and East Beach. Tourists travel to Small Co To island by boat from Bac Van port, which is about 7 kilometers from the mainland. The boat ride takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the weather.
Lovely beaches for sunrise and sunset are Hong Van, Nam Hai, and Van Chay. You can barbecue on the beach, and if you’re an early riser, you can visit the market and buy the best, freshest seafood to grill for brunch. If you don’t want to actually do the cooking yourself, several tour companies on the island can arrange to barbecue for you.
Thanh Lan Island is approximately two kilometers from Big Co To Island. This island commune is 27 square kilometers wide and is also home to pristine beaches: Trung Tam, Vung Ba Chau, C76, and Hai Quan. Sedimentary rocks that are thousands of years old and of all shapes and sizes give the island its beauty. And this island’s primeval forests are also still intact.
Additionally, visitors can rent boats to travel to smaller islands such as Bat Huong, Ca Chep, Khe Trau, Tran, Ba Duc, Con Chuot, and Su Tu.
Mong Rong Stone Beach
A system of sedimentary rocks that have been smoothed over thousands of years by sea water make up Mong Rong Stone Beach (also known as Cau My). This colorful natural stone shore on Co To Island stretches for around 2 kilometers.
According to locals, the area was first known as Cau Thu My before becoming more commonly known as Cau My. In 2015, the beach was renamed Mong Rong (Dragon’s Claw) because of its sharp claw-like rocks reaching out to the sea.
On days with little wind, travelers can also enjoy scuba diving and fishing. Photographers can get beautiful images of the stone beach’s many shades of green during the moss season.
Co To Lighthouse
Located on a hill more than 100 meters high, the Co To Lighthouse has what is considered one of the most beautiful lighthouse views in all of Vietnam. After climbing 72 spiral stairs to the top of the lighthouse you can see the entire island seemingly floating in the vast ocean. Some intrepid travelers often like to chat with the lighthouse keepers to learn more about their work and lives.
One interesting detail is that you need to walk up the stairs barefoot, because the stairs are where the lighthouse keepers get their clean rainwater from.
The red brick-paved Love Road runs along the Co To coast for more than two kilometers. On both sides of the road, there are green casuarina trees swaying in the gentle sea breeze. The sound of the waves lapping on the shore can be heard, and you can feel the golden sun peeking through the canopy of trees. You might recall seeing this scene in a romantic Korean drama before.
Primordial Choi Forest
April is choi flower season on Co To. The choi is a tiny flower with a light green color and the flower clusters look like tiny fireworks hanging down.
If you visit the island in the right season, then you should take some time to visit this primeval forest. Here, you can see hundreds of years old trees over 20 meters high. Travelers can enjoy the fresh air, listen to the birds sing and learn more about the wonders of nature.
The primary forest is located in Nam Dong Village, Dong Tien Commune, about 9 kilometers from the center of Co To District. The primeval forest of about 10 hectares runs along Bac Van Beach. Tourists who want to visit Small Co To Island can easily do so thanks to the passenger ferry that runs near the forest.
Memorial to President Ho Chi Minh
Co To’s Ho Chi Minh Memorial has been recognized as a national historical relic site since 1997. The memorial site has relics associated with the places that President Ho Chi Minh visited during his visit to the island in 1961 and 1962. In 2022, the destination received its coastal certificate as a special national relic site.
Truong Xuan Lake
Truong Xuan Lake is one of the two large freshwater reservoirs on Co To island, providing domestic water for people. Travelers love exploring the lake for its beautiful scenery. There is an inn for visitors who want to stay overnight.
The Battle of Don Cao Relic Site
The Battle of Don Cao on the night of November 13, 1945 was a key victory of the French by the local Ky Con Militia. The battlefield is now an official Relic Site and has expansive views all around Co To island, which is why the French invaders had stationed their troops on that particular hill.
The Ky Con Militia’s engagement with the French Army on Co To island was one of the first fights in what would become the important Dong Trieu War Zone, where battles were fought for control of Quang Ninh and other parts of northern Vietnam. To honor and remember the sacrifices made by the martyrs who aided in the liberation of the island district, Co To Town's main street is named after the Ky Con Militia.
Ky Con Walking Street
More than 205 meters long, Ky Con Pedestrian Street is the first pedestrian street in Co To District, where visitors can enjoy food, drink, shopping, and entertainment. The street is open every day from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Most hotels and homestays on the island are family-run, mom & pop joints with basic amenities. There is electricity on the larger main islands, though not so on some of the outer reaching islets. Some highly-rated accommodation options are Coto Eco Lodge, Co To Starlight Hotel, and Haki Coto Homestay, where price ranges from VND700,000 to 1,200,000 (US$30 to 51) per night.
Co To is of course known for its wide variety of seafood. Inland restaurants on the island serve affordable seafood while restaurants near the beach have higher prices. Some popular restaurants include Sua, Thanh Uy, Hai Au, Bien Dong, Son Hai Quan, Bep Binh An, Coto Hotel Group restaurant, Van Chay, Ngoc Quynh.
Co To Santorini Bar & Cafe and CoTo Sunset Beach Bar are bars where you can come to unwind and relax.
Cu ky - stone crab is a species of crab usually found only in Quang Ninh and Khanh Hoa provinces. A stone crab looks a lot like a regular crab but has a larger claw and a slightly smaller body. Only the meat on the two claws is edible, but they taste absolutely delicious.
Stone crab can be cooked many ways: grilled, steamed with tamarind sauce, or roasted with salt.
Sa sung, or peanut worms, are a mollusk found only on coastal sandy beaches where sand dunes are formed by high and low tides. It is a unique type of seafood found on Co To Island. Between March and July, peanut worms can be captured and dried to preserve them. Sa sung is well-known for its naturally sweet flavor.
There are several ways to prepare peanut worms, including stir-fry, deep frying, and making noodle soup. Dried peanut worm can cost up to several million dong per kilogram, which is often fairly expensive.
Sea urchins live in underwater reefs and caverns, so fishermen have to use a special tool and go deep into the water to find them. Compared to sea urchins with long spines, those with short spines are more flavorful and tastier. Compared to their shells as a whole, sea urchin meat, also known as uni, is very light in weight.
Sea urchin has a pleasant, flavorful, and appetizing taste. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, including sea urchin porridge, grilled with scallion oil, fried with eggs, or even eating it raw like sushi.
In order to arrive in Co To island, visitors will have to make two journeys:
Journey 1: Arrive at Cai Rong Port, Van Don District, Quang Ninh Province
The journey to Cai Rong Port in Van Don District begins with a flight to Hanoi, Hai Phong, or Quang Ninh's Van Don Airport, followed by a road trip.
At the My Dinh and Giap Bat bus stations in Hanoi, you can take a passenger car to Cua Ong Commune in Cam Pha Town of Quang Ninh. A one-way ticket costs roughly VND150,000 to 200,000 ($6.39 to 8.52). Travel time is almost 4 hours.
Travel time from Hai Phong is approximately one hour and thirty minutes. A one-way passenger car seat ticket ranges in price from VND120,000 to 150,000 ($5.11 to 6.39).
Journey 2: Taking a boat from Cai Rong Port to Co To Island
When visiting Co To, speedboats and wooden boats are the most popular modes of transportation.
You will need to travel for more than an hour by speedboat to get to Co To island. The price of a one-way ticket is VND250,000 ($10.65). Speedboat lines include Ka Long, Phuc Thinh, Co To 68, Co To 01, Havaco, Nguyen Viet, Quang Minh, Manh Quang, Hai Vinh 89, and Hoang Quan. Departure times are from 6 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon.
It will take you almost three hours to get there by wooden boat, and a one-way ticket costs VND95,000 ($4). The boat departs from Van Don at 7 in the morning and returns at 1 in the afternoon. The boat will start running once it's full of customers.
Traveling on the island
Electric cars, motorbikes, bicycles (which can be rented from hotels and motels), motorbike taxis, and taxis are all ways visitors can get around the island.
For comparison, the daily cost of a seven-seat electric car is VND1,200,000 ($51), the daily cost of a motorbike is VND200,000 ($8.52), and the hourly cost of a bicycle is VND30,000–50,000 ($1.28–2.13).
Before you arrive, find out if your homestay or hotel on the island offers shuttle service to help you save some time and money.
Story by Du Hy, Phuc Trinh