If you are tired of crowded beaches like Do Son in Hai Phong or Sam Son in Thanh Hoa Province, the beaches of Co To Island may offer you an ideal destination for your holidays. Still far off the beaten tourist path, the island retains its natural beauty.
Co To, one of the farthest inhabited islands from the mainland, is over 100km from Ha Long city in the northern province of Quang Ninh. A 1.5-hour journey on high-speed boat brought us there.
The first beach we visited was Hong Van. It’s hard for us to find words to describe the beauty of this place on the northeast of the island. White sandbanks stretch away to the horizon. Coral reefs are easily to be seen in the limpid water. With an islet nearby blocking winds from the sea, the water is as calm as a clear pond. Tourists visit this expansive beach to swim as well as to see locals catching oysters.
After swimming here, we headed to Van Chai Beach on the west of the island, which appealed to us immediately with rocks of different shapes at either end of the beach. The middle of the beach is flat, the sand clean and smooth, and it offers the best place on the island to watch the sunset.
“It is so great to feel that I am the only one on the beach,” said Nguyen Hong Nhung, a visitor from the northern province of Nam Dinh. “No one follows me constantly trying to sell me something. The local people are very friendly and helpful.”
Hearing rumours from other tourists about a port with a beautiful view, we decided to find it. The long wharf of the Bac Van military port has not welcomed any ships for a long time, and the lonely spot inspires photographers.
If visiting it at night, you can see the young people of the island there catching crab, shrimp and squid.
To get another panorama of Co To Island, we went to a lighthouse built in the 19th century. On the way, we enjoyed the fresh air of the forest, listened to the birds singing and photograph the flowers. From the lighthouse, we could see nearby Little Co To and Thanh Lan islands.
Back at the centre of town, we visited the statue of President Ho Chi Minh built in 1968 to commemorate the day he visited the island. This is the only place the late president gave permission to erect a statue of himself while he was alive. A temple was built in 2005 on the occasion of his 115th birthday and to mark the 50th anniversary of his visit, and the site was recognised as a national historical and cultural vestige by the culture ministry. Some tourists visit the site and light incense to the late president when they first set foot on the island.
Co To Island is one of the best choices for a getaway from noisy and crowded city life, suited to people looking to enjoy a holiday swimming, taking photographs, walking along the beach, cooking a beach BBQ and singing karaoke with friends.
Spending three days on the island, Vu Thu Ha of Ha Noi said it was a place worth visiting but the site could be promoted better.
“It’s a paradise for backpackers but tough for people who want to relax in comfort,” she said. “They need to develop infrastructure here such as hotels and entertainment areas. I know that natural beauty is good, but most tourists want hotels with modern conveniences.”
Island resident Nguyen Khanh Linh said tourism on Co To has developed over the past two years.
“Co To received hundreds of visitors over the summer, especially during the busiest times – national holidays and weekends,” he said. “In 2010, there were only two guesthouses on the island and most of the tourists had to stay in local people’s houses. This year, five new guesthouses have been opened to better meet the demands of tourists.” — VNS