The fresh smell of the sea and a summer breeze in the early morning energised a large number of people from different parts of Viet Nam to elbow their way ashore to Co To’s crowded dock.
It seemed that there was no space to stand or oxygen to breath. Understandably, the ferry was full owing to a national holiday for International Labour Day.
Co To, dubbed “a green pearl”, is one of the farthest inhabited islands from the mainland. But it is now experiencing speedy tourism development.
The development can be described in a wink. Four years ago, it used to took up to five hours for travellers to reach the island.
However, an advanced, high-speed boat now reduces the travel time to less than an hour and half at the reasonable cost of VND150,000 (US$7) per person. The boat with its comfortable seats and spacious room also helps passengers avoid becoming seasick and tired.
Vu Thanh Minh, a local tour guide, welcomed us at the pier on our arrival. His services are professional, evidenced by the way he helped a member of our group, a foreigner, who forgot to bring his passport – an absolutely necessity for travelling non-nationals.
“It is my duty to help any travellers to come to the island,” Minh, 32, said in an eager voice. “It’s not the first time foreign tourists have forgotten to bring their passports.”
According to a local resident, the untouched and pristine island, once had a population of up to 1,500 people. Most of them were fishing families.
The tourism sector, however, is a recent development that has already promoted changes – in every aspect.
Many new houses are sprouting up, transforming a landscape that was once covered with old trees and a few farms.
Nguyen Duc Thanh, chairman of the district’s People’s Committee, said: “Five quality hostels have been built and listed in the local guideline book.
“Many people have built new houses for rent. Prices range from VND100,000 (US$5) to VND400,000 ($19) a day.
“If you do not want to enjoy a night near the sea, camping has been a popular alternative for several years. It normally costs a group of 10 people VND1.3 million ($60) per night,” said Thanh.
Jobs on the island are changing towards the tourism sector and tourism services are now blooming.
“Hardly any fisherman now appear on the sea during the day when a large number of tourists come to the island,” said Minh. “They are now serving tourism in different ways.
“Although their services are at an amateur level, there is plenty of variety, from fishing, kayaking and biking around the island. All are cheap and cost no more than VND1 million ($50).
“Motorbikes can be rented for sightseeing at VND50,000 ($2.50). You can drive yourself to all the favourite locations within a day.
“Any traveller can book our tour online or see our agents in Ha Noi directly. The total cost for the trip to the island is VND2.2 million ($104).” he said.
Travel growth is claimed to have enhanced island people’s incomes in the last three years. Before they were lucky to earn VND2 million ($95), now many make VND4 million ($190).
Ngo Thi Thuy, 37, who has been living in Co To for dozens of years, said the money earned from house renting had helped her family earn enough money for her three children to go to school.
“I do hope they study tourism so that they can benefit either themselves or the island,” Thuy said.
But soaring tourism is also facing challenges.
According to one property investor looking for an investment opportunity: “A large number of foreign travellers have returned to Viet Nam to explore new charming sites. The island is one of their selected destinations.
“However, many of them prefer living and eating at quality hotels and restaurants, but the shortage of facilities and equipment, such as a national electric system, infrastructure and clean water, prevents us at present.” — VNS. by Nam Pham
Out of the way: An earial view of Co To Island. — File Photos
Beached: Co To’s pristine coastline offers white sandy beaches.
Getting around: Xe om service is available on the island.