Northern Vietnam is famous for its capital Hanoi, mountainous areas, and incredible Ha Long Bay. However, if you are looking for a place with sandy beaches and relatively clean seawater to relax far away from tourism madness, Co To Island in Quang Ninh province could be a smart choice. You can be sure, that there won’t be many other foreigners besides you, if any!
When to go?
Even though the island is reachable for the whole year, I strongly recommend going during the summer and autumn months, meaning from April to August. The temperature is about 30oC and the visibility should be fine. It’s also the best time to enjoy beaches and swim in the sea.
I was on Co To Island in late March. The temperature was pleasant but the sky was constantly cloudy so even nearby islands weren’t perfectly visible.
How to get there?
Slow boats and speed boats depart from Cai Rong Port. The slow boat costs 100.000 VND and takes between 3 – 4 hours. Speed boat costs 250.000 VND and takes between 1,5 – 2 hours. The schedule may vary depending on the month that you will be traveling.
I arrived at Cai Rong Port around 11:30 AM and was lucky to get into the slow boat at 12:00 PM. The boat was packed with people and packages and wooden benches were super uncomfortable to sit on but it was still quite doable. I mean, it’s 100.000 VND, so don’t expect luxury. At least I had the possibility to stand at the back of the boat, taking in the magnificent scenery en route. The trip was mostly smooth but the waves got bigger in the open sea section between Quan Lan Island and Co To Island. The ticket fee is collected when arriving at Co To Island.
I took the speed boat back to the mainland and it involved some drama. There were two boats on that day: 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM. I really wanted to get the morning one to have enough time to ride the bike to Lang Son. I thought that similar to a slow boat, the tickets can be purchased on board. Instead, I was told to go to the ticket office which was at the entrance to the pier. I had only 15 minutes left before the departure and then it came up that all the tickets were sold out. The sales lady was really fighting hard with the captain to push me in the boat but she failed, and I had to stay on the island for a few more hours, leaving at 4:00 PM.
The speed boat was comfortable but it didn’t give the chance to get out on the deck and the scenery could be enjoyed only through the window.
Where to stay?
I arrived without a reservation at Hung Phoung Hotel and took a private room for 350.000 VND after some negotiating. They also organized a motorbike for another 150.000 VND. The room was clean, WiFi was good and the view from the window was pleasant, but the bed was one of the hardest I experienced during the trip to Vietnam.
How long to stay?
One full day should be enough to ride a bike around the island and chill here and there. You may want to stay one more night in summer when the weather is perfect and the skies are clear. Then, you will get the chance to discover nearby islands too.
How to get around?
The best is to rent a motorbike from your hotel. It cost me 150.000 VND per day. If you travel in a bigger group, most of the hotels have or can arrange electric vehicles with a driver.
Cau May Cliffs
Definitely the most beautiful place on the island, especially during sunrise or sunset hours. There are small paths around the edges of the cliffs. Very photogenic place and a lot of people come here dressed nicely for photo sessions.
There are 3 main beaches: Tinh Yeu Beach, Hong Van Beach, and Van Chai Beach. Unfortunately, all of them have problems with rubbish, especially plastic. Van Chai Beach seemed to be the cleanest one, while Hong Ban Beach provides nice views of the opposite islands.
The lighthouse was built in the late 19th century and is located on top of a mountain, 100 m above sea level. It can be reached on a motorbike, following a narrow road that climbs through dense forest. The lighthouse tower itself can’t be climbed, but there is an observation deck on the top of the nearby building. The panorama is magnificent! Entrance fee: 10.00 VND.
Truong Xuan Lagoon
It’s not easy to get a proper look at the lagoon but if you follow the road along Hong Van Beach until the end, there will be a small resort. It was empty when I arrived, so I could freely walk around to enjoy the view. Alternatively, you may check out the view from Thanh Lan Pier or the Lighthouse Viewpoint.
You can also arrange a boat at your hotel and go for a trip to other islands around, such as Co To Con Island or Thanh Lan Island. There is not much more to do than relax on the beach and swim but that’s the point.