Co To is actually an archipelago of about 40-50 islands about 80km from the mainland in Quang Ninh Province. Co To island, among the largest of these, is the one most geared for tourists to stay. So people often choose to head here after a Halong Bay trip, as the port to get to the island isn’t that far away from Halong City.
To get there, visitors can choose to hop on express boats among nearby ports such as Ao Tien, Cai Rong (Van Don District) or Tuan Chau (Ha Long City). The best time to visit Co To is during summer and autumn. Peak season is September to October, when it’s still warm but there’s less chance of the storms that come during June and July. Another good time to go is April-May. Please note that the island takes ‘going green’ seriously. Tourists shouldn’t bring plastic bottles or bags to the island, in order to prevent pollution.
Considering Co To? Here are some ideas of things to do when there.
Of course, you’ll be wanting to enjoy what islands are known for – their beaches. The main beaches on Co To are Van Chay, Hong Van, Tinh Yeu (Tau Dam) and Co To Con (Small Co To). Of these, Hong Van is considered the most peaceful as the waters are calm. So it’s a choice spot for sharing a romantic sunset or for overnight camping with friends or family. Prefer to play in waves? Your best bet is north of the island at Van Chay Beach. There, waves reach up to 2-3 metres.
Then there are the cliff faces and rocky spots. Nature photographer’s will adore the fascinating rock formations at Mong Rong (Dragon’s Claw), a 2km shore made up of stones that get covered in green moss at certain times of the year. At the Cau My rock reef, layers of rocks eroded over years and years also make for stunning textural shots, especially at sunrise.
In peak times, you can enjoy watersports such as kayaking, jetskiing and snorkelling along Co To’s coast. After the sun has set, you can head out with a local fisherman to try your hand at squid fishing. Enjoy your catch, grilled to perfection, as you gaze at the reflection of the moon glittering on the sea surface. Whether you’re staying at a resort, homestay or hotel, beach BBQs can also easily be arranged. Tuck in to fresh seafood from the local fish markets as you’re soothed by the gentle sounds of the sea at night.
Nearby main Co To island is one dubbed ‘small Co To’. It’s uninhabited and you can’t stay over. But you can hop on a boat to enjoy the day on its white-sand beaches and snorkel in its clear waters. There are two main sides: one is quiet, the other gets busier in peak season.
To walk in cool, primeval forests and admire interesting sedimentary rock formations, go to Thanh Lan Island, about 2km from Co To main island. The smaller islands to consider getting a boat to include Ca Chep, Bat Huong, Tran, Khe Trau, Tran, Su Tu and Con Chuot.
For panoramic photos to capture the wild beauty of this island, head up the forested hill to Co To lighthouse, 100m above sea level. This beautiful, charming construction about 5km from the town was built in the late nineteenth century. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to speak to the lighthouse keepers who live there. Ask them whether you can climb to the top.
Note that if you’re permitted to climb the 72 steps of the spiral staircase, you should take your shoes off. Apparently, fresh rainwater is gathered from those very steps you’ll be walking on. So be mindful.
Going to Co To with your significant other? In the middle of the island is a 2km paved lane lined with pretty casuarina trees. It’s known as ‘love road’ − perfect for a romantic stroll or cycle in the late afternoon light.
Alternatively, walk through the island's forests to appreciate the flora. In addition to many casuarina, pine and eucalyptus trees there are medicinal herbs such as holy basil, Himalayan ginseng and Ricinus communis (castor oil plant).
On Co To, you can certainly get your fill of fresh seafood. On menus, you’ll find seafood noodles, rice and porridge. You can also indulge in unusual specialities such as the nail-shaped shellfish, sea cucumbers, and ‘sá sùng’ (peanut worms).
More familiar coastal delicacies include grilled oysters, squid, sea urchin and mantis shrimp. Co To is also one of the few places where rare abalone is found, so treat yourself to a rare taste.
Wanting your accommodation hosts to cook you something specific? Head to the bustling morning market to source the freshest ingredients.
Near ‘love road’ and the town centre is a statue of President Ho Chi Minh. This is one of the monuments erected to remember his visit to the island back in the 1960s. Apparently, this is the only place the leader agreed to have his statue erected while still alive. It’s a good site to get a picture of historical relevance. Cultural events are also often staged here at significant times of the year.