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Co To Island: paradise refound


Co To Island was once the least inhabited area in the entire nation. President Ho Chi Minh always had a special place in his heart for the island and in accordance with his wishes, State investment and resettlement projects have turned Co To into a lively town with a thriving fishing industry.

The Memorial House of Uncle Ho stands at the far end of the island, and was built after his visit to the island in 1961. The house bears quotations and extracts from Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (the Annals of Great Vietnam) that officially assert Vietnamese ownership of Co To, despite the fact the island is situated three and a half hours by boat from the mainland.

On the wall of the middle pavilion are the following lines addressed to the islanders by the then President Ho Chi Minh more than 40 years ago: "The Capital of Hanoi stands far from the island, but the Party and the government always think of you, the islanders and hope you will always be united with the mainland in your endeavours for progress."

At an initial glance, the island does not seem to be a model of modern life in Vietnam. Once a day a vessel hardly bigger than a motorboat can be seen in Quang Ninh province ferrying passengers from Van Don Port to Co To Island.

Most who take this trip are lugging household furniture and an assortment of other goods with them. The 50-year-old helmsman Luong Ngoc Phuc treats the passengers as if he had known them all his life, which he probably has.

He has been working as a helmsman now for 20 years, and before that worked in the same area, employed in a variety of trades.

Our boat lifted anchor at 7am. Before I knew it it was pouring with rain, instantly blurring the distinction between sea and sky. The only distinctive feature we could make out was the formidable, rugged mountain range in the distance.

It got worse: it was at this moment that the helmsman decided to inform us that the journey was going to take an entire three and a half hours. The boat cannot have been going faster than 30 kilometres per hour.

There were moments when I suspected we might not make it to Co To, and would instead be swallowed by the hungry waves that were snapping wildly around our boat.

But just when our situation seemed most critical, the rain miraculously eased off, and amid the bobbing green dots of the distant island, yellow dashes of beaches began to appear, and behind them the foot of the mountain range could be seen.

The boat disembarked at Co To Port, with a 500 metre pier running to the sea to welcome us.

The journey helped me to unravel at last the legends that surround the island. If Quang Ninh province is the knight who fights the furious breakers rushing in from the Northeast, then Co To Island is his shield.

The islanders earn their living mainly by fishing in the Bac Bo (Tonkin) Gulf. In March 1994, the government officially named the island district of Co To, as it contained two villages of Co To and Thanh Lan.

Co To Island stands out for having the lowest population density in the whole of Vietnam. Projects to encourage people from the densely-populated provinces of Thai Binh and Ha Tinh to resettle on the island have brought 4,600 new people here, a place that was once known as the gulf's most peaceful bay.

Deep-sea fishing boats can quickly take shelter here in storms. The island has just built two big piers, one at Co To Township for boats and passengers from the mainland, and the other at Thanh Lan.

The latter will become the largest fish market in the northern sea, with a port and pier that can handle up to 10,000 tonnes a month. Nonetheless, Co To's fishing capacity remains low, with a market circulation of only 700-800 tonnes of fish each month.

Today farmers are working for a living alongside the fishermen. They have come all the way from the Thai Binh and Ha Tinh provinces with the aim of turning Co To into an island of prosperity in the not-too-distant future.

Two deep-sea fishing boats, one with the capacity to hold 60 tonnes, the other 100 tonnes, account for 83% of the island's income. Shortly after its establishment, the island had to rely on food from the mainland though.

Today tells a different story; farmers have reclaimed 135 hectares, turning them into paddy fields and orchards. In 2001 their food output stood at 1,360 tonnes, and in 2002, the figure is expected to reach 2,850. This will be enough for both the farmers and the fishermen.

Co To Island has even developed a forest area. After eight years, the island is green and verdant, boasts 100 hectare of forest, and is now hopefully ready for whatever nature may throw at it, from typhoons to the turbulence of the East Sea.

However, to help the island fulfill its potential the State has subsidised one-third of its budget. As a result of the State's priority of all islands, Co To has developed a town. With the support of the people of Quang Ninh province, it now has a well equipped medical station that is the very model of community health care; it is staffed entirely by youth volunteers.





Xin Chao Travel Halong Bay
We are happy to send you our impressions on our excellent trip to Halong Bay with your company. The organization and monitoring of our trip was impeccable, thanks to our friendly and excellent guide Minh not forgetting the super driver Dzung.

Mardy Scott (Australia)

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