Con Noi Coast
Con Noi Coast

In the far south east corner of Kim Son District in Ninh Binh Province lies a short stretch of coastal water abutting the large Gulf of Tonkin. Only 18 kilometers wide, this area is part of the extensive Red River Delta system, encapsulating the area where the Day and Can River tributaries meet the sea.

This confluence of two large rivers has created a massive bay of mud and sand flats. Added to this, the shifting currents, tidal surges and alluvial deposits regularly change the underwater topology, For this reason the locals call it the Floating Sea and talk about sand dunes that move around, both underwater and on the shorelines. Fringed by over 50 species of mangrove and fed by the large fresh water rivers, the bay is also less saline than the surrounding ocean.

Ecological Importance

Con Noi Mangroves
Con Noi Mangrove Rehabilitation efforts

The warm water, shallow seas and the profusion of mangroves have created a natural and world acknowledged marine hatchery and breeding ground. Recognized by UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve, there has been considerable effort put into conserving and enhancing this important watershed.

Over the millennia, well before its ecological importance was scientifically documented, a few small sand and clay atolls formed in the bay. The largest and most well-known of these is Con Noi (Noi Island).  Some 6km from the nearest mainland town of Kim Dong, for many years this isolate haven of bird and marine life was rarely visited by anyone bar local fishermen.

The story is that in 2003, a local fisherman, Tran Van Thong, ran his vessel aground here.  Stranded and waiting for the tide to change, he explored part of the 1000 hectare sanctuary with interest. Returning home, he proposed a project to plant Casuarina (beach she oaks) and pine trees on the island to enhance the protection of the bay from the periodic typhoons which sweep through this part of the world. With such protection, his thought was to increase the aquaculture possibilities of the bay.

Con Noi Causeway

Con Noi Causeway

In less than twenty years, Tran Van Thong’s vision proved prophetic and things have rapidly and dramatically changed for this once deserted island. Besides applying and receiving the UNESCO accreditation, a spectacular 5km concrete and steel causeway was constructed to connect the island to the distant mainland. Bear in mind that until that time, Con Noi was an uninhabited island wilderness in a remote and rarely visited part of the province. Even to this day, many Ninh Binh residents have yet to visit the island.

The causeway itself is reason enough to visit. Besides the architectural and engineering feat of building such a long permanent access road across a wide bay of mud flats and shifting sands, the sheer exhilaration of traveling across such a huge expanse of ocean, often with no other vehicles in sight, is indescribable and not for the faint of heart.

Not that there is any danger from the well-constructed and smooth roadway but rather just the sensation of traveling at speed on top of the ocean, literally miles from land is an unique , thrilling and sometimes eerie experience that should not be missed.

Con Noi waters at dusk
Con Noi waters at dusk

Demonstrating Vietnamese ingenuity, technical skills, project management and sheer risk taking, the Xuan Truong Construction Enterprise along with the Ninh Binh Provincial Government have invested heavily. The vision is of a huge marine Eco-tourism precinct, with international hotels, temples, research centers and the construction of a permanent town on the island.

Con Noi Beach

A beach area has already been constructed by building a long break water on the eastern, ocean facing side of the island. While it attracts a steady influx of local tourism, the beach itself is of brackish sand and the water somewhat cloudy. As such, it would be hard pressed to compete with places like Nha Trang, Mui Nui, Cat Ba, Danang and so on.  After all, the bay is dominated by mudflats and mangroves that are essential to the ecological diversity here.

Which is not to say the effort has been wasted. As a marine research station, a fabulous bird sanctuary, a superb location for recreational fishing and a place of serene natural beauty, it has an attraction second to none.

Coming down from Phat Diem, the rice fields and palms gradually give way to massive fish farms. The startling contrast with the mountains and temples of Hoa Lu gives an estuary serenity that belies the massive effort that has been required to reclaim this tangle of streams, rivers and lakes into irrigation channels, dams, dykes and safe river harbors.

Con Noi Chòi canh
Chòi canh

The view from the causeway itself is of an endless sea dotted everywhere with large “sentry” cabins (choi canh) built on stilts over the sea – the large aquaculture industry Tran Van Trong predicted. Looking like huge aquatic spiders, they are actually temporary living quarters to guard the precious oyster farms hidden below.

Travel Tips

Around 45 km from Ninh Binh city and 24km from the spectacular Phat Diem Catholic Cathedral, it is a long way from most of the provinces major attractions. For this reason alone the area sees very little foreign tourism and you are guaranteed a unique experience. However, access is via self-drive, an expensive taxi ride or via custom tour operators.  It is a long drive what ever option you choose. A truly a unique and special part of Ninh Binh and a far cry from the historic mountainous temples and palaces of a bygone age that the Province is renowned for. Well worth the visit if you have the time and interested in seeing a very different side of Ninh Binh.

One last tip – bring insect repellent and any refreshments you might need. If you are on a self-drive, make sure your vehicle is in good repair and has plenty of fuel. A the time of writing, shops and garages are few and far between once you get on the causeway.

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