A winding mountain road that snakes the periphery of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain, connects the outpost towns of Lai Chau and Sapa. This is Tram Ton Pass, also known as Heaven’s Gate Pass for its elevated and sweeping vistas of the other peaks in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
Nine miles north of Sapa at the start of the pass, a lookout more than 6,200 feet above sea level affords a taste for those not traversing the entire route—from there you can see the two-lane road twisting above valley floors into the distance. Tram Ton Pass also follows a climactic division apparent in the contrast of green trees poking through resting clouds closer to Sapa in the east, and the sunnier, dustier and drier terrain nearing Lai Chau to the west. Along the route, ribbons of rainwater drain through crevasses high above forming thin roadside waterfalls.
The 75-mile Tram Ton Pass takes a minimum of three hours to cross by car, not including stops at the popular Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) and its scenic loop trek. Several regional day tours—most originating in Sapa—drive a portion of the Tram Ton Pass to take in the views before stopping off for trekking to area villages. Motorbike, scooter or even mountain bike rentals are also available. However, many caution against attempting the full 75-mile route in this fashion due to the high winds and sometimes bumpy conditions of sections of the road. If you’d like to tackle the full Tram Ton Pass, it’s best to do so as a passenger in a four-wheeled vehicle so you can soak in all of the views.