A Guide to Riding Tram Ton, The Highest Pass in Vietnam

Mount Fansipan from the Pass
Mount Fansipan from the Pass | Sam Roth
Sam Roth

The Tram Ton Pass wraps itself around Mount Fansipan like a crown worn proudly atop the head of Vietnam. Nestled 55 kilometers east of the preposterous 10-lane boulevards of Lai Chau, and just west of the fantastically touristy mountain town of Sapa, it sits at nearly 2,000 meters, making it the loftiest road in the country.

East Along QL4d

Twenty or 30 kilometers west of Tram Ton, the road begins to twist upward toward the sharp pinnacles that make up the Hoang Son Lien mountain range. At times, buses and vans can come barreling around the mountainous switchbacks making a ride less than ideal, so it’s important to stay far to the right if riding a motorbike or the like — and take it slow. The views grow in grandeur, so you’ll want to pull off to the side often. It’s one of many places throughout the north where the scenery takes over and makes anyone feel minuscule in comparison.

Limestone grows as you approach the pass

Love at First Sight

Riding along this stretch of QL4d is a wonderful experience; limestone peaks jostle for superiority all around and steep drop-offs give way to bucolic valleys far in the distance below. As the road makes one final switchback to the left, the Tram Ton Pass begins its ascent toward the viewing decks over a mile up. The ride is shorter than other famous passes in Vietnam like Ma Pi Leng or Hai Van, yet on a clear day the views extend endlessly. It’s easy going and, save for the vans and tour buses, overwhelmingly enjoyable.

Lookouts provide spectacular views along the way

The Stop at the Top

After curving in and out of evergreen forested limestone walls, the pass straightens and shoots up to the south where viewing decks reach out toward neighboring Mount Fansipan. The covered wooden structures, clinging daringly to the edge, offer souvenirs and overpriced albeit delicious jerky and provide incredible views to the road, mountains and valleys below.

The view from the top

Make a Day of It

The Tram Ton Pass is usually completed in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Luckily there are a number of nearby attractions to see along the way to make for a full day of exploration. The Tam Tinh Falls lie less than an hour toward Lai Chau and the overly touristy Silver Falls minutes to the east. Just beyond the pass, if heading east, a viewing area looks out in the direction of rice terraces and Sapa. Nearby, the Sun World Fansipan Legend cable car ferries tourists to the country’s highest peak. For a longer ride, Vietnam Coracle, the travelers bible to riding Vietnam, has a terrific loop throughout the region.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article