Currently, only a piece of what was once the prison remains, due to the construction of the towers of Hanoi. During the Vietnam War it was used by French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners. Later, it was North Vietnam who used the prison for American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. This museum keeps images and torture elements used over the years.
Pete Peterson, the United States ambassador to Vietnam, was imprisoned in this prison for many years. Another of the recognized prisoners was John McCain's, the candidate for the presidency of the United States in 2008, who was captured after falling into Lake Truc Bach on October 26, 1967, shot down by the forces of North Vietnam.
In this post I tell you the story of Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, what you will see, how to visit it and some photographs that leave no one indifferent.
Hoa Lo Prison is also known as Maison Centrale or Hanoi Hilton
The prison was built by the French in 1896 during the French colonial era to house 450 inmates, a number that grew to 2,000 prisoners years later.
The Vietnamese revolutionaries were crammed into rooms where they were side by side, lying on wooden bunks and bound in shackles at the feet. Part of the museum deals with this French era, where samples of it can be seen in photographs and in representations with dolls that are in some rooms.
The prison was inaugurated under the name of Maison Centrale, the building soon earning the nickname Hỏa Lò, or Hell Hole. Name acquired, initially, from the charcoal stoves that were sold in the area, but which, with the passage of time, took on a more literal meaning to learn about the atrocities committed within its walls.
Many of its political prisoners were tortured or executed by guillotine. But some of its survivors were, years later, the leaders of communism in Vietnam.
In the year 1954, after the Geneva Conference, the Hỏa Lò prison passed into the hands of the Ho Chi Minh Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam again used the prison facilities to hold American prisoners of war. During this period, the prison earned a second nickname: "The Hanoi Hilton" for the "spectacular" treatment offered to inmates.
What to see inside Hoa Lo Prison
Corridors and rooms
On the tour you can see the corridors and the original doors of the cells. Where the prisoners were piled up as they arrived. With hardly any space or ventilation. There are also rooms where the prisoners were placed along a huge "table", where they put shackles on their feet. Currently, there are mannequins representing a bit of the essence of history. There are also many representative photographs throughout the visit.
One of the most impressive elements of the museum is the guillotine. It is found in one of the torture rooms.
In it they beheaded the Vietnamese revolutionaries and put their heads in wicker baskets. Photographs on the walls show these horrendous practices.
Throughout the tour you will have the feeling and knowledge of the rawness of the place. High, dark walls, with a large iron door and a small window through which some light entered.
The place really makes your hair stand on end and your heart sinks.
There are some rooms where elements of torture are exposed, everyday items such as plates, glasses... as well as prisoners' clothes, their shoes and some personal objects.
American Prisoners Mural
Finally, there is a sign next to some photographs of American prisoners that says:
From August 5, 1964 to January 24, 1973, the US Government carried out two destructive wars by sea and air against North Vietnam. The Northern army and population shot down thousands of planes and captured hundreds of American pilots. Despite having committed unspeakable crimes against our people, the American pilots suffered no revenge once captured and detained, but rather were given sufficient food, clothing and shelter. Following the provisions of the Paris Agreement, our Government returned in March 1973 all the captured pilots to the US Government.
When POWs began to be released from this and other North Vietnamese prisons during the Johnson administration, their testimonies revealed the widespread and systematic abuse of POWs.
In this mural you will be able to see photographs of many of these prisoners, what their lives have been like when they returned to the United States, with their family, their new jobs... in some of them there are also photographs of some of the prisoners who have returned to Vietnam for many years later to close a chapter of his life that was still open.
At the end of the route there is also a memorial to all those people who were imprisoned here throughout history.
Admission: 30,000 Viet Nam Dongs - €1.20
Hours: Every day from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon.
Location: 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
How to visit Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi
You can buy the ticket there and it is not necessary to book any guided tour. Throughout the journey there are texts, images and the place already tells its story.
All texts are available in English. If you don't know English or not much, you can always download an app to scan the text and translate it for you.
There is the possibility that you book a guided tour. You can do it in the same post, however, they are also in English.
I recommend you make the visit on your own and read the texts. More or less if you entertain yourself to look at every detail, the visit will be done in an hour, hour and a half.
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I hope you enjoy Hanoi very much, it is a beautiful city with a lot of interesting places to visit. You can read all the Vietnam articles on the blog.
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A hug and see you soon!