Hoa Lo Prison (or ironically known as Hanoi Hilton) is a historical site in the French Quarter of Hanoi. The prison has been receiving great notoriety because it was under French colonization. Anyone who pays Hanoi day trips should absolutely visit this destination for more understanding of Vietnam and Hanoi history.
History of Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo prison was constructed between 1886 and 1901 and named Maison Centrale. It was considered as one of three most savage prisons in Vietnam, along with Con Dao Prison and Son La Prison. The prison was designed to hold around 500 prisoners; however, by 1930s, the number of prisoners had soared to approximately 2000 and most of them were political prisoners. With a large number of prisoners and poor living conditions, the prison became the symbol of “hell on earth” in Vietnam. Later, Hoa Lo was one of the historical evidence of colonialist exploitation by the French. After the Vietnamese government took power the prison, it was the place where captured hundreds of American pilots. John McCain was occupied here for five years and a half as a POW (Prison of War). It was a POW prison between 1964 and 1973.
Structure of Hoa Lo Prison
By the time Hoa Lo was built, it was one of the biggest and solid prisons in Indochina, covering an area of 12,908 square meters. The museum nowadays displays quite exactly the original architecture of the prison as it was: a complex with rooms for criminal prisoners, cachets and cells for Vietnamese political prisoners, public toilet, yard, and kitchen. The prison was divided into two parts: the outer area and the inner area. The outer side included sections for European prisoners, healthcare center, kitchen, guard’s camp, and Secretary Office. There were 9 separate sections, which were locked with doors made of tole and iron. The detention rooms were narrow, dark and dirty while the death rows were the places to keep leaders of the resistance. The prison was surrounded by a 4-meter-high wall topped with pieces of broken glass and bare wire with high-voltage electricity.
Inhumane Life in Hoa Lo Prison
There were about 25-30 Vietnamese prisoners captured in a shared room where they were fettered almost of the time. They were served with rotten rice, tough buffalo, old sow meat, old sow meat, rotten dried fish or stunned vegetables. One day, they only had 15 minutes for walking and standing naked around a tank in the middle of the yard to have a bath. If a prisoner made a mistake, they would be moved to a single, tiny and dark room where they sat all the time on a sloping cement floor. They suffered a hundred kinds of savage torture that threatened their lives. The prisoners were beaten with boxing, hung up or down, soaked and burned with gasoline or even beheaded with guillotines.
The prison was so solid and unbreakable that in 36 years, no one could escape from the prison. The first prison-break happened in 1932 by 7 prisoners. Thereafter, during the Second World War, the French lost and Japanese replaced French’s position. Taking advantages of this situation, many prisoners escaped from the prison and participated in the revolution.
Spend Vietnamese educational travel exploring Hanoi Hilton to broaden the knowledge of the dire war in Vietnam during French colonial period.
Hoa Lo Prison Travel Guide
- Opening hours: 08:00 am – 5:00 pm daily
- Address: No.01 Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
- Phone number: 04.39342253 – 04.39342317
- Price ticket: 30.000VND/adults. Students are discounted at 50%. Free for children under 15
- Transportation: You can easily catch a taxi or a motor-taxi to get there with cheap price. You can also catch bus number 02, 09, 11, 34, 40 and take a short walk to reach the prison.
- You have to guide yourself in prison. The signs are written in Vietnamese, English, and French. You can also make a booking from a reliable tour agency to understand more.
- The prison is in the center of the city. From here, you can easily reach other places of interests in your Hanoi day tour such as the Old Quarter, Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh complex or Women Museum.