April 21, 2024

Hoa Lo Prison: Visiting Vietnam’s Infamous “Hanoi Hilton”

One of the most important historical spots in Vietnam is the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. Built by the French in the 1880s, the prison used to house Vietnamese political prisons during the First Indochina War. The prison later got its famous nickname ‘Hanoi Hilton’ when it housed U.S. Prisoners of War (POW) during the Vietnam War. Today, the prison’s surviving gatehouse has been transformed into a historical museum.

My visit to the Hỏa Lò Prison museum was unexpected as I only learned about it while walking around Hanoi during my usual weekend strolls. And that accidental discovery has helped me understand the culture and history of Northern Vietnam a little bit more.

Hoa Lo Prison

The sign Maison Centrale can be seen at the main gate of the prison. Maison Centrale, which literally means Central House, is a term that denotes prisons in France. The entrance fee to the museum is VND 30,000.

The main prison gate was kept in good condition after the demotion of the original prison complex in the 1990s.

Foreign visitors checking out some of the displayed items from the Vietnam War.

A copy of President Ho Chi Minh’s 1969 New Year’s Message

One of the highlights of the museum is the chamber that depicts the condition of the Indochina War prisoners of Hoa Lo.

In this chamber, the political prisoners were placed on a concrete platform with their legs locked in steel cuffs.

According to the tour guide, most prisoners have only one leg cuffed. However, if the prison manager doesn’t like a particular prisoner, he can have his both legs cuffed.

Next to the open chamber are smaller cells that house prisoners for solitary confinement.

A depiction of a sole prisoner inside a small cell.

View of the individual cells holding important political prisoners.

An example of a prisoner with both of his legs cuffed while inside his cell.

One prisoner called Nguyen Doc Canh, who was sentenced to death by the French colonists wrote this poem called Farewell.

Open grounds remembering the suffering and honoring the bravery of Hoa Lo’s political prisoners.

MARCH 2018


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