Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Just 750 meters from the Silk Path Hotel Hanoi, Hoa Lo Prison - a notorious Hanoi prison held both Vietnamese and American prisoners, is well worth a visit to experience the history with your own eyes.

The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as “fiery furnace” or even “Hell’s hole”, also means “stove”. The name originated from the street name “Pho Hoa Lo”, due to the concentration of stores selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street from pre-colonial times.

Hoa Lo Prison’s story

The prison was built in Hanoi by the French, in dates ranging from 1886–1889 to 1898–1901, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. The French called the prison Maison Centrale – a traditional euphemism to denote prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi’s French Quarter. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject to torture and execution. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity from 460 inmates to 600, a figure which would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. Prisoners were variously isolated, starved, beaten, tortured for countless hours and paraded in anti-American propaganda. By 1954 it held more than 2000 people living in squalid conditions, chained to walls by the dozen, it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French. “It is easy to die but hard to live,” a prison guard told one new arrival, “and we will show you just how hard it is to live.” The prison is really “A Hell on Earth”.

The guillotine has killed many leaders of  Vietnamese revolution. This barbaric weapons in prisons operate continuously, used flow from this jail to other jails around Tonkin.


Many Vietnamese leading revolutionaries were incarcerated here during the French colonial period. When the French were ousted from Hanoi in 1954, the Vietnamese repurposed the prison as their own. Between 1964 and 1973 the prison’s inmates included several captured American pilots, notably Senator John McCain and Douglas ‘Pete’ Peterson, America’s first Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Colonial prison has its own torture extremely cruel for female inmates as ample power at the municipal police in Hanoi or a crude walking stick to use corporal punishment on vulnerabilities of women political prisoners.

The prison is surrounded by stone walls reinforced with high 4 meters, thick 0.5 meter sustainable remains after more than a century.

The edge of the fence with tight bottle flakes, pieces of porcelain and high voltage grid system makes any inmate must also shy when thinking of escape.

From such strict regulations, the French assured and proud of Hoa Lo Prison that "In can not get out and out can not get in", " Ants would not get through it." but there were many prisoners who escaped successfully and returned to the revolutionary organization.

Toward the end of the war, the POWs were slowly released from Hoa Lo. It continued to imprison political rebels for two decades, but in 1990 the prison was shut down and mostly demolished to make way for high rises in developing Hanoi. The piece of the historic prison that remains is preserved as a museum. The Vietnamese government maintains that reports of POW torture during the Vietnam War are fabrications, despite many accounts from previous inmates. As such, the exhibit from this era shows photos of American prisoners living a comfortable life: playing chess, raising chickens, etc. Artifacts from well-known prisoners are also on display, including McCain’s flight suit and parachute.

The bulk of the museum focuses on the French Colonial period, and does not shy away from showing torture in detail. The stocks, the cramped solitary confinement cells, and the guillotine room are only a glimpse of the heinous treatment prisoners received at Hoa Lo.

In 1993, the Vietnamese government retained a part of Hoa Lo prison to transform into a historical relic. Here, there is a memorial monument in dedication to the Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. This is also a “Red Address” for educating Vietnamese people of all strata, especially young generations, on the patriotic and revolutionary traditions of those who sacrificed for the sake of the nation’s independence and freedom.

Location, Opening hours & Tickets
Address: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi
Ticket: VND 30,000 (~$1)
Opening Hours: 8.00 am to 5.00 pm every day (Including festivals and holidays)

Video: Hoa Lo Prison

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Silk Path Hotel & Resorts - Corporate Office
3rd Floor, 4 Pham Ngu Lao, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84 24 3266 8585