Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, is a mere 750 meters from the Silk Path Hotel Hanoi and is well worth a visit to explore the history of the notorious prison that housed both Vietnamese and American prisoners.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, is a mere 750 meters from the Silk Path Hotel Hanoi and is well worth a visit to explore the history of the notorious prison that housed both Vietnamese and American prisoners.

The name Hoa Lo is commonly translated as “fiery furnace.” The name originated from the street name “Pho Hoa Lo” as many stores sold wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street in pre-colonial times.

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

Hoa Lo Prison’s story

The prison was built in Hanoi by the French from 1886–1889 and 1898–1901 when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. The French called the prison Maison Centrale – a traditional euphemism for prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi’s French Quarter and was intended to detain Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners fighting 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 often isolated, starved, beaten and tortured for countless hours. By 1954 it held more than 2,000 people living in squalid conditions, chained to walls by the dozen and had become a symbol of French colonialist exploitation. “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.”

 

Many revolutionary Vietnamese leaders were incarcerated at the prison during the colonial period and some were executed via guillotine, a barbaric practice used across the region by the French.

The prison was surrounded by reinforced stone walls reinforced up to four meters high and half a meter thick, while the tops of the wall were encrusted with glass and pieces of porcelain, making escape difficult.

While the French often boasted of the prison’s impregnability, many prisoners successfully escaped over the years and rejoined revolutionary organizations.

When the French were ousted from Hanoi in 1954, the Vietnamese repurposed the prison as their own. Between 1964 and 1973 during the American War the prison’s inmates included several captured American pilots, notably Senator John McCain and Douglas ‘Pete’ Peterson, America’s first Ambassador to Vietnam.

Toward the end of the war, the prisoners 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 part 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. Artifacts from well-known prisoners are also on display, including McCain’s flight suit and parachute.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum - Hanoi Discovery

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.

Prisoner diorama at Hoa Lo Prison ("Hanoi Hilton") in Vietnam
Tim Gerard Baker/Getty Images

In 1993, the 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.

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Contact Us

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