The Museum of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi

attractions - Ha Noi: Nov. 1, 2013

The Museum of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi

Hoa Lo prisonWidely known as the “Hanoi Hilton”, a nickname used by Americans during the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French colonial government in 1896 in order to hold political prisoners. Many Vietnamese revolutionaries were incarcerated there, including the famous Phan Boi Chau and five future general secretaries of the Communist Part . Hoa Lo. “Furnace”. “Hell hole”.

These names originated in the pre-colonial era, coming from the adjacent street, where wood and coal stoves were sold. During French Indochina, however, the French simply called it “Maison Centrale” (Central House).

Built near the French Quarter of Hanoi, it was specifically designed to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, though common law prisoners were also incarcerated there. With a capacity of 600 seats in 1913, it was completely overcrowded (with 730 prisoners in 1916, 895 in 1922, 1,430 in 1933 and 2,000 in 1954), and the conditions of detention were particularly inhumane.

Hoa Lo PrisonThe museum depicts tiny cells and a collective enclosure where the prisoners were chained to each other. Various historical French documents have been exposed that illustrate the problem of overpopulation and sanctions.

The tour also provides more information on the various escape attempts, some of which were successful attempts that lighten the dark history of this prison. Preserved from destruction during the Japanese occupation in 1947, the various reports on these escapes are a rich source of information about the inner workings of the colonial administration at the time.

We learn that between the 1910s and 1930s, hawkers had made a profession of transmitting messages through the bars of the prison. Conversely, for a fee, they would sometimes throw tobacco, letters or packages through the prison bars. Hoa Lo PrisonThe prison itself was a laboratory of political ideas; many future leading figures of the Vietnam Communist Party developed in the “Central House” in the 1930s and 1940s.

After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords of 1954, the prison came under the authority of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Between 1964 and 1973, the prison held inmates including several American pilots captured by the North Vietnamese - among which, were the future Senator, John McCain, and Pete Peterson, who, in 1997, became the first American Ambassador in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. In 1996, most of the prison was demolished to make way for towers. The southernmost corner however, was preserved and opened to the public in memory of Vietnamese revolutionaries who died there.

Practical Information

Address: 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem District , Hanoi Opening hours: 8am- 11.30am and 13.30pm-16.30pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.

Hoa Lo prison