Hanoi Vietnam: Hoa Lo Prison

Every country has a history, a remembrance of past struggle, hardships, and triumph.  Stories from our ancestors, written accounts on textbooks, remnants of artifacts and relics displayed on museums, and old photographs are our sources.  Vietnam has an affluent history being under French colonization to Communists uprising and revolt and to heartbreaking Vietnam War.  All of these had shaped Vietnam as we know today.  There are many places and historic sites in all over Vietnam that would remind us of their history.  And one in particular is Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

The entrance of the prison using the French name "Maison Centrale" that means "Central House."
The entrance of the prison using the French name “Maison Centrale” that means “Central House.”

Hoa Lo Prison, or what remains of it, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hanoi.  The prison has turned into a Museum showcasing the heart wrenching struggles of prisoners.  During the time of French colonization, Hoa Lo was one of the most infamous prisons.  The French colonists had used this prison to incarcerate those who were rebelling against their regime, including women.  It had been the home of the most famous rebels who fought for the freedom of their country.  What brought them to finally succeed and be emancipated were their patriotism, resilience, and their undying hope.

READ:  Hanoi, Vietnam:  One Afternoon with Vietnamese Family 

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It also served as a prison for American Prisoners of War (POWs) during the Vietnam War.  Following the rise of communism in the country led by Northern Vietnam, US helped the Southern Vietnam in fighting it.  “Hanoi Hilton” was what they playfully called it.  One of the most famous people who was jailed in Hoa Lo was John McCain, a 2008 Republican US Presidential candidate.  His flight suit he wore during his captivity was on display, although, McCain in one of his interviews has denied the authenticity of the items.  The accounts of the living survivors of the prison were chilling and ineffable.

At the gate of the prison was its French name, Maison Centrale.  In french it means, Central House.  The gate was preserved but repainted to make it modern.  About a third of the original prison remained after it was demolished in the mid-1990s.  The prison was said to accommodate at least 600 prisoners, but, there was a time that the prisoners has reached almost 2000.  The scarcity of space had led to diseases common in prison and the food pitifully rationed.  The prison was divided into blocks; mass prison cells, solitary prison, and an area for prisoners sentenced to death.

Sample of the secured gate of a cell with no window.
Sample of the secured gate of a cell with no window.
The entrance to the cells for prisoners sentenced to death.
The entrance to the cells for prisoners sentenced to death.
The Women Political Prisoners bravely participated to emancipate Vietnam from French Colonizers.
The Women Political Prisoners bravely participated to emancipate Vietnam from French Colonizers.

A single cell was so small that two people will sleep side by side.  Though, they would rather share it with someone rather than being alone.  During the French colonization, there were many attempts of escaping and during one of the successful escapes, they used the underground sewer with the help of patriots outside.  Also, during the French administration, guillotine was harshly used to imposed the death penalty.  The antiquity of relics on display gave an eerie feeling but it was fascinating to see how they were able to preserved it.  The presence of these artifacts gave a genuine feel of the past struggles of victims.  The past of Vietnam was vividly presented.  It has articulately chronicled the time under French colonization up to Vietnam War.

The remnants of the underground sewer prisoners used to escape the prison.
The remnants of the underground sewer, prisoners used to escape the prison.

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Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi

The infamous guillotine used to carry the death warrant of those sentenced to death.
The infamous guillotine used to carry the death warrant of those sentenced to death.

The second floor of the building was a memorial to commemorate the prisoners, dead or living.  Shown inside the museum were videos to explain in details the history of the place, the atrocities of war, and the triumph of heroes.  Though, the space was small, it was effectively and efficiently maximized.

My wife looking gloomy as she learns the history of the prison and all the atrocities done here.
My wife looking gloomy as she learns the history of the prison and all the atrocities done here.
The memorial hall at the 2nd floor of the building for every Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War incarcerated at the Prison.
The memorial hall at the 2nd floor of the building for every Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War incarcerated at the Prison.

Hanoi is one of the most exquisite places in the world, partly because of its long struggle for freedom and peace.  Its history has added color and has made the place culturally diverse and wealthy in stories.  If you happen to be in Hanoi and is a fan of history, then this is the perfect place for you.  Satisfy your cravings for knowledge and your affection to history and visit the place.

A sign at the entrance of the prison.
A sign at the entrance of the prison.

AddressCNR P Hoa Lo & P Hai Ba Trung

Contact No.:  +84 4 3824 6358

Operation Hours: Daily, 8am to 5pm

Admission Fee:  30,000 VND

How to Get Here?  The fastest way is by taxi.  From Old Quarter, Hanoi, it costs approximately 30,000VND.

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