Hoa Lo Prison: A place well worth a visit on your trip to Hanoi Vietnam

Hoa Lo Prison, often referred to as one of the most brutal prisons due to its extremely cruel punishments, stands as a historical monument reflecting the unwavering determination of Vietnamese revolutionaries and their profound sacrifices for the country.

During your Hanoi travel journey, besides enjoying exquisite Vietnamese traditional food, visiting Hoa Lo Prison should be one of the top activities on your bucket list. This historical relic offers a profound opportunity to gain greater insight into the lives of Vietnamese revolutionaries during the First Indochina War. This article will provide you with interesting information about this significant Hanoi historical site.

1. Where is Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi Vietnam? How to get there?

  • Address: No. 1, Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Hoa Lo Prison opening hours: From 8.00 am to 5.00 pm every day (including holidays)
  • Hoa Lo Prison entry fee: 50,000 VND/ person

2. Learn about the dark history of Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi

When Vietnam was still part of French Indochina, the French began constructing Hoa Lo Prison in 1896 and finished it in 1901. Initially named Maison Centrale, a common euphemism for French prisons, it was used to detain political prisoners fighting for independence. By 1954, the prison housed almost 2,000 inmates, who were shackled to walls by the dozen and lived in appalling conditions. Several Vietnamese revolutionaries were executed under the barbarous guillotine, which the French had used throughout the region.

After the French were driven out of Hanoi in 1954, the prison was indeed converted into a Vietnamese facility. During the Vietnam War, from 1964 to 1973, Hoa Lo Prison housed several American pilots captured during the conflict, including Senator John McCain and Douglas Peterson, who later became the first ambassador to post-war Vietnam. As the war approached its end, many inmates of Hoa Lo were gradually released.

For the subsequent two decades, the prison continued to hold political insurgents. However, in 1990, it was closed and largely demolished to accommodate the urban development and high-rise construction projects that were transforming Hanoi into a rapidly growing city. Today, only a portion of the original prison remains, preserved as a museum to commemorate its historical significance.

3. Explore the special structure of Hoa Lo Prison

Explore the special structure of Hoa Lo Prison
Explore the special structure of Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison was indeed known for its formidable security measures during its time as a colonial and later Vietnamese facility. The walls, standing at 4 meters high and 0.5 meters thick, were fortified with broken glass and barbed wire, electrified to deter any escape attempts. The presence of four watchtowers positioned at each corner of the prison allowed the wardens to closely monitor the movements and actions of the inmates, further reinforcing its reputation as an impenetrable institution in Indochina. These stringent security measures underscored the harsh conditions endured by the prisoners held within its walls.

The layout of Hoa Lo Prison, spanning an area of 12,000 square meters, indeed consisted of various sections, each serving different functions. These included a guard house for administrative purposes, a medical facility to attend to the health needs of the inmates, and workshops dedicated to iron and textile production, likely as part of the prison labor system.

Additionally, the prison comprised seven houses specifically designated for accused prisoners, where they awaited trial or served their sentences. However, among these areas, the most dreaded was the cachot, a dreadful place used to confine inmates with opposing behaviors or violent criminals. The cachot was infamous for its appalling conditions, characterized by a lack of light, ventilation, and space. It was truly a nightmarish place for Vietnamese prisoners, evoking a sense of terror and despair among those subjected to its confinement.

4. What to explore in Hoa Lo Prison nowadays?

Visitors to Hoa Lo Prison indeed have the opportunity to explore exhibits that depict the prison’s history during two distinct periods. The first period covers the time from when the French colonialists built the prison in 1896 until the liberation day of Hanoi in October 1954. This period showcases the harsh conditions endured by Vietnamese political prisoners who were detained by the colonial authorities, illustrating the struggle for independence and the oppressive nature of the colonial regime.

The second period, spanning from 1964 to 1973, focuses on the Vietnam War era when a section of the prison was used by the Vietnamese government to house American pilots captured during the conflict. This section of the exhibits sheds light on the experiences of these prisoners of war, including their living conditions, treatment, and the interactions between captors and captives during this tumultuous period in history.

By exploring these exhibits, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of Hoa Lo Prison’s role in Vietnam’s history, from its origins under French colonial rule to its use during the Vietnam War, offering insights into the struggles and resilience of those who were imprisoned within its walls.

Inside the prison, you will indeed see an ominous French guillotine, horrifying iron shackles, brutal torture instruments, as well as statues of captives wearing leg chains. Vietnamese prisoners were mercilessly tortured and beaten on a daily basis by the guards here. Tortures included electric shock, upside-down hanging, and bad rice feeding. This prison will enhance your perspective, understanding, and appreciation for the revolutionary fighters’ spirit, as well as the humane approach of the Vietnamese people toward American prisoners during the war.

5. Regulations for visitors taking Hoa Lo Prison tours

  • Do not bring weapons, explosives, or flammables
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not touch or move the exhibits
  • Burn incense and leave flowers at the memorial area only

Besides Hoa Lo Prison, there are many other famous cultural and historical sites in Hanoi that you should take time to visit, such as Presidential PalaceTurtle TowerNgoc Son TempleBa Dinh SquareBach Ma TempleBut Thap PagodaTran Quoc Pagoda, etc.

To ensure the best holiday experience in Vietnam, planning and booking in advance are crucial. Among the many travel companies offering services in Vietnam, Vietnam Discovery Travel is an excellent choice for organizing your travel itinerary with just a few emails and WhatsApp messages. They provide airport transfers, accommodation booking, tour guides, drivers, and customizable activities based on your preferences.

With their assistance, you can tailor your trip according to your schedule and desired activities, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable travel experience throughout Vietnam.