Photo: The entrance to the former Hanoi Hilton.

Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

Our rating:

Originally sprawling over 13 hectares, Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the Hanoi Hilton to Westerners in one of its later iterations, was one of the largest prisons built by the French in Indochina.





Opened in 1896 on the site of razed ceramics village Phu Khanh, the French simply called it Maison Centrale; Hanoi has grown around it to such an extent that it is now located near the town centre.

Artefacts on display include ceramics produced at the village the French destroyed to build Hoa Lo. Photo taken in or around Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

Artefacts on display include ceramics produced at the village the French destroyed to build Hoa Lo. Photo: Samantha Brown

The prison’s original purpose was to function as the end of the assembly line for the colonial system of jurisprudence, detaining Vietnamese criminals who were more often than not anti-colonial revolutionaries (otherwise known to the Vietnamese as ’revered heroes and martyrs’). It was the inmates who dubbed it Hoa Lo, which means ’fiery furnace’. Cell D, for instance, from 1930 to 1945, held up to 100 political prisoners in an area designed for 40.

Surviving Hoa Lo—or better yet, escaping from it—gave a Viet Minh cadre powerful credentials, and more than a few of those who did went on to become central figures in the Communist Party. The museum’s curators focus primarily on this period of the prison’s history, but after the French were ousted in 1954 it was used to incarcerate a new set of Vietnamese ’criminals’: counter-revolutionaries opposed to the growing influence of the party.

The prison in its original state. Photo taken in or around Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), Hanoi, Vietnam by Samantha Brown.

The prison in its original state. Photo: Samantha Brown

Then, during the American War, yet another new group of ’liberators’—or despicable imperialist bandits—were detained in the form of downed American pilots. From 1964 to 1973, Hoa Lo served as a prisoner-of-war camp and once again received a new, unofficial name: the Hanoi Hilton. The Vietnamese maintain that American prisoners were well-treated, but published memoirs by former inmates speak of torture, murder, medical neglect, and being fed food contaminated with faeces. The treatment was so bad here that some observers still maintain it constitutes a war crime. The Hanoi Hilton name became so resonant in popular culture that when the Hilton Corporation finally opened a hotel in Hanoi 1999, they had to awkwardly name it the Hilton Hanoi Opera to avoid tapping into any dark ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


Don’t miss the boat!

Please subscribe to Travelfish.org to read the rest of this article, or log in here.


Subscribing to Travelfish costs A$35 per year and it gets you access to more than 200 downloadable guides to specific destinations, fabulous discount coupons and 50% off our personalised travel planning service. Sign up here.


By .





Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
1 Hoa Lu (Hai Ba Trung St) , Hanoi
Daily 08:00-17:00
T: (04) 3934 2253 

Location map for Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

Start planning your holiday today

Sent every Monday, our newsletter is full of travel advice, news & special deals. Read past issues.

   

Popular attractions in Hanoi

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Hanoi.



Best places to stay in Hanoi

A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Hanoi.


What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Hanoi.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Hanoi.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Hanoi.
 Read up on how to get to Hanoi, or book your transport online with Baolau.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Hanoi? Please read this.
 Browse the web securely while travelling with TunnelBear. Try with a 7–day free trial.


See below for more sights and activities in Hanoi that are listed on Travelfish.org.


Top of page


Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Hanoi? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Vietnam.


Top of page