I was originally hesitant to enter the Hoa Lo Prison (known to most Americans as the "Hanoi Hilton" due to personal reasons but as I was one of the first Americans to be able to experience this place, I could not resist. What remains of the original prison is now a Museum,
Much of the original prison was destroyed in the mid-1990s but the "Maison Centrale" and some of the original French colonial walls remain within the museum.
The exhibits focus on the prison during the French colonial period and include a guillotine room and the prison cells used for Vietnamese political prisoners.
As for anything related to American Prisoners of War (1964-1974), I was acutely aware of the false propoganda about the "humane" treatment provided to the POW's. I've met more than one POW that spent time in this prison and their lingering and permanent injuries inflicted during their incarceration are evidence that the North Vietnamese Army captors tortured American POW's on a large and longterm scale. I also saw the interrogation room and cells where American POW's were questioned and even though it looks innocuous now, it still appears to be someplace no one should ever be.
Some of the displays even go so far as to say that the name "Hanoi Hilton" proves the prison was more like hotel than a prison.
After seeing this prison, I have nothing but respect for the men who survived their ordeals in this place during the Vietnam War including U.S. Senator John McCain whose book "Faith of my Fathers" details the horrific events inside Hoa Lo prison..
The address: Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoan Kiem District, Hà Nội,
Hoa Lo prison, or Hanoi Hilton as it was nicknamed by american prisoners during the Vietnam war is the leftovers of the prison that the french first build to host vietnamese who opposed the french occupation of Vietnam and later it was used for american pilots who were shot down during the Vietnam war.
It's only a small piece of the prison that is left these days but it has benn turned in to a pretty interesting museum where you can get a fairly good idea of both the life of the vietnamese prisoners during the french occupation and the life of the american soldiers who were prisoners there in the 1960's and 70's.
American politician John McCain was one of the americans who were imprisoned there and they have a few photos of him during his prison years exhibited in the museum today.
Pretty good museum that is certainly worth a visit.
The Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French colonists in 1896 and was named Maison Centrale (the original sign still hangs over the entrance). Originally used by the French for political prisoners, but later also used by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War for US pilots (U.S. Senator John McCain was one of the most famous inmates). They ironically nick-named the prison the Hanoi Hilton and in 1999, as Vietnam started becoming a more popular tourist destination, Hilton actually built a hotel in Hanoi, but carefully called it the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel.
Most of the prison complex was demolished in 1997, but a part of the old prison was preserved to create the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The exhibitions are primarily from the French-colonial period and show the cells, a guillotine, and several torture instruments. Only a smaller section of the museum is devoted to the American period, but still very interesting and absolutely worth a visit.
This particular site in Hanoi was on my list of places to visit and what a place of torture and degradation it must have been for all that entered its doors...
Known as the Hanoi Hilton by American POW's many saw the darkness of life within during their confinement. One famous American that spent many years here was Senator John McCaine..an American Air force pilot who captured and transferred here after being shot down over North Vietnam..The tortures that were inflicted upon him were so severe that he can no longer lift his arms above his shoulders..
There are many items on display here and a detailed History of the Prison when controlled by the Frech Occupiers of north Vietnam..Not every thing is explained in English
This prison was built by the French in 1896. It was used to house PoWs during the American War, and American GIs nicknamed the place the "Hanoi Hilton". The prison was used up until the mid-1950s.
There are exhibits throughout which include photographs of American prisoners (including John McCain, then and now), French instruments of torture, and themes of Vietnam's fight for independence from France. There are some interesting exhibits describing various escapes and showing sections of sewer through which escapees crawled.
Our 7-year old daughter enjoyed herself posing for photos in various prison shackles and torture instruments.
As I mention earlier in my “intro” page of Ha Noi one of the first memories of hearing the name Ha Noi comes from seeing images of American pilots that were imprisoned here during the course of the “American War”.
Making a visit here was kind of an obligatory “mission”.
What remains of the structure, most of it has been demolished to make way for modern development, is yet ANOTHER frightening testimony to mans inhumanity to man.
The prison was built by the French in 1896 and covered a land area of almost 13 000 square meters. When it was constructed it was one of the largest prisons in all of Indochina.
The original intent was to incarcerate “troublemakers”, those who opposed French rule, so called political prisoners.
Originally it was built to hold a population of about 450 people. This magic number was quickly exceeded and long story short…by about 1933 its population had swollen to about 1400 prisoners and by 1954 it held more than 2000 people.
The conditions were barbaric by any standard and today when you visit you can see what a cell would look like; photographs of incarcerated people chained together, exhibits that leave nothing to the imagination, and finally the notorious guillotine that was used to execute prisoners.
There are different sections that include Memorials to those that lost they’re lives here, there’s a section that lists the names of most if not all prisoners that walked through the doors here at one time or another, and there’s a separate section that covers the history of the prison during the American War when, shot down American pilots were incarcerated here. There’s a small shop where books can be purchased that outlines the French and American conflicts and other odds and ends.
There is a Memorial situated in an outdoor area of the Prison where joss sticks are burnt. This Memorial is quite graphic in some ways and definitely is more than a small gesture of Honor, Respect, and “eternal” Gratitude.
Entrance to the prison is only 10 000 Dong…about the equivalent of fifty cents USA…and there are no restrictions on photography.
Probably the most famous POW inmate during the American War here, is US Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain. On October 26, 1967, he was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when his A-4E Sky hawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg ejecting from the aircraft, and nearly drowned when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake.
Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to treat his injuries, beating and interrogating him to get information; he was given medical care only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral. All-in-all, he spent 5.5 years as a POW and was released on March 14, 1973. His flight suit is on display plus a picture of him visiting the prison in 2000.
Open: 8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm every day. Admission: 5,000.
If ever a prison could become known as being famous (or should that really be infamous) then this one must be pretty high on the list. The Hoa Lo Prison (actually meaning 'fiery furnace', so-called by Vietnamese inmates), later sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton", was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
The French simply called it Maison Centrale, and apparently razed a local craft village when they picked out the site for this, the largest of the French Indochinese prisons. Construction was completed in 1896, and the city has grown around it to such an extent that it is now conveniently located near the city centre. 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.
Then, during the American War, a whole new group of 'liberators', that is, despicable imperialist 'bandits', were detained in the form of downed American pilots when it served as a prisoner of war camp. The Vietnamese still 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. For some of them, surviving Hoa Lo boosted their credentials as well: one became the first US ambassador to Vietnam, and another, probably the most famous, is US Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
After 1975, it was once again used to jail Vietnamese who spoke out against the Communist government. This continued until at least the early 1990s when the government realised they were wasting a prime piece of downtown real estate on a prison that was easy to escape from. Most of it was destroyed and sold to developers, and a small portion was preserved as a memorial to everything that happened here.
Be prepared for some fairly grim sights, including dank, dismal cells, iron stocks, upsetting photographs and, in the last 'gallery,' the chilling presence of a guillotine used to execute some untold number of inmates. A few of the cells feature relatively life-like, slightly creepy renderings of suffering prisoners. Other displays show the narrow sewer grates that a large number of prisoners squeezed through to escape. One propaganda-filled room is devoted to the POW period during the American war, which includes John McCain’s flight suit.
Open: 8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm every day. Admission: 5,000.
The Hoa Lo Prison Museum is definitely on the “must see list”
I knew several of the former POWs and have read dozens of biographies of former American POWs and found it quite eerie to be in the prison itself.
The Hoa Lo Prison got its name “the Hanoi Hilton” from the American POWs (Prisoners of War) during the “American War”. In America its name was synonymous with torture, starvation, inhuman treatment and torture.
Biographies of the former POWs document the horrible abuse and deprivation our POWs suffered during their stay in the Hanoi Hilton and I was quite surprised to see most of the museum dedicated to showing just how WELL the American POWs were treated.
You can enlarge the pictures on this page by clicking on them if you wish to read what the Vietnamese government is now saying about their “wonderful” treatment of the American POWs. This Propoganda was tacked on the walls of the prison itself.
I devoted an entire page to the Hanoi Hilton at:
Since my husband is a corrections officer he was interested in going to this museum to see what it was like " back then". I walked in and straight away got a really eerie uneasy feeling. I didnt like it at all. I would not recommend talking children here as I think it could upset them
This prison was built in 1896 by the French. It was originally used to detain Vietnamese 'dissidents'. It's holding capacity was 450, but by 1930 there were almost 2000 prisoners crammed into its cells. It was also used later by the Vietnamese to detain American POW's...it was those prisoners who gave it it's nickname, "Hanoi Hilton".
We sent a lot longer here than we intended. It was horrible...but compelling. The photo's I have here are some of the less disturbing ones. I am still amazed at how cruel people can be to eachother.
Open 8am-11.30am & 1.30pm-4.30pm. Closed Monday.
Hoa La Prison is better known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton from the Vietnam War days, but is more famous to the Vietnamese for its role in their resistence to colonialism. Here they had a great deal of exhibition space devoted to the atrocities perpetrated by the French, who built this to be the largest prison in Indochina during the late 1800's. Of course, the theme was the depravity of the French and the heroic revolutionary spirit of the imprisoned locals, none of whom ever committed any crime except patriotism. Finally, the last few rooms were devoted to its role housing prisoners from the war, to include John McCain. Since McCain was the son of the four-star admiral at the U.S. Pacific Command when he was shot down, the Vietnamese were always aware that he was a star prisoner, so they kept photos and relics (including his flight suit) from his five years there. They have since updated the exhibit to note that he is the Republican nominee in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, good captalists that they now are.
Known locally as the "Hanoi Hilton", the ex-prison is an interesting place to visit. The prison used to house patriots and revolutionary fighters in awful conditions, before it became a place of detention for criminal offenders and American pilots whose planes had been shot down over Vietnam. You can see the old cells, complete with leg irons, the guillotine and many exhibits showing what the prisoners wore and ate, etc. There is also a memorial garden at the rear of the prison. Two thirds of the prison were demolished in 1993, so you are only seeing the SE corner of the original site.
Open 8am-11.30am and 1.30-4.30pm Thursday to Sunday. Closed on Monday. Small entrance fee.
I enjoyed this place quite a bit as it used to be a prison but now turned into a tourist spot where you can go in and see how the inmates used to live, survived, tourtured or executed. This prison used to house John McCain, now a Senator in the US Senate.
There is an entrance fee but I don't remember how much.
Hoa Lo Prison (also known as Maison Centrale during the French colonial period) is opened daily from 8.30-11.30am and 1.30-4.30pm. This place was opened in 1896 and it was the largest French prison in Northern Vietnam Two-thirds of it was demolished in 1993 to make way for an office and apartment and a small section now remains as a museum. The Hoa Lo Prison is located along Hoa Lo Street (in between Hai Ba Trung Street and Ly Thuong Kiet Street of the French Quarter area, south of Hoan Kiem Lake).