More widely known by its infamous nickname the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the Hoa Lo Prison remains a symbol of brutality and suffering. Prisoners of war held here during the French occupation in the fist half of the twentieth century and during the Vietnam conflict of the 1960’s and 1970’s came to suffer brutal conditions. Built in 1896, much of the prison was demolished in the 1990’s however valuable portions of the building remain and these once active halls of torture and mistreatment have been turned into an eye opening museum. While the subject matter may sound rather macabre, the museum offers valuable insights into the consequences of conquest and war and the often forgotten rules of human rights during such challenging times.
Today visitors can walk through what remains of the prison which includes the front gate and much of what was once the southern corner of the complex. While the museum offers a rousing view of Vietnamese endurance during their difficult years under French rule, it rather sanitises and whitewashes the torturous conditions that were suffered by American and Australian prisoners who were held by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. While it’s impossible to experience the full scope of what took place here, the museum nonetheless conveys a place of forced solitude, coldness and solitude as experienced by the Vietnamese during the French occupation, a place for those who tour the old prison can only imagine having to endure.
Hoa Lo Prison is situated in the central Hanoi district just minutes from the main historic and cultural area near Hoan Kiem Lake and the Hanoi Opera House. From these two markers proceed west along Tràng Tien and Tràng Thi. The prison is just two blocks south of the National Hospital of Obstetrics. The nearest bus stop is on Lý Thường Kiệt and served by bus number 54. Looking from the bus stop the prison is located next to the Somerset Grand Hanoi towers.