Hoa Lo Prison Museum

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Tags : Museum

Timings : 8:00 AM - 12:00 PM, 1:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Time Required : 1-2 hrs

Entry Fee : Adults: VND 30,000
Students (with Identification): VND 15,000
Children (under 15 years): No Entry Fee

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Also Refered As:

Hanoi Hilton

Hoa Lo Prison Museum, Hanoi Overview

Hoa Lo Museum is all that remains of the Hoa Lo Prison, which was used to capture Vietnamese and American political prisoners during the colonial period and the Vietnam War. It offers a glimpse into the prison's history through various exhibits and displays. Visitors can see original cells where Vietnamese revolutionaries were held captive by the French, artifacts showcasing the harsh conditions prisoners endured, and photographs depicting the prison's different eras.

Once a fearsome prison used to suppress voices of dissent, Hoa La Prison was built by the French during the colonial era. It was first used to house Vietnamese revolutionaries opposing French rule and was later used for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. It is sarcastically known as 'Hanoi Hilton' for its brutal living conditions. Today, most of the prison has been razed to the ground, but a small section remains that has become a museum.

A significant part of the museum is dedicated to the experiences of American POWs, with displays featuring their living conditions, personal belongings, and stories of their time in captivity. The exhibits aim to illustrate contrasting perspectives on the prison's history, as perceived by both the Vietnamese and American prisoners. While some controversy surrounds the portrayal of the treatment of American POWs in the museum, it remains a significant historical site, offering insight into Vietnam's struggle for independence and the complex narratives surrounding war and captivity.

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History of the Hoa Lo Prison

The Hoa Lo Prison was built on the land that was once home to the ancient Phu Khanh village, a small community that was famous across Vietnam for making pots, stoves, and earthenware. During French rule, it was destroyed and Hoa La Prison was constructed between 1886 and 1901. At the time, it was one of the largest prisons in Indochina. It included a courthouse and even the headquarters of the French secret police. The French named it Maison Centrale or Central House. The locals called it Hoa La. The name 'Hoa La' translate to 'fiery furnace' (a reference to the village) and 'Hellhole' (because of its brutal living conditions).

In the beginning, the prison was intended to house around 450 inmates. These were primary Vietnamese people who opposed French colonisation. With the renovation in 1913, this number increased to 600. By 1916, the number of prisoners in Hoa La increased to 700. By 1954, although the prison's actual capacity remained unchanged, there were more than 2,000 prisoners living there. They lived in subhuman conditions, boxed against each other with little breathing room or personal space. The prisoners weren't men alone - between 1930 and 1945, the prison housed female prisoners. Understandably, bitterness against the French grew amongst all of the Vietnamese prisoners.

Hoa Lo Prison Now

The Hoa Lo Prison museum that stands there today attempts to recreate the living conditions of the colonial era and the Vietnam War. Many believe that it has been 'whitewashed' to appear less brutal than it was. Whatever the case, it is open to the public through tours, so we'll let you decide how you feel about the prison! Over the years, Hoa La prison became home to many prominent soldiers. Some noteworthy names include William Lawrence, a US Navy pilot and future Superintendent of the US Naval Academy, James Stockdale, a US Navy pilot, Medal of Honour recipient and the 1992 Vice-Presidential candidate, and Sam Johnston, a future Republican Congressman of Texas. One of the most famous prisoners of Hoa La Prison was John McCain, a US Navy pilot and 2008 Presidential nominee. Decades after the war, McCain returned to the prison, advocating better relations with the U.S. and Vietnam.

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