Nothing prepares you for how creepy Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam can be. Hoa Loa Prison was a famous prison located in Hanoi’s French District that received great notoriety because of its use by the French colonial government, and later North Vietnamese fighters during the Vietnam War.
We visited Hỏa Lò Prison and prepared 20 stunning photos. The French called it Maison Central, a generic name for a colonial prison. The Vietnamese knew it as Hỏa Lò, which translates to “fiery furnace,” after the wood stove shops common in the surrounding neighborhood. Westerners know it best as the Hanoi Hilton.
History of Hỏa Lò Prison
The site was first opened by the French in 1886. At the time, they were the main authority over Vietnam. The prison’s role, as was the case with many other prisons of the day, was to lock away political prisoners. Inmates were kept in what has been described as ‘subhuman conditions’ but because of the central location, street peddlers could make extra money by tossing opium and tobacco as well as messages over the walls.
As the years went by, more and more prisoners crowded this small facility. In 1913 renovated prison held over 600 inmates, but that number continued to grow until it held over 2000 people in 1954.
The prison had become the symbol for France’s oppression of Vietnam, so when the French were ousted from Hanoi in 1954, the Vietnamese repurposed the prison as their own. From 1964 to 1973, a part of the prison was used to capture American pilots who were shot down during their bombing raids against North Vietnam. In this period, Hoa Lo was euphemistically called the “Ha Noi Hilton” by the prisoners in detention.
The American prisoners were mostly Air Force pilots, shot down from the sky and collected from the jungle. Almost 600 American POWs were interred here, including future Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
The prison complex kept expanding, and in 1967, a new area was constructed named “Little Vegas” by the American soldiers. The American POWs were detained for years, but once the Vietnam War was over, they were released. By the early 1980s when the Americans had left, the prison’s usefulness was coming to an end and it was closed in 1990.
In 1993, in order to meet the economic development of Ha Noi, the Vietnamese government retained a part of Hoa Lo to transform it into a historical relic. This part located in South – East of the prison was preserved, renovated, and upgraded. Here, there is a memorial monument in dedication to the Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. in 1999 International chain of hotels Hilton opened Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel on the grounds where the prison was located.
Hỏa Lò Museum
The piece of the historic prison that remains is preserved as a museum. The museum is divided into several sections relating to different periods of the site’s history. Now many original artifacts are archived in the space of Hoa Lo Museum.
The Memorial Monument, original objects, sculptures, and the permanent exhibitions at Hoa Lo historical relic are set up to introduce visitors to its history. The museum is fully equipped with life-size mannequins, relics from the days when U.S. POWs were locked up, cherished items such as the flight suit of John McCain and his parachute, and photographs of the American soldiers.
Stunning Photos of Hỏa Lò Prison
How To Get To The Hỏa Lò Prison
The easiest way to get to Hoa Lo Prison is by taxi – 1 Pho Hoa Lo is right at the corner of Pho Ha Ba Trung, south of Hoan Kiem Lake on the lip of the French Quarter.
The Hỏa Lò prison is open from 08:00 AM. to 17:00 PM., every day of the week, with a lunch break from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.