Built by the French in 1896 to hold Vietnamese political prisoners and known originally as Maison Centrale, Hoa Lo Prison was taken over by the Vietnamese in 1954. During the American War (Vietnam War), it housed American POWs, who referred to it as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Today, parts of the original prison have been turned into a museum. The Basics
Most of the original prison has been demolished, but a small corner has been preserved as a museum and memorial. Visitors can tour prison cells and see exhibits showing the conditions under which prisoners lived, including life-size models of shackled prisoners in stockades. Most of the exhibits focus on the prison’s use through the mid-1950s and the Vietnamese struggle for independence, though there are some displays relating to American soldiers incarcerated there. Original relics include a French guillotine and tunnels used by prisoners to escape.
Combine a tour of the museum with a sightseeing tour of other top war attractions, including the Vietnam Military History Museum and Ngoc Ha Village, where part of a downed B-52 has been preserved. The museum can also be combined with visits to other top Hanoi attractions, such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, or the Temple of Literature. Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- Hoa Lo Prison is a must-visit for war and history buffs.
- There are gruesome displays here that are not suitable for children.
- A visit to the prison can be an emotionally difficult experience.
- Most of the displays have English translations.
- Expect some of the displays to reflect propaganda.
Hoa Lo Prison is located near the French Quarter in Hanoi, about a 15-minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. Buses 2, 9, 40, and 49 stop nearby. Look for a bright yellow building with the sign “Maison Centrale.” When to Get There
Hoa Lo Prison is open daily, year-round, with a break for lunch. Most visitors spend between 60 and 90 minutes here. Hoa Lo Prison is located near Ambassador’s Pagoda, which makes for an easy sightseeing pairing. American POWs
Hoa Lo Prison was one of the main areas where American pilots shot down over Vietnam were held. Famous former inmates include Admiral James Stockdale, Brigadier General Robinson Risner, Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam), and Senator John McCain. McCain’s flight suit is displayed, along with a photo of his capture from Truc Bach Lake after he was shot down.