Hoa Lo Prison was built by the French in 1866 right in the middle of Hanoi, Vietnam, to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, and was also later used by the North Vietnamese to hold American POW’s during the Vietnam War. Only a small part of the prison now remains, and it stands as an interesting museum that focuses on the sufferings of the Vietnamese prisoners who were held there.
A visit to Hoa Lo Prison will not be a happy one. Walking through the dim lit rooms in the prison, standing inside tiny cells and viewing the shackles and torture devices on display is fairly creepy, and you will probably leave the place feeling very sombre.
The museum really is quite good, with displays and information that give you an insight into the history of the prison and the conditions in which the prisoners had to live in.
The Vietnamese political prisoners basically lived in shackles that prevented them from moving. Torture was common and those sentenced to death were given to the guillotine. Their heads were put on display in the streets of Hanoi to warn anyone who may be thinking of demonstrating against the French.
Most of the museum seems to focus on French brutality towards the Vietnamese, however the small section on the American POW’s is very different. This part simply shows photos of the American prisoners smiling and being well looked after, with no mention of torture or interrogation. I got the feeling that this was fairly whitewashed, however it was still interesting to learn about this part of the history of the prison, whether it is all told or not.
When you’re in Hanoi, definitely take some time to visit Hoa Lo Prison to learn about some of the country’s history. It is well worth checking out.