Hoa Lo Prison Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam

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.

Stone wall in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

A wall at Hoa Lo Prison – Broken glass covers the top

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.

Inside Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Inside Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Hallway inside Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

A cell block hallway

Looking through a cell door in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Looking through the tiny window in a cell door

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.

Models of shackled prisoners in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Models of shackled prisoners

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.

Shackled prisoners in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Shackled prisoners

Guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

The guillotine

Sewer used in an escape attempt in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Part of an old sewer that was used during an escape from the prison

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.

Artwork in Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam

Artwork depicting a prison scene during French control

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.

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9 comments… add one
  • Yeity Jun 3, 2013

    Holy! That image you took through the prison bars is spooky as hell! Stomach turning in some ways. Nice piece.

  • Jennifer Jun 3, 2013

    Ive visited this prison twice and find its depiction of the treatment of americans held there very one sided. What did you think?
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    • Dean Wickham Jun 12, 2013

      Yes, I felt the same way, Jennifer. It was very whitewashed. Still an interesting place to visit though.

  • Shaun Hoobler Jun 12, 2013

    Hi Dean – as a new reader of your blog I though I’d just hop on and leave a quick comment here to say I’ve been reading a few posts and enjoying them very much. Cheers! Shaun
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    • Dean Wickham Jun 16, 2013

      Hi Shaun. That’s so much for the comment. I’m pleased that you are enjoying the blog and I hope that you find some of the posts inspiring. Cheers!

  • They actually had a guillotine… I didn’t expect that, but now I feel like I should have, given the French control and everything. You learn something every day. Thanks for sharing this!
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    • Dean Wickham Sep 18, 2013

      I wasn’t expecting to see a guillotine either, but it is certainly there.

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