It was the biggest and strongest prison in Indochina during French colonial as its original name “Maison Centrale”.
The vast Hoa Lo Prison complex was built by French in 1896. Firstly, it was used for Vietnamese politicians and Communist leaders who struggled for Vietnam independence from early 20th century until 1954. After that, the Vietnamese Government took over Hanoi capital city and used this prison to capture American soldiers and pilots until reunification in 1975.

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi

You will find many amazing photos, objects as well as documents and displays related to French and American war in Vietnam. The first part in this museum is about French war. You will experience the feeling of worry, anxiety, scary and even macabre while visiting one of the most frightened prison in the world in 20th century. Different instruments of torture, the guillotine, the dungeon area for prisoners certainly be executed. All of them created “Hell on Earth” for those who dared to oppose the French. The prison was designed for approximately 450 inmates but records indicate that by the 1930s, there were close to 2000 prisoners. Many excellent Vietnamese politicians and Communist leaders died in this prison by torturing and the guillotine.

The dormitory, Hoa Lo Prison

The dormitory, Hoa Lo Prison

The second part is an exhibition about American war. The first US Ambassador in Vietnam Pete Peterson and Arizona Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008) were two famous American prisoners in the prison. John McCain was rescued by locals after his airplanes was shot down in 1967. You can see his flight suit as well as many other objects from US pilots also photos and videos related to US bombardment by B52 aircrafts in 1967 and 1972.
Hanoi Hilton was a lovely nickname for this scary prison by US soldiers. However, Hoa Lo prison was never a very successful prison because hundreds of prisons escaped from its walls over the years and many of them squeezed out through sewer grates. Hoa Lo Prison is one of must-see attractions in Hanoi and please do not worry too much, this prison will not SCARE you !