Hoa Lo prison has long been the popular site for tourist wishing to dive deep in the 2 mysterious wars of Vietnam people against French and American. 17th century, the British became the most powerful force in the globe. They conquered many different territories on this earth. People said that “the sun never set in Uk”. That is true because they had their colonies in every single part of the worth. The upcoming powers like France, Spain, Portugal, Nertherland tried to conquer the rest. France came to Southeast Asia and turned Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia to Indochina as their essential colony.
When there is oppression there is struggle. Many strikes, struggles happened. To smash the movement, French colonist built Hoa Lo prison in 1896 and later thousands of unyielding Vietnamese patriots tortured here (1896-1954). Our soldiers took over and captured American invaders with the very different treatment.
Located in the downtown area of Hanoi old quarter, Hoa Lo Prison, later known to American prisoners of war as the “Hanoi Hilton”, was a prison used by the French colonist in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Nowadays, this prison becomes a fully functional museum which attracts many local and foreign visitors.
The name of Hoa Lo, often translated as “fiery furnace”, “stove” or even “Hell’s Hole”, originally comes from the name of street “Pho Hoa Lo” because there were many stores selling wood stoves and coal-fired stoves concentrating along the street from pre-colonial times.
Built by the French from 1886 to 1889 and from 1898 to 1901 – when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina, this prison was intended to hold Vietnamese political prisoners who were often subject to torture and execution. In 1913, a renovation expanded its cap’s city from 460 to 600. This prison was almost overcrowded, capturing about 730 prisoners in 1916, this number increased to 895 in 1922 and to 1430 in 1933. And in 1954, it held more than 2000 people.
In 1996 most of the original prison was demolished to make way for Hanoi Towers which provided an apartment and office services but there have parts at the southernmost corner still, has been preserved and reopened to the public as a historical site memorizing to the revolutionaries who died here in the war. You can view the original cell, complete with leg-irons. All displays in the museum are along with Vietnamese and English description so it is easy for you to read and understand.
Because the conditions at that time were appalling, the food was mainly watery soup and bread. All prisoners were isolated, starved, beaten, and tortured for hours even for days. “It’s easy to die but hard to live” was a popular quote with the prisoners and Hoa Lo prison will show you “how hard it is to live” there.
The Hanoi Hilton was shown in the eponymous 1987 Hollywood movie-The, Hanoi Hilton. Built on the site of the notorious prison “Hanoi Hilton”, Hanoi Tower has the entrance to the remaining parts of the prison visible in the foreground. By 1996, most of the walls of the Hanoi Hilton had been torn down to make a way for the new construction. The Vietnamese also have bitter memories of the prison. In 1998, the old front of the prison was painted and restored and the remaining portions of the prison were turned into a tourist site. Some of the cells have been opened and considerable information about Vietnamese prisoners is available. There is now a Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, called the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, which opened in 1999. It was built decades after the Vietnam War was over, but Hilton carefully avoided reusing the dreaded name, Hanoi Hilton.
How to get there
From Hoan Kiem Lake, you can get there by walking in about 10 minutes. The address is No.1 Hoa Lo Street. It is absolutely unnecessary to use bus or motorbike to travel to this destination.
Hoa Lo prison opens most days from 8.00 am to 11.30 am but closes on Monday, please don’t forget it. Please research the opening time first as it is always subject to change. You can ask your hotel and they will know the latest updated information.
*Note: In order to have the thorough info about Hoa Lo you could visit this page: http://arokatravel.com/tours/hanoi-city-tour-with-cooking-class/