Hoa Lo Prison Relic - A destination to keep historical traces in Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison relic site, known in French as Maison Centrale (meaning central prison), is an attraction in Hanoi. Hoa Lo prison was named after the coal-fired stoves that were once sold in the nearby streets. The French built the prison, which opened in 1896 to house anti-French revolutionaries. Later, it housed American prisoners, who dubbed it the Hanoi Hilton.


The French colonialists suppressed the fighting movements of the Vietnamese people beginning at the end of the nineteenth century. To serve their ruling administration in Vietnam, they established court systems, recruited more police officers, and built many more prisons. In 1896, the French constructed Hoa Lo prison on the land of a famous pottery village in Ha Noi - Phu Khanh Village, Vinh Xuong, Tho Xuong District. Hoa Lo was one of the largest French prisons in Indochina.

The prison was built on the site of a famous pottery village to house thousands of Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. These detainees were subjected to physical and mental torture. The living conditions here were deplorable; poor quality food, deplorable sanitary conditions, a slew of diseases, and poor personal hygiene. However, the imprisoned revolutionaries maintained their faith in the Communist Party by converting the prison into a revolutionary school where they disseminated revolutionary causes. Many people successfully escaped and returned to lead the general uprising.

Following the liberation of the north of Vietnam in October 1954, the Vietnam Government used Hoa Lo Prison to temporarily imprison regular prisoners.

From the 5th of August, 1964, to the 31st of March, 1973, a section of the prison was used to capture American pilots who were shot down during bombing raids against North Vietnam. During this time, the prisoners in detention referred to Hoa Lo as the "Ha Noi Hilton". Among the "alumni" of Hoa Lo are Douglas Peter Peterson, the first US Ambassador to Vietnam, and John McCain, a US Senator.

In 1993, in order to meet the economic development of Ha Noi, the Vietnamese government retained a part of Hoa Lo to transform into a historical relic. This part located in South - East of the prison was preserved, renovated and upgraded. 

Visitors can now explore Hoa Lo prison by joining a day trip or a night tour. As people said, “Outside the main gate was the earth but behind it was hell. It was called hell on earth. Further in was a hell within hell. The colonialists put the prison’s guillotine in front of the gate to show off their power to the public and execute revolutionary soldiers. These details make the tour sacred,”


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