To present about Vietnam, apart from stunning landscapes or multi-ethnic culture, a prolific history of fighting for independence from thousand-year of colonization should definitely be included. In Hanoi alone, there are many monuments to illustrate this trait. Hoa Lo Prison is one of them. It has become a famous tourist attraction for many Vietnamese and foreigners to explore its history of 120 years as well as a painful yet heroic past of the agrarian journey of Vietnamese people.
From 1986, the Hoa Lo Prison was used throughout the French colony to house Vietnamese patriots and revolutionaries. It was originally named “Maison Centrale”, or “Hanoi Prison”. However, since it was built on the land of a pottery village named Phu Khanh, it is more often called “Hoa Lo” meaning “the furnace is fiery”. This name also got more popular among both domestic and foreign visitors.
Things to do and see
With a total area of over 12.000 m2, Hoa Lo Prison was claimed as the biggest and most invincible fortress of the French colony in the Indochina at the time. It is situated right in the center of Hanoi to show the power of the French when dominating Vietnam.
The place was isolated with the outside world by a 4-meter-high stone wall and an impenetrable system of electrified prick wire. It was constructed with maximum security and equipped with extremely brutal forms of torture. A tripod shape formed by a criminal court, a prison, a spy agency, along with four surveillance towers in each corner, made sure that no one can escape out of their view.
The steel doors and locks were ordered from France. The cell and chambers were dark, overcrowded and lack of light. Their guards were ready to conduct any inhumane torture and abuse to control the prisoners, even take away their lives at any time.
Nowadays, most of the Prison has been reconstructed to an office tower and only its small part still remains for tourist attraction.
People visit Hoa Lo Prison to learn more about a dark past during Vietnamese people’s long struggle for independence.
The Prison is a vivid example of “Hell on Earth”. It was voted as one of the five darkest destinations in Southeast Asia by CNN. Right before the completion of construction, in January 1899, the Prison had already started keeping prisoners. Initially, it aimed at detaining 500 prisoners, but then it was extended many times to even 2,000 prisoners till 1950 – 1953.
Inside this “hell on Earth”, there was a place even more terrified. The CaChot– the scariest place in the prison. The detaining rooms were dark, cramped, here the prisoners were isolated and always wore shackles. Captors used various forms of torture as in the medieval period. As frightening as the CaChot was the cell area. This was one of the places using guillotine for prisoners receiving capital punishment. Nowadays there are recreations to illustrate the captors’ cruelty to Vietnamese people.
This historical monument is also a proof too, marked a major victory of Vietnamese ancestors. The cruelty and hardship sharpened many great revolutionaries of Vietnam. Despite its claim as the most inescapable prison in the Indochina region, many prisoners still managed to escape and continued their activities to gain freedom for the country.
After the abolition of the French colony in 1954, the communist government took charge of the Prison. It then became the headlines again from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War). The prison then detained the pilots who were captured in the air attack at Hanoi. Due to its notorious past, many of the pilots feared of being captured. However, their fight was not proven as they actually received merciful treatment from the Vietnamese detainees. There were some famous inmates such as John McCain - American senator and P. Peterson - the first American ambassador to Vietnam.
You can hear countless heartbreaking stories about many Vietnamese patriots from the tour guides to best understand the history of the Prison and Vietnamese Revolution. There are also some political sessions held right at the Prison, with many documents, records, scientific displays and even articles written by the inmates themselves. They all held out the indomitably strong will of generations of Vietnamese fighters even in the most miserable environment.
A long – lasting site like Hoa Lo Prison should not be missed for those who love history and want to learn about the most painful but glorious odyssey Vietnamese people must take to gain a peaceful life as today.
- Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm
- Admission fee: 30,000 VND/ person - A Hanoi Tour may be one of the best way to visit here