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Been a bit of a war history buff, I visited the notorious Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, aka the Hanoi Hilton. A nickname was given by American POWs and where John McCain spent five and half years as a POW after been captured when his plane was shot down during the Vietnam war.

The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as “fiery furnace” or even “Hell’s hole”, which says it all.

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Visiting Hoa Lo prison

The history of Hoa Lo Prison starts with the French building it in 1894 and used it to house anti-colonial Vietnamese or political prisoners wanting independence from the French who were often subject to torture and execution.

male prisoners. in hoa La Prison
Stockade for keeping political male prisoners. in hoa La Prison

After the French left Vietnam in 1954, the prison served as an education center for revolutionary doctrine and activity.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. POWs would be sent here and have to endure miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary conditions.

Male prisoners in the cells in Hoa La Prison
Male prisoners in the cells in Hoa La Prison

Today, most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and the site now contains two high-rise buildings, one of them the 25-story Somerset Grand Hanoi serviced apartment building.

Shackles Used in Hoa La Prison
Shackles Used in Hoa La Prison

Other parts have been converted into a commercial complex retaining the original French colonial walls. Only part of the prison exists today as a museum.

Prisoner in his cell
Prisoner in his cell

The French eventually left Vietnam in 1954 after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the prison was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army used it as a prison.

Prison guards and prisoners in cell
Prison guards and prisoners in cell

It was a prison for US Prisoners from 1961 to 1973 with a small section on the American POW with them smiling and being well looked after, with no mention of torture or interrogation.

Hoa Lo Prison aka Hilton Hanoi Main Gates
Hoa Lo Prison aka Hilton Hanoi Main Gates

It was the American prisoners who sarcastically nicknames the prison the “Hanoi Hilton,” in honour of the horrible conditions they faced in there. The focus was mainly on the french brutality towards the Vietnamese.

Hoa Lo Prison is definitely worth taking some time to visit Hoa Lo Prison to learn about some of the country’s history.

Wrapping Up

And that’s it for now! I’d love to know if this guide on visiting Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi has helped you. Let me know if you have any questions and let me know if there are any more places to visit in Vietnam.

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