The Hoa Lo Prison, later known to American prisoners of war as the “Hanoi Hilton”, was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

Located in downtown Hanoi, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison or the Hanoi Hilton was built by the French administration in 1896. Originally intended to hold around 450 prisoners, by the 1930s the number of detainees had soared to almost 2,000, the majority of them being political prisoners. During the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison achieved notoriety as a place of incarceration for dowed US pilots, who ironically nick-named it the Hanoi Hilton. Named Maison Centrale during the French rule – the original sign still hangs over the entrance – most of the prison complex was demolished in 1997 in order to make way for the Hanoi Central Tower building.

However, the architects preserved enough of the old prison to create the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The majority of the exhibits here include a horrifying array of shackles, whips, and other instruments of torture, as well as tiny solitary confinement cells, which date from the French-colonial period. Also on display is part of the old, narrow more than 100 prisoners escaped in August 1945. A smaller section of the museum is devoted to the American period and, predictably enough, contrives to show how well US prisoners fared in contrast to the brutality shown to the Vietnamese by the French. At the back of the museum is the guillotine. A surprisingly small, simple yet terrifyingly.

More information about The Hoa Lo Prison Museum

The Hanoi Hilton

No.157, Doi Can Str., Ba Dinh District, Ha Noi

Opening hours: Every day except Monday and Lunar New Year, from 8:00-11:30 and from 13:30-16:30

Entrance fee: 30,000 (USD 1.5)