Hoa Lo Prison Museum

1 phố Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam

Perhaps the most relevant museum in Hanoi for American visitors is the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, popularly known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. Its exterior is a strangely cheery yellow, and it was part of a complex built by the French around the turn of the 20th century. You’ll know you’ve reached the building when you see its original French name, Maison Centrale, in bold letters above the entrance. The exhibits cover both the French treatment of Vietnamese prisoners and the U.S. soldiers and pilots housed here during the Vietnam War—including Senator John McCain, who was detained here from 1967 to 1973. (His flight suit is among the displays.) A visit can be a powerful, and at times emotionally difficult, experience.

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I believe this is an important cultural stop while visiting Hanoi. It’s difficult to fathom the war years, but you can get a healthy reminder of what happened, who was involved, and, from this building and history, determine your own set of reasoning.

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Visiting the “Hanoi Hilton” Maison Centrale is an eye opening display into the history, strength, and resilience of the Vietnamese people. Better than any military museum in Vietnam, this building is a study of how the Vietnamese people survived the one hundred year reign of the French followed by the war between Vietnam and America, with view photos and video footage of the bombing of Hanoi. All this and they are still one of the friendliest peoples I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Photos show renovated entrance to the prison, Vietnamese men shackled to benches during French occupation, and one of the three guillotine used by the French

History I had heard of

Grim. Since I had met John McCain when he was a young pilot this was a must for me. Pictures on the walls were descriptive . I was anxious to move on and out because I got goosebumps.

Hoa Lo Prison

The French built Hoa Lo Prison in the 1880s to incarcerate Vietnamese political prisoners and later the Vietnamese used it to hold American POWs. (The POWs jokingly called it the Hanoi Hilton, not to be confused with the current-day Hilton Hanoi Opera hotel). The prison was largely knocked down in the 1990s, but parts of it were kept and transformed into a museum, and exhibits include Senator John McCain’s parachute and flight suit, from when he was shot down in 1967. Unsurprisingly for a building with such a history, some displays are slightly grisly—such as recreations of rooms showing prisoners with their legs in stockade-like shackles, and the guillotine used by the French. Photo by Marie/Flickr.

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