Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Số 1 Hoả Lò
| +84 24 3934 2253
Photo by John Newton
Sun - Sat 8am - 5pm
Hoa Lo Prison MuseumThe Hoa Lo Prison is better known to most Americans as the "Hanoi Hilton," the name that U.S. prisoners of war used to describe the facility that, from 1964 to 1973, housed pilots shot down on raids over what was then North Vietnam. That seven-year chapter is just a small part of the story of Hoa Lo, which was first built in 1896 by the French to house political opponents to colonial rule—every visitor will pass under the words Maison Centrale, from the original French facility, when they enter.
Today the museum is located in buildings on one-fifth of the original site (the other four-fifths were demolished to make room for an office development in the 1990s) and it is focused primarily on the first 58 years of the prison's history, up to the defeat of the French in 1954. Much of the organized opposition to the French was led by political dissidents who were sentenced to time here, and the brutal conditions they faced are recounted in details and artifacts—shackles, uniforms, and objects crafted by prisoners—convey some of the brutality of life in Hoa Lo.
The period that will be of most interest to many Americans, when US airmen were housed here (most famously Senator John McCain), is covered in only two small rooms and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Vietnamese account of life there sounds very different from the one many Americans have heard. The panels and displays focus on how the prisoners enjoyed games, sports, Christmas pageants, and better food than most Vietnamese had during the Vietnam—or American, to use the Vietnamese term—War. Here is how one panel describes life for the prisoners of war: "No more flights on B-52s and carpet bombings, only a serene time for these American pilots to think about what happened and feel the beauty of peaceful life an warm humanity in Hoa Lo Prison."