Hoa Lo Prison: a terrible hell in the land

Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi used to be considered as the hell on earth. This place held the communist soldiers in Vietnam, where are full of painful and tragic historical traces. If you want to know more about Vietnamese history, Hoa Lo Prison is one ideal site to visit.

Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison | @mikeemacaroyo

Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi

  • Address: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Opening hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm
  • Entrance ticket: 30,000 VND/ticket
  • Phone number: +8424 3934 2253
  • Website: www.hoalo.vn

1. The construction of Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison is a famous historical destination in Hanoi when you come to the capital. It is because this place contains a part of the pain of the Vietnamese people during the French colonial rule.

The prison is at 1 Hoa Lo Street, Hanoi. In the past, this land belonged to Phu Khanh village, Vinh Xuong commune, Tho Xuong district, Hoai Duc area, Son Nam Town. In the old day, Phu Khanh was a place specializing in the production of all kinds of terracotta ceramics, so this area was named Hoa Lo village.

After the French colonialists controlled Hanoi, they turned this area into prison, so people often called Hoa Lo Prison. But the real name of the prison is Maison Centrale which means Central Prison.

hoa lo prison
The panorama of Hoa Lo Prison | Photo: hoalo.vn

Hoa Lo Prison at that time was set up to carry out the ploy to suppress those who confronted the colonial regime. Thus, it was built solidly on a large scale.

In 1896, the prison was built with extremely high requirements in terms of design as well as construction materials. Therefore, all metals, hinges, door platforms, and locks must be imported from France with top quality.

Around the prison is protected by a stone wall of 4m high, 0.5m wide. Above the wall is a piece of glass bottle with dense barbed wire. The prisoner can not cross this wall without asking for any other help. Four corners are four watchtowers capable of covering both inside and outside the Hoa Lo Prison area.

During the French colonial period, Hoa Lo has the following buildings:

  • a house for guarding,
  • a clinic,
  • a hospital,
  • the two rows of houses for cells,
  • a workshop of carpenters, iron, garment, and leather,
  • five inmates prisons,
  • four other tiny prisons to imprison death inmates and dangerous prisoners,
  • prison cells for death row inmates and dangerous prisoners.

The original design of the prison held only about 500 people, but in fact, there were up to 2,000 people. This place kept the people sentenced to 5 years or less, or death row inmates, while those sentenced to more than 5 years were transferred to Son La or Con Dao prisons.

2. Hoa Lo Prison – a place to keep historical vestiges

Currently, the prison is not used and is no longer kept in comparison with its original design. And, it becomes a tourist place for visiting when the travellers come to Ha Noi. This site opens all year round to explore and study the terrible a prison in the past.

Hoa Lo Prison was known as a hell on earth, so this place was the most terrible prison in Southeast Asia at that time. It was equipped with tools to torture, and duress brutally.

Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi
The image inside Hoa Lo Prison | @trina_1408_

The most typical example is the medieval guillotine, the worst torture tool that made Hoa Lo Prison became the top feared prison in the world.

Another place in the prison cannot be ignored: Cachot (dungeon) that is the hell of hell., specializing in imprisoning prisoners considered as dangerous criminals. As the name suggests, this place is extremely dark, lack of air and very narrow.

Cachot (dungeon) is a terrible nightmare for any prisoner with brutal tortures and beatings. The prisoners stayed, slept, and went to the toilet on the spot. Almost the inmates here for a while had scabies, edema, and madness.

Although the torture and suppression were brutal, it could not kill the spirit and the indomitable will of the Revolutionary soldiers in Vietnam. The propaganda sessions of the Party’s movement and ideological revolution still quietly took place despite the beating of the guards.

In Hoa Lo prison, the revolutionary fire and the light of hope still crept through the dark corners of the prison.

Since 1954, The Vietnamese government had managed and temporarily used the Hoa Lo Prison to detain people who violated the law.

From 1964 – 1973, Hoa Lo prison was used to detain American pilots who were shot down while bombarded North Vietnam. During this period, American pilots gave Hoa Lo the humorous name “Hanoi Hilton”. The American pilots detained here, including Douglas Peter Peterson, who later became the first US Ambassador in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Hoa Lo prison is proof of the sacrifices, hardships, and strong fighting spirit of the revolutionary soldiers of Vietnam against the French colonialists. Also, this place is a condemnation of the brutal crimes for the colonization during the domination period in Vietnam.

Currently, Hoa Lo Prison has become a tourist destination in Hanoi, and a traditional educational place for patriotism to all classes of people, especially the young generation of Hanoi capital. Nowadays, Hoa Lo also attracts many domestic and international tourists to visit and study history.