Hoa Lo Prison Memorial - Hanoi's Most Popular Areas

Hỏa Lò Prison (Vietnamese: [Hỏa Lò]) was a prison used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished during the 1990s, although the gatehouse remains as a museum.

  Monday, 10/02/2020, 21:21
Situated in the centre of Hanoi close to the French Quarter, Maison Centrale was French built for housing Vietnamese political campaigners for independence and was completed in 1913. These campaigners were captured and usually shackled to the floor where they could easily be beaten by guards. Vietnamese prisoners were also executed here by use of a guillotine which today is displayed near the prisons infamous death row.



Maison Centrale is accessed via a gate on Hoa Lo Street with the sign Maison Centrale at the entrance. A taxi is the easiest way to get to Hoa Lo prison which is located at the right corner of Hai Ba Trung street on the edge of the French Quarter. You can easily combine this visit with a trip to Hoan Kiem Lake which is nearby.

Opening Hours: open daily from 08:00 until 17:00 and closed from lunch from 11:30 until 13:30
Location: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi.
Entrance fee: 30,000vnd (~$1.5)


This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US prisoners of war (POWs) during the American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War.

These pilots include Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995) and Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008). McCain’s flight suit is displayed, along with a photograph of Hanoi locals rescuing him from Truc Bach Lake after being shot down in 1967.



The vast prison complex was built by the French in 1896. Originally intended to house around 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Hoa Lo was never a very successful prison, and hundreds escaped its walls over the years – many squeezing out through sewer grates.

The name 'Hoa Lo' means' 'stove' or 'furnace'. Most of the prison was demolished in the 1990s and high-rises (including the Somerset Grand Hanoi) and other developments were built upon its land, though the section in a corner of the plot containing the museum survives.

Hoa Lo Prison today portrays a different side of the horror stories told by former inmates despite the prominently displayed shackles hanging on the walls. Much of the emphasis is on the Vietnamese revolutionaries some of whom were executed at the prison. The American POWs have well documented their own experiences, little of which is available at Maison Centrale today.



The prison was later used for American POWs, usually pilots caught when their planes went down. Today there is little evidence of the time spent here by the former American inmates although a great deal has been written by the survivors including their experiences in the much feared ‘blue room’. The blue room was used for the interrogation and torture of new prisoners and visitors can still see the room today although there is nothing on display here of the horror stories told by American POW’s which included former American presidential nominee John McCain.

Nothing prepares you for how creepy Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam can be. A visit to the "Hanoi Hilton" can inspire sorrow, disgust, and, depending on your politics, different flavors of outrage.

Forget about the "Hanoi Hilton" described in gory detail by survivors like John McCain and Robinson Risner, or movies like the Hanoi Hilton. The prison's displays focus on the sufferings of Vietnamese revolutionaries who were confined (and sometimes executed) here when the French were the masters of Vietnam in the early part of the 20th century.

When the American POWs do make an appearance, they're presented as clean-shaven, well-treated, and making nice with their captors - all in a single room silently overseen by John McCain's captured flight suit.

Nevertheless, the Hoa Lo Prison is worth a visit, if only to experience the colonial experience as the Vietnamese see fit to tell it, and guess at the stories untold by the silent walls and shackles on prominent display. Walking Through the Present-Day Hanoi Hilton
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