April 2018. What an amazing, horrifying, fascinating and beautiful place this former prison is, located in Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Street just a fifteen minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. Established in 1896 by French colonialists, the centre was used to detain, torture and execute Vietnamese political activists and freedom fighters.
April 2018. The horrors suffered by the Vietnamese are told through the sobering “bare feet, steely will” exhibition. There are info panels, photo boards, paintings, installations and replica cells, as well as the actual guillotine used during executions back in the day. Somehow, despite the awful conditions, the prisoners managed to self educate, learn about communism and club together to plan future uprisings from both within and outside the prison walls. In fact, five former Hoa Lo inmates went on to hold high-ranking positions in the Vietnamese Communist Party.
April 2018. The prisoners at Hoa Lo Prison were eventually liberated when the French were overturned in 1954. This striking memorial wall at the back of the complex stands in tribute to all those who lost their lives here in defense of their country and the ideals laid forth by revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.
April 2018. Later on, at the height of The Vietnam War, and with a rapidly increasing number of American POWs to deal with, Hoa Lo became a prison once more. The American pilots that were housed here ironically nicknamed Hoa Lo The Hanoi Hilton, and their backstories can be read here in the museum’s narrow Finding Memories lane. It’s riveting stuff, especially the bits on Pete Peterson, who later became the first US Ambassador to Vietnam, as well as former US President nominee Senator John McCain. Stunning photographs of McCain’s rescue and detainment are on display, along with the pilot’s suit he was wearing when he was shot down.
April 2018. There are all kinds of cool relics on display from this period: Video footage of pilots being led away to Hoa Lo, black and white stills of the detainees playing basketball and billiards and a whole bunch of weapons, costumes, diaries and treasured personal items. My favorite though, has to be this handwritten New Year’s message from Ho Chi Minh. “Let’s fight so the Yanks quit and the puppets topple!” Hoa Lo Prison is open daily from 08:00-17:00. The entrance fee is 30.000VND (£0.90/€1.00/$1.30)
For more on Vietnam’s amazing capital, have a look at more of my pieces from around Hanoi.
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