Hoa Lo Prison, hell’s hole in the heart of Hanoi city

Hoa Lo is a prison at the centre of Hanoi city. In here, there are many savage instruments of torture. The prison is considered as one of 5 creepiest places in South East Asia. Hoa Lo Prison deserves to be one of the most must-to-see places for tourists in Hanoi city.

Hoa Lo Prison from the high view
Hoa Lo Prison from the high view

History of Hoa Lo Prison

The prison was named after Hoa Lo street where residents mainly sold wood stoves and coal-fire stoves from pre-colonial times. Hoa Lo means “fiery furnace” or even “hell’s hole”.

French Colonialism

French colonists built the prison in 1886 at the suburban area of the city. They used it as central prison for both Central and North Vietnam during French colonialism. There were many kinds of prisoners, mostly political prisoners along with patriots who struggled for independence and freedom of the country. The prison was near Hanoi’s French Quarter.

French name “Maison centrale” above the gate of Hoa Lo
French name “Maison Centrale” above the gate of Hoa Lo

While discovering Hoa Lo Prison, tourists still can see the French name “Maison Centrale” above the gate of Hoa Lo. The French called the prison Central House in English or “Ngục thất Hà Nội” in Vietnamese.

From 1954 to 1973

After 1954, Hoa Lo Prison became the prison of Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Throughout Operation Linebacker II of Vietnam War, it was the place for U.S parachute jump pilots until Paris Peace Accords in 1973. The pilots called the prison “Hanoi Hilton”.

Present Days

Nowadays, Hoa Lo Prison maintaa ins small area for tourists. Travelers in Vietnam tour can reach the prison at No. 1, Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi city. It opens from 8am to 5pm everyday (including holidays). The ticket is VND 30,000/ adult and free for children under the age of 15.

Hoa Lo Prison nowadays
Hoa Lo Prison nowadays

Structure of Hoa Lo Prison

In general, Hoa Lo Prison was a fortified building with strong materials and closed structure. It was one of the biggest and strongest prison in Indochina at that time.

Zones

Firstly, the prison consists of 4 zones: A, B, C and D. Zone A and B was the place for inmates under consideration, important inmates or inmates who violated prison rules. The prison rules have been maintained to present days. Tourists can see rules on a board in Hoa Lo Prison Historical Relic. Zone C was for France and other foreign detainees. Zone D was for prisoners who had been sentenced to death under consideration of approval or commutation.

Hoa Lo Prison Rules
Hoa Lo Prison Rules

The prison was totally 12000 m2 square. It could keep from 460 to 600 inmates. Notwithstanding, due to the fierce defense of the Vietnamese, it was often overcrowded. In 1916, there were about 730 detainees given on a day. It raised up to 895 in 1922 and 1430 in 1933. That prisoners were kept under subhuman conditions makes Hoa Lo Prison become a symbol of French colonialist exploitation. Up to now, the prison is more than 2000 m2 square and preserved as a historical relic.

Security system

Surrounding the prison are reinforced walls of 4-meter height and 0.5-meter thickness. They have been still strong and solid for more than a century. The top of them are full of electric wires and sharp pieces from glasses. System of steel doors and keys was brought from French and strictly controlled before construction.

Stone walls full of sharp pieces from glasses and electric wires
Stone walls full of sharp pieces from glasses and electric wires

With a stringent security system, Hoa Lo Prison was the pride of French colonists to be inescapable. However, there were many successful prison breaks by sawing grids of underground sewers in the death camp and sneaking out.

System of Cells

There are detention rooms, dark rooms and cells. They are all cramped as well as oppressive. Dark rooms called cachot are used to hold prisoners who violated the prison rules, arranged violent fights, escape or propagated revolution. Taking a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, tourists will know why cachot is called “Hell of hell”. Not to mention darkness and narrowness, design of cachot makes prisoners absolutely hopeless and desperate.

Prisoner in cachot
Prisoner in cachot

In cachot, an inmate is isolated and chained in the dark. To be worse, they only can do personal activities on the spot. Floor is precipitous so that prisoners cannot lie down. As a result, the prisoner will get edema, scabies along withblur vision. Cachot takes all spirit and hope of prisoner.

Death cells are deep at the end of the dark hall. To reach there, tourists will pass through three steel gates.

Brutal torture methods used in Hoa Lo Prison

From warden to tools, everything in the prison is hell with prisoners.

Savage warders

Warders in Hoa Lo are cruel and violent. They have been not only well-trained but also experienced in managing the prison. They are willing to beat harshly or suppress even kill inmates. More than that, jailers force prisoners to suffer strenuous labor works including repairing houses, grinding rice, working in the housing area of warders or in battlefields.

Picture about torture in Hoa Lo Prison
Picture about torture in Hoa Lo Prison

There are pictures on a wall in Hoa Lo museum which describes how strictly warders beat, torture chained prisoners in detail.

Torturing Instruments

French colonists use heavy cangues and steel chains to hold prisoners. In detention rooms and cachot, fixed steel cangues lock inmates’ legs so that they cannot move or do anything. In cells for female prisoners, there is no cangues in case they have to take care of their child. Nonetheless, warders have their own vicious instruments of torture. They used electric motors for electric shock or crude batons for corporal punishment at private parts of female political prisoners.

Electric motors for torture towards female prisoners
Electric motors for torture towards female prisoners

Among savage instruments of torture, the most horrible one in Hoa Lo Prison may be the medieval guillotine. It consists of two 4-meters high wooden piers with a weighted and sharp blade on the top. The blade is attached to the bottom of a massive wooden block that slide up and down in grooves in the uprights. At the bottom are crossbar and stock for condemned people to position their neck directly below the blade.

Once released, the blade falls quickly and forcefully behead prisoner with a single pass. Below is a basket for the head and a rattan container for the body.

Medieval guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison
Medieval guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison is an interesting attraction for tourists who want to discover dark parts of Vietnamese history in wars. It has is an historical witness and has many important values.  Beside Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi city has many other destinations such as Dong Xuan market, Hanoi Old Quarter, snake village, etc. Taking a visit to Hanoi and discovering unique places will surely give you unforgettable memories.


>>> Interested in visiting Hoa Lo Prison? See our Hanoi City Tour!


 

Hoa Lo Prison, hell’s hole in the heart of Hanoi city
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