Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison Relic is one of the must-visiting historical attractions when you travel to Hanoi to know more about the fascinating history of Vietnam.

Hoa Lo Prison Relic is a historical site built during the French colonization period for the French colonists in Indochina to keep political prisoners. Later, during the Vietnam War, it was used by North Vietnam for US prisoners. Since then, the prison has had another ironic name, "Hanoi Hilton". 

Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison - An earnest relic with a great length of history

The name Hoa Lo can be translated as "fiery furnace" or even "Hell's hole", indicating it's a hard place to survive. The construction was demolished in the 1990s, and the gatehouse became a museum. A part of it was retained and transformed into a historical site. Located in the French Quarter of Hanoi, the place is a red address to teach about patriotism and national pride. It attracts both domestic and international tourists.


History Of Hoa Lo Prison Relic

  • In The French Era

Hoa Lo Prison Relic was built between 1986 - 1901 by the French under the name "Maison Centrale". Together with Son La Prison and Con Dao Prison, Hoa Lo Prison are the three most savage prisons in Vietnam. A large number of Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters were kept and tortured physically and mentally till their death.

The prison was designed for 500 people, but the real number is more than 2,000. Besides, they had to suffer from terrible conditions, such as poor quality food and hygiene. 

History Of Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison - One of the most inhumane prisons with terrifying punishment

Despite the savagely cruel infliction, the detained revolutionists still believed in the victory of the Communist Party and were ready to fight for it. They turned the prison into a "school" to spread the ideology. Many of the prisoners were Vietnamese revolution leaders. Later on, after the 1954 Geneva Accords, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam took control of the prison.

  • In Vietnam War

From 1964 to 1973, after the Vietnamese government came to power, the Hoa Lo Prison Relic was used to capture prisoners of war. Many pilots shot down during their bombing raids against North Vietnam were sent there.

The prisoners of that time included Douglas Peter Peterson - the first US Ambassador in Vietnam, and John McCain, a US Senator. During this period, the American POWs sarcastically gave it the nickname the "Hanoi Hilton".

Hoa Lo Prison Relic In Vietnam War

Imprison and torture Vietnamese who battle with colonial policy

The place was still in use in the late 1970s and the early 1980s after the release of the US prisoners. In the 1990s, it was demolished. Only one part of the prison is preserved as a museum, displaying mostly the French colonial period. 

  • Highlight Events

Despite the fearsome reputation of Hoa Lo Prison, several successful escapes were made during its history. They're all miraculous and brave jailbreaks proving patriotism and revolutionary spirit. 

  • In 1932: seven prisoners pretended to be seriously ill. With help from outside, they successfully fled on the way to be transferred to the clinic.
  • In March 1945: there was a mass escape of 150 prisoners. The disorder between the Japanese and French in World War II is a favorable condition for the jailbreak. The political prisoners mixed with common criminals then exchanged prison uniforms with daily clothes from visitors, walked out decently, and escaped.
  • On Christmas Night of 1951: 17 death-sentenced prisoners managed to break out by creeping through the sewer tube. They had to crawl through the small, dense, stiff stink tubes to get out to the street. After getting out of the horrible underground sewer door, the siren rumbled, and they ran to Nha Dau Xao (now Viet-Soviet Friendship Cultural Palace). They were surrounded and beaten by batons. Only five of them could escape. The rest 12 people were caught back; some were tortured and executed, and some were exiled to Con Dao Prison.


Architecture & Structure Of Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison Relic used to have a total square meter of 12,000m2, with a construction area of around 10,000m2. Nowadays, only 2,500m2 is preserved. The property consists of the following:

  • A house for guarding
  • A "hospital" house 
  • A workshop for making iron, textiles, leather products
  • Seven houses to detain the accused prisoners
  • Four cells for danger and rules violated one

Hoa Lo Prison Relic Structure

The structure of Hoa Lo Prison from a bird's-eye view

The prison is designed to be unbreakable with a solid structure of high-quality materials. The surrounding stone walls are 4 meters high and 0,5 meters thick, enhanced with high voltage wires to prevent the prisoner from escaping.

There are four watch towels to observe inside and outside the property. The 1,6-ton ironwood door blocks all the way of entering and exiting; even an ant can't go through. All the door and lock systems are brought from France.

The complex contains dark corridors and rooms. Together with the concrete structure, the overcrowded, lack of air, and dark cells with aggressive prison guards made Hoa Lo one of the most frightening places in Southeast Asia. 

  • Stockade For Female Political Prisoners

The stockade for females was around 270m2, divided into four smaller ones. Besides, there was a stockade for female prisoners with their babies. The area was built to keep a maximum of 100 prisoners; in reality, about 300 people were suffering. 

Besides the small square meter for that many people, there was a lack of running water, proper food, and hygiene conditions. Life here was extremely horrible, leading to many deaths of female patriots. 

  • Stockade For Female Prisoners With Babies

Another inhumane corner of the prison is where women were detained with their infants. Babies were not supplied with food but from their moms' meager rations. The terrible living conditions led to malnourishment, diseases, disability, and even death for innocent young creatures. 

  • E Stockade For Male Political Prisoners

The E stockade has two rows where male political prisoners were cuffed in sitting positions. At one end of the stockade, there's an open latrine. Not only suffering from discomfort and low sanitary conditions, but prisoners were also always the target of violent actions by the guards every day. 

E Stockade For Male Political Prisoners

Male prisoners miserable in the prison cells

  • Cachot Area

One of the scariest areas of Hoa Lo Prison Relic is the cachet (or dungeon in English). This dark prison is known as the hell of the hell as prisoners were kept isolated in a narrow and dark space for a minimum of 15 hours to a maximum of 30 days. They were forced to eat, sleep and defecate in one place.

Their ankles were not simply shackled on the floor but on a 45-degree declining slope. They couldn't eat normally, couldn't lie down to sleep, and mostly had no feeling in their arms and legs. After being released from there, prisoners became blind, deaf, lame, and edematous.

  • Cells For Prisoners Sentenced To Death

Prisoners sentenced to death were usually kept in a special area for 3 - 4 days to 3 months before their execution. To go there, you need to go through 3 iron door layers. The cells were dark and lacked air, so prisoners had to do everything in that row.


How To Get To Hoa Lo Prison Relic

  • Address: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Open hours: 08:00 - 17:00 daily, including Tet and national events; lunch break from 11:30 to 13:30
  • Entrance ticket price
    • Adult (Vietnamese and foreigners): 30,000 VND
    • Disabled people, the elderly (Over 60): 15,000 VND
    • Children under the age of 15: Free

There are many ways to get to this famous attraction, such as by taxi, bus, motorbike, and walking. 

By taxi

From Hanoi City Center, you can call a taxi to give you a drive to Hoa Lo Prison Relic. Here's some advice. Ask the receptionist to book a taxi for you rather than catching one outside to avoid scamming and overpaying. 

By Grab car

Grab car is a good option if you want to travel by car. The price of around $4 is ideal when moving inside the city. You can save even more if you have some discount vouchers on the app.

By Grab motorbike

In Vietnam, motorbikes are a common and convenient vehicle. It's cheaper than getting a taxi or Grab car and only takes you around 15 minutes from Hoan Kiem lake to the attraction. Similar to the Grab car, the route of the Grab motorbike is set on the app, so you don't need to worry about the drivers trying to go around to take more money from you.

By public bus

The public bus costs 15,000 VND per person. Some bus lines have stops around Hoa Lo Hilton, such as 02, 09, 23, 32, 34, and 38. 


Walking or traveling by bicycle is also a good option when you're not too tired and want to combine physical training with exploring the city. There are many places giving bicycles for rent in the Old Quarter.

Though the way to get there is not so complicated, bring a map or turn on the Internet for your Google map in case. You can ask the locals in any situation, and they're always happy to assist you.


Things to Do at Hoa Lo Prison Relic

  • Daytime Sightseeing

The Museum is divided into many sections according to different historical periods. The main entrance still keeps its original French name, "Maison Centrale". Entering the entrance, you'll get to the section about the area that was once a village before the French decided to build the prison.

Pictures Of French Colonial Brutality

Tourists are learning about the concept of prisoners digging sewer tunnels to escape

The next sections are pictures of French colonial brutality. There are several dummies of horrible iron shackles and a few small isolated cells. Then, you go out and walk along the courtyard. You can peek at several graphic reliefs of the terrible prison life on its wall.

Besides, there's a display of two artifacts that belong to the former prison: small sections of the sewer that prisoners escaped through in 1945 and 1951. In addition, in a large downstairs room, it's the guillotine - the execution instrument. After that artifact, it's the cells in which sentenced-to-death prisoners used to stay. 

The next sections are about the American POWs period. There are pictures and artifacts of many remarkable events, such as the shooting down of American planes. Pictures show how American soldiers are detained, opposite to the horrible way that Vietnamese patriots had to suffer. Therefore, visitors can understand more about the communist spirit of the time and the humanitarian policy of the country towards US pilots.

The property obtains the design of French in 19 century, making the attractions a place for taking pictures or just walking around and enjoying.

  • Night Tour

Besides daytime visiting, you can choose the night tour, the tour of horror and heroes to discover Hoa Lo Prison Relic. The tour attracts both domestic and international tourists who want to know more about its horrific history and the fighting spirit of Vietnamese soldiers. 

The tour is an immersive experience from the main gate that you'll never forget. Before starting the tour, you'll be provided with a headphone so you can easily follow the instructions. The journey brings you back in time to visit the dark cells, the guillotine, and the separate stockade for male and female prisoners. 

A terrifying night tour at Hoa Lo Prison

The 45-minute night tour gives visitors the emotional feelings that the daytime one can't offer. It's like a rollercoaster ride of emotions: terrifying the crucial French colonial prison, admiring the prisoners' spirit and sacrifice, and being proud of the nation's unyielding spirit. 

The night tour is available every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 19:00 with the price of 100,000 VND.


Hoa Lo Prison Relic Services

Below is the table of services and prices:


Guide Book

Audioguide Souvenir Store
Price VND 20,000

VND 100,000

Depends on the products

The prices of the table above may be changed depending on the Hoa Lo Prison policy or the exchange rate.


Tips For The Best Experience At Hoa Lo Prison Relic

  • Pay attention to the opening hour to avoid their lunch break if you don't want to spend time waiting outside for the afternoon opening.
  • Travelers must follow the instructions on safety guidelines and fire prevention. 
  • Do not touch or move any object displayed in prison. 
  • The gruesome displays are not suitable for children.
  • Since the prison was to keep many people and witnessed death, you can feel emotional difficulty. 


The article above has provided much useful information about Hoa Lo Prison Relic. If its history attracts you, put it on your must-visiting list to feel the once patriotism and communist spirit. You can also combine the visit with the tour to other top attractions in the city. Let's contact BestPrice Travel and we can help you arrange an interesting itinerary that you'll never forget. 

Trip that visit Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison Relic Map

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