The History Of Hoa Lo Prison Museum In Hanoi City

You can always be prepared for what’s to come; however, you can never be ready for its impact on you. Similarly, Hoa Lo Prison, also known as Hell’s Hole, can stir up different, unexpected emotions or reactions once you get a chance to visit this creepy, historical figure for a lesson in its history and to get a taste of the extraordinary tales that come with it.

Depending on your levels of empathy, a tour down Hanoi Hilton, which is also another name for Hoa Lo Prison, might find you full of rage, disgust, interest, wonder or inspiration as this gruesome facility is said to be a house of torture in ways a man cannot even imagine. Stroll down the halls of the prison and explore the tales of this ancient home of misery and suffering and get a feeling of a day well spent learning a little history in an unimaginable place.


These self-made museum housing the treasures of history is located within the French Quarter of Hanoi.

Add: 1 Hoa Lo streets, Tran Hung Dao ward, Hoan Kiem dist, Ha Noi, Vietnam

History/ origin

As interesting as this prison sounds, its initial inhabitants can justify why this place was a recipe for disaster in their lives. Started in the 1890s, the prison was formerly used by the French colonialists to detain Vietnamese political prisoners together with US prisoners of war captured in the Vietnam war.

The prison has had countless of nicknames, most of which were given by its tortured inhabitants and they include:

  • Hell’s Hole
  • Hanoi Hilton
  • Fiery Furnace

The prison’s capacity was expanded from hundreds to about 2000 prisoners all living in filthy conditions, chained down for the better part of their lives. From the exterior, you might notice a bright, colorful structure, but once you get to stroll through the corridors and see the millions of pieces of glass on the fences and walls that were used to prevent prisoners from escaping, you will then know that this was not a fun place to be for prisoners.

Detainees’ conditions

The prison was built to hold 45 prisoners but made an outstanding record for detaining up to about 2000 captives. Each cell was designed to keep a maximum of 40 inmates, but the prison wardens managed to squeeze in an extra 60 for them to become a total of 100; however small the cell may be.

Women seemed to have it worse as a maximum of 200 female detainees could be squeezed into one cell regardless of their conditions such as if some were pregnant or already had babies. These poor conditions lead to many deaths of women in the cells.

Prisoners were kept in a long room in two rows with shackles on their feet, and their only hope of physical relief was a single latrine at the end of the room. They were fed rotting food twice a day and allowed only about 20 minutes for relief.

The inmates slept side by side on elevated concrete platforms that ran along the walls with their legs in chains.

Death row dungeon

This room was considered the most intimidating with inmate cells containing prisons to be put to death. In the middle of the room stands a tall guillotine which was used to execute prisoners on death row. The place is dark and spooky giving a fearful experience to those who were unlucky to be detained there.

Chances of escape

Hoa Lo Prison looks like an impenetrable building where nothing or no one can walk out willingly. However, there have been a few cases of inmates escaping through a sewer while others amazingly walked right out during the confusion transition in world war two between the French and Japanese.

In conclusion, Hoa Lo Prison was a building out of a horror film where inmates were brutally treated and tortured as well. This inspiring monument is a representation of how Vietnam struggled to get its independence.