Hoa Lo - Hanoi Hilton Prison, Hanoi - review by Rusty Compass
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Hoa Lo - Hanoi Hilton Prison, Hanoi

| 31 Mar 2012
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Hoa Lo - Hanoi Hilton Prison, Hanoi
1 Hoa Lo St, Hanoi, Vietnam
0800 - 1630hrs
20,000VND

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Our rating
31 Mar 2012

Most of the infamous Hoa Lo Prison, aka Hanoi Hilton, was demolished to make way for an office and apartment complex in the 1990s. One wing has been preserved as a museum. It remembers the incarceration of American POWs during the Vietnam War, including Senator John McCain. The museum also tells the less known story of the horrors inflicted on some of Vietnam’s most celebrated nationalist leaders by French colonial authorities.

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Hanoi's Hoa Lo prison achieved international infamy when captured American pilots sarcastically dubbed it the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Presidential candidate and veteran US Senator John McCain is perhaps the best known of the prison's alumni to international visitors.

Hanoi,Hanoi Hilton prison,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerHoa Lo, Hanoi Hilton Prison
For the Vietnamese, the horrors of the prison, known to them as Hoa Lo, date back many decades to the barbaric repression meted out to their nationalist leaders by the French colonial administration. And John McCain is not the only political star to graduate from the Hanoi Hilton. Dozens of Vietnam's Communist luminaries predated McCain by decades including four former Communist Party Secretaries - Truong Chinh, Le Duan Nguyen Van Linh and Do Muoi. These men rose from their shackles to become the most powerful members of Vietnam's Communist leadership both during and after the American War.

The French established the Maison Centrale in the late nineteenth century and its expansion and overcrowding coincided with the the rise of Vietnam's nationalist movement. The name Hoa Lo means furnace and referred originally to the sale of wood furnaces that took place on the street. The prison's reputation for hellish barbarity saw the street name take on a new significance.

Hanoi,Hanoi Hilton prison,Vietnam
Photo: Mark BowyerHoa Lo, Hanoi Hilton Prison
Much of the prison complex was demolished to make way for an apartment and office tower in the early nineties. A small portion of the original building was preserved as a museum which, like its southern counterpart on Con Dao Island, tells stories of French brutality against Vietnamese nationalists as well as stories of nationalist heroism and escapes. A small section of the museum is dedicated to the US servicemen like McCain. The museum paints a picture of fraternal care that is at odds with the accounts of brutality and torture that US detainees reported after the war.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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