Hoa Lo prison complex was built by the French in 1896. Originally intended to house around 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Hoa Lo prison was never a very successful prison, and hundreds escaped its walls over the years – many squeezing out through sewer grates.
What you see of the present-day Hoa Lo Prison is actually only the small southern section of the entire prison complex back in the day; most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s to make way for the Hanoi Towers, a shiny office and hotel complex so steeped in capitalism it would have horrified Ho Chi Minh.
Nothing prepares you for how creepy Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, Vietnam can be. A visit to the “Hanoi Hilton” can inspire sorrow, disgust, and, depending on your politics, different flavors of outrage.
Prisoners in Hoa Lo prison were shackled to the floor and were often beaten by the guards. The “E” stockade (pictured above) housed political prisoners, who were cuffed in a seating position and arranged in two rows. A latrine stands at one end of the stockade, in full view of other prisoners.
Nevertheless, the Prison is worth a visit, if only to experience the colonial experience as the Vietnamese see fit to tell it, and guess at the stories untold by the silent walls and shackles on prominent display. Walking Through the Present-Day Hanoi Hilton.