Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Date: 1st January 2015

Hoa Lo Prison is located at no. 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, open from 8.30 am till 11.30am with lunch break for 2 hours before re-open at 13.30 pm till its closure time at 16.30 pm. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. The place is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese revolutionaries. The prison is now a museum albeit 2/3 of its original prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers. The museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling details.

The prison was also later known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War as it held American’s POW shot down. Little emphasis is given to this period however, and the exhibits shown can be frustratingly skewed in propaganda, choosing to show solely regime sanctioned photos of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball, playing chess, and other staged events. They also claim to have John McCain's flight suit from when his plane was shot down. It was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

Located in downtown Hanoi, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison or the Hanoi Hilton was built by the French administration in 1896. Originally intended to hold around 450 prisoners but by the 1930s the number of detainees had soared to almost 2,000. Majority of them being a political prisoners. During the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison achieved notoriety as a place of incarceration for downed US pilots, who ironically nick-named it the Hanoi Hilton.

It was named Maison Centrale during the French rule  as what the original sign still hangs over the entrance. Most of the prison complex was demolished in 1997 in order to make way for the Hanoi Central Tower building. However, the architects preserved enough of the old prison to create the Hoa Lo Prison Museum.

The majority of the exhibits here include a horrifying array of shackles, whips, and other instruments of torture, as well as tiny solitary confinement cells, which date from the French-colonial period. Also on display is part of the old, narrow more than 100 prisoners escaped in August 1945. A smaller section of the museum is devoted to the American period and, predictably enough, contrives to show how well US prisoners fared in contrast to the brutality shown to the Vietnamese by the French. At the back of the museum is the guillotine. A surprisingly small, simple yet terrifyingly.

We were inside in less than an hour. This prison museum was the first and the last that we both considered visiting. Though chu chi tunnel in Phnom Penh attracted so many visitors, Anne and I mutually agree to bypass that place, as the memoirs of thousand of peoples died during the was is painful to witness. Below are display from the US/Vietnam war.

Surprisingly we quite like the Hoa Lo Prison's external displays of the prisoners monument. It brought some kind of peaceful environment. You may check it out our photos that I shared from our visit below.

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