Located in the center of Hanoi, the historical site of Hoa Lo Prison is where the images, artifacts, and memories of the painful atrocities that can never be forgotten by the revolutionary soldiers of Vietnam are preserved. Over 120 years have passed, and now, life is peaceful, and the pain is slowly fading in the memories of every revolutionary soldier. Hoa Lo Prison has become an attractive tourist destination, drawing a large number of tourists from both domestic and foreign visitors.
Overview and History of the Formation of Hoa Lo Prison
To counter the Vietnamese people’s resistance movements in the late 19th century, French colonialists reinforced their oppressive machinery by increasing the police force, perfecting the court system, and constructing a network of prisons. Hoa Lo Prison was built in 1896 under the name Maison Centrale. The name “Hoa Lo” originates from the fact that this prison was constructed on the land of Phụ Khanh village, a renowned handicraft village in Hanoi at that time, which specialized in pottery production and had kilns burning day and night, so it was called “Hoa Lo Prison.”
At that time, this area was still in the outskirts of the city, and the prison was built to detain primarily political prisoners and patriots who opposed the colonial regime. The area of Hoa Lo Prison covered up to 12,000 square meters, making it the most advanced prison in Indochina.
The structure of the prison consisted of thick stone walls, 0.5 meters wide and 4 meters tall, reinforced with barbed wire. The prison compound was divided into four different sections with various functions:
- Zones A and B: for inmates with lighter offenses, during investigation, or for violating prison regulations.
- Zone C: for French and foreign prisoners.
- Zone D: for inmates with serious offenses awaiting the death penalty.
Today, only an area of about 2,434 square meters of Hoa Lo Prison remains, preserved as a historical site for visitors. Especially since 2019, Hoa Lo Prison has implemented an automated narration system to serve tourists. With this equipment, visitors can experience 35 historical stories, told in the words of the political prisoners themselves, about the hardships of life in the prison…
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The Guillotine in Hoa Lo Prison
Inside Hoa Lo Prison, there was a guillotine used for beheading prisoners. The guillotine consisted of two 4-meter tall wooden columns with a sharp blade suspended at the top. Below the blade were two crescent-shaped wooden pieces joined together to hold the prisoner’s head. In front of it was an iron receptacle to catch the severed heads, and next to it was a wicker basket to contain the remains.
Dark Cells (Cachot)
The dark cells of Hoa Lo Prison are often likened to the hell within hell – a place where prisoners were shackled, humiliated, and tortured in a dark, cramped space measuring only about 4 square meters. Prisoners in the dark cells would often develop sores and swellings due to poor sanitation and lack of sunlight. In addition to the humiliation, all prisoners in this section had to perform grueling labor under the watchful eye of the guards. Prisoners sentenced to death were held deep within the prison compound, passing through three iron gates before reaching their destination.
The Large Terminalia Catappa Trees in the Hoa Lo Prison Yard
The unique feature of Hoa Lo Prison is the large Terminalia Catappa trees in the prison yard. According to accounts from some former political prisoners at Hoa Lo Prison, the origin of these Terminalia Catappa trees dates back to before 1930 when prisoners sentenced to sanitation labor had to work alongside the court. They collected wild Terminalia Catappa saplings from grassy areas and brought them to plant in the prison yard.
After some time, the Terminalia Catappa trees grew and became intertwined with many generations of political prisoners in this place. Prisoners would often rest under the shade of these trees, using Terminalia Catappa seeds and leaves for medicinal purposes. As of now, these Terminalia Catappa trees have reached an age of nearly a hundred years.
Address and Opening Hours for Visiting Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison address in Hanoi: 1 Hoa Lo Street, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Hoa Lo Prison welcomes visitors from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day of the week, including holidays and Tet (Vietnamese New Year). Night tours, on the other hand, take place from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Getting to Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison is just over 1 kilometer away from Hoan Kiem Lake and a little over 2 kilometers from the Old Quarter. You can walk if the weather is nice, which is also an opportunity to explore the streets of Hanoi. Another interesting option is to hire a cyclo, a vehicle that can carry two people.
Ticket Prices & Tours for Hoa Lo Prison 2023/2024
The historical site of Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi currently offers two types of tickets with different experiences, including Daytime Tour Tickets and Night Tour Tickets of Hoa Lo Prison.
Daytime Tour at Hoa Lo Prison
Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adults (15 years and older): 30,000 VND per person.
- Students, seniors (60 years and older), and individuals with social policy affiliations: 15,000 VND per person.
- Children under 15, disabled individuals, and those with contributions to the revolution: Free of charge.
After purchasing your ticket, you can explore the exhibition rooms, and each exhibit is accompanied by informative plaques. You can also rent a walkie-talkie with headphones to listen to narrations and quotes from the individuals who were once held in Hoa Lo Prison.
The tour begins with visits to different areas of the prison, starting with well-lit spaces and gradually immersing you in darkness. The exhibits of the prisoners’ belongings and clothing, combined with the narrations, are sure to evoke a sense of “horror” at the cruelty of the French colonialists during that time.
Night Tour at Hoa Lo Prison
To help visitors gain a deeper understanding of the pain endured during the wars in Vietnam, Hoa Lo Prison’s historical site organizes night tours with the theme “Sacred Night.” These tours take place every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM. Due to limited capacity, if you wish to attend this tour, you should book your tickets in advance, ideally 1-2 months ahead.
This tour combines sound, lighting, and the theatrical artistry of Hoa Lo Prison’s actors to provide you with an incredibly authentic and vivid experience of the intense struggles of the soldiers who bravely sacrificed for peace and freedom in Vietnam.
In addition to offering visually and aurally engaging experiences, the staff at Hoa Lo Prison’s historical site also prepares souvenir gifts like tea, desserts, pastries, and Terminalia Catappa jelly, all made from the last remaining Terminalia Catappa tree in the prison, to present to tour participants.
The ticket price for the Hoa Lo Prison night tour is 300,000 VND per person.
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Some Notes When Visiting Hoa Lo Prison Historical Site
When visiting Hoa Lo Prison, please take note of the following regulations:
- Do not bring explosives or flammable materials onto the historical site premises, and store personal belongings in the designated areas.
- Dispose of trash in the designated bins and refrain from smoking during the tour.
- Do not move any artifacts within the historical site.
- Maintain general order and avoid speaking too loudly.
- Only light incense and place flowers in the commemorative area.
Visiting Hoa Lo Prison, one of the most infamous prisons in the world, will be a nostalgic and emotional journey for every traveler who comes here. It will take you back in time, allowing you to fully understand the hardships and sacrifices made by revolutionary soldiers for the independence of Vietnam. Hoa Lo Prison is included in our Hanoi city tour itinerary; please contact our tour guides if you wish to book a tour.
Additionally, you can combine your visit to Hoa Lo Prison with nearby tourist attractions such as Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature, Hanoi Opera House, Hanoi night market, the Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long, Ho Guom Opera House,…