“What tongueless ghost of sin crept through my curtains?” – Noel Gallagher.
The Hanoi Hilton isn’t a hotel. Well it might be, but the one I’m talking about here is a prison. It’s officially called Hoa Lo Prison but has earned the nickname “The Hanoi Hilton” over the years. It’s no longer used as a prison and is now a fully functional museum which acts as some kind of insight into what life might have been like here in the gory days. Yes gory, definitely not glory. Guillotines and guns…that’s what visiting Hoa Lo Prison is all about.
How to get to Hoa Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton)
Most tourists will walk there and I did too. If you’re staying in the old quarter, it’s only a 10 minute walk. It’s address is 1 Hoa Lo Street, which is just off Hai Ba Trung, just south of the Old Town. There is absolutely no need to use public transport or motorbikes to get there. Plus if you have been to Hanoi you will know the transport is mostly motorbikes, so buses aren’t really an option for streets like this one.
How much does visiting Hoa Lo Prison cost?
As of August 2012 when I went the price is 20,000 Dong. This is payable on arrival, there is no advance booking or any need to. In US Dollars this works out at less than $1 US (about 93 cents). You will be given a ticket which includes access to all areas. That’s it!
What are the opening times of Hoa Lo Prison?
It’s open most days from 8am – 11.30 am and 1.30 – 4.30 pm, but I noted it closes on Mondays. Please research this first as the opening times are always subject to change. Ask at your hostel and they will know the latest.
What is there to see inside Hoa Lo Prison?
Hoa Lo Prison is now a museum and contains a lot of information and a lot of rooms. If you are really into your history you can lose a few hours in here. Personally I preferred looking at the cells, the guillotines, the prison quarters and the sad death cells.
These cells were for those who knew their fate. A very chilling experience, I’d even put it on a par to my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, the Genocide Museum in Bosnia, the German Death Camp at Auschwitz, Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors in Iraq and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. Here’s a few things I did:
– put my feet into the fixed bars to experience what being a prisoner might have felt like. One minute was enough for me – God only knows how grim this life was.
– stared blankly into the death cells and walked along the corridor. Darkness dominates.
– looked eerily at the guillotines wondered what ghostless tongue of sin invented such a horrible piece of material. Ghastly.
– took some time to ponder the importance of life. It was tough.
The main part of the museum concentrates on the French history in Vietnam. Yes it was the Vietnamese struggle for independence from the French which came long before the American War (also known as the ‘Vietnam War’ if you’re American) and it was the Americans that coined the name “The Hanoi Hilton” – a complete irony on this sad building complex which was the home of thousands of prisoners, some of whom were killed within its compounds. Sad, but honestly it’s worth a trip and will cost you less than a dollar.
My thanks to Hiroko from Japan and Daeuk from South Korea who were my travel buddies on this trip. Great memories with them. Visiting Hoa Lo Prison is recommended.
My videos on visiting Hoa Lo Prison:
The Death Cells at Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi:
Outside the Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi:
A lonely cell at the Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi:
The museum part of Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi: