Maison Centrale in Hanoi, also known as Hoa Lo Prison and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ housed Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POW during the Vietnam War. The fortress was once a vast colonial-style prison, most of which was torn down in the 1990s.
Visiting today you will find the small southern section resting alongside a hotel and office complex.
The prison is still a popular tourist attraction for those on the war history trail. Official records claim inmates numbered in their hundreds although it was not unknown for up to 2,000 prisoners to be crammed into a space reserved for 600 inmates. Around 200-300 inmates were captured American pilots brought to Maison Centrale for interrogation and torture, it was the American prisoners who sarcastically gave the jail its nickname ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
Hoa Lo Prison today portrays a different side of the horror stories told by former inmates despite the prominently displayed shackles hanging on the walls. Much of the emphasis is on the Vietnamese revolutionaries some of whom were executed at the prison. The American POWs have well documented their own experiences, little of which is available at Maison Centrale today.
Situated in the centre of Hanoi close to the French Quarter, Maison Centrale was French built for housing Vietnamese political campaigners for independence and was completed in 1913. These campaigners were captured and usually shackled to the floor where they could easily be beaten by guards. Vietnamese prisoners were also executed here by use of a guillotine which today is displayed near the prisons infamous death row.
The prison was later used for American POWs, usually pilots caught when their planes went down. Today there is little evidence of the time spent here by the former American inmates although a great deal has been written by the survivors including their experiences in the much feared ‘blue room’. The blue room was used for the interrogation and torture of new prisoners and visitors can still see the room today although there is nothing on display here of the horror stories told by American POW’s which included former American presidential nominee John McCain.0