The Hoa Lo Prison Memorial in Hanoi was also called Maison Centrale. It was known as “hell on earth” during the French Colonization period. From 1896 to 1954 it became a school for Vietnamese patriotic soldiers. During the Vietnam War, it was called Hilton Hanoi bu US pilots who were arrested in North Vietnam. Now it stands as a museum and memorial.
As I walked in, I gazed its architecture and listened to stories of political prisoners played on the audio guide. The patriotism, resilience, courage through struggles were very evident. I imagined what it must have been like. The walls were thick, the rooms where prisoners were kept in were dark. Some prisoners had their feet cuffed.
Two places stood out for me in this museum: the first was the hall where the torture artifacts and the guillotine were kept – this was where I broke down and did my best to stifle tears. What terror and agony this room must have seen! I couldn’t understand how people in the past had the stomach to torture other beings.
The second was an ancient almond tree which provider medicinal relief and solace to the prisoners at the time. It made me think that this tree was also a witness of all the pain and sadness in the prison, and stood as a sign of solace and hope.
Hoa Lo Prison is located at No1, Hoa Lo Street, Ho Kiem District, Hanoi. Entrance fee per adult is 30,000 VND. Audio guides are available for 50,000 VND.