We visited the notorious Hoa Lo Prison built during the French colonial-era to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners. Hoa Lo or ‘Fiery Furnace’ was once a village known for its earthen home appliances like portable stoves. Then the French came along, moved out the village and replaced it with a large concrete prison. Majority of the prison site had already made way for urban development and only a small part of it still stands today.
I would have thought that Hoa Lo Prison would be somewhere on the outskirts but it’s actually centrally located in Hanoi. As a matter of fact, walking distance from the Old Quarter. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Was that what the French had thought? Nevertheless, behind the ‘Maison Centrale’ entrance was once where Vietnamese revolutionaries were held and executed. Some even suffered the gruesome fate of being decapitated… how sickening…
Rooms that remained display the harsh living conditions and how the Vietnamese prisoners were kept in leg irons.
There are plenty of exhibits to recount the horrible things that went on in Hoa Lo Prison.
A bunch of political prisoners managed to escape by creeping through the underground sewage system, no ordinary feat, just look at how much room they have inside the sewage.
After the French left, North Vietnamese Army took over the compound for the exact same use… to interrogate and torture the American prisoners of war. Obviously both the Vietnamese and American were tormented here but the exhibits are the focus on the sufferings of the Vietnamese during French colonial. There’s only one small room demonstrating the living conditions of American prisoners, seemingly with humane treatment. Seriously???
It was after all American prisoners who nicknamed Hoa Lo Prison the Hanoi Hilton…and what irony, for the sufferings they underwent. There’s also a display of the pilot suit belonging to John McCain, one of the American Senators.
Below is the stark contrast of Hanoi Hilton and the nearby Somerset Hanoi Grand hotel…thank goodness it isn’t Hilton Hotel, else the irony may be way too much for those Americans who had served their time here.
Thang Long Water Puppet Show
We also went for the Thang Long Water Puppet Show which gave a peep into Vietnamese culture and way of life. And although the performance is not in English, it’s still possible to get a grasp of the storyline that the expert puppeteers are demonstrating. Coupled with live music using traditional musical instruments, it’s a unique experience for us at Thang Long Water Puppet Show.