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Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

Welcome to the heart of Hanoi, where history echoes through the halls of Hoa Lo Prison, affectionately known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

This guide promises to unravel the intriguing tales behind the formidable walls and share some witty insights to make your visit memorable.

The Not-So-Friendly Hilton

Prepare for a visit at the “Hanoi Hilton” that won’t earn you any loyalty points. 

Despite its nickname, this historical site has a past that’s far from luxurious. 

Discover the gripping stories of prisoners who experienced this less-than-five-star accommodation during the Vietnam War.

French Colonial Chains: Hoa Lo’s Earlier Years

From Maison Centrale to Hoa Lo

Step into the time machine and travel back to the late 19th century when Hoa Lo Prison was known as Maison Centrale.

Initially built by the French colonialists, it served as a facility to incarcerate political prisoners, particularly those opposing French rule. 

The very bricks and bars whisper tales of the struggle for independence.

Cruel Comforts of French Captivity

While exploring the French-era section of Hoa Lo, witness the stark contrast between the harsh living conditions imposed on Vietnamese revolutionaries and the comfort enjoyed by the French colonizers. 

Uncover the tactics used to suppress dissent and the resilience of those who dared to challenge the status quo.

The Shadow of Colonial Oppression

Delve into the stories of the Vietnamese nationalists imprisoned during the French colonial period. 

The echoes of their protests and calls for independence can still be felt in the corridors. 

Gain insight into the seeds of resistance within these walls, setting the stage for Vietnam’s struggle for freedom.

The Women of Hoa Lo

Discover the untold stories of the female prisoners who occupied a section of Hoa Lo. 

Their resilience in the face of adversity is both inspiring and heartbreaking. 

Gain a newfound appreciation for the strength of these women who faced the challenges of imprisonment.

American Odyssey: The Hanoi Hilton Takes Center Stage

The Transformation of Hoa Lo

Fast forward to the 1960s, and witness the transformation of Hoa Lo into the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. 

Here, you can learn about the changes to accommodate a new kind of prisoner.

Life Behind Bars: The American Experience

Walk in the shoes of American POWs who spent years within these walls. 

Discover the daily routines, coping mechanisms, and the camaraderie that developed among the prisoners. 

Gain a deeper understanding of their challenges and the resilience that defined their time in captivity.

The Myth of the “Hanoi Hilton”

Separate fact from fiction as you unravel the myths surrounding the treatment of American prisoners. 

While the sarcastic nickname suggests a certain level of comfort, delve into the nuanced reality of life within the “Hilton.” 

The truth may surprise you, adding layers to the complex narrative of war and captivity.

Return to Hanoi: The Bittersweet Homecoming

Learn about the emotional journeys of American POWs who returned to Hoa Lo years after their release. 

Walk the same corridors with them as they revisit the scenes of their captivity, offering a unique perspective on reconciliation and the enduring human spirit.

Whether under French rule or during the American conflict, Hoa Lo Prison has witnessed tumultuous chapters in Vietnam’s history. 

Explore the dualities of oppression and resistance as this place transformed from a symbol of colonial dominance to a stark reminder of the costs of war.

Beyond the Bars: A Walk of Reflection

Wrap up your visit with a stroll through the somber courtyard, where remnants of the prison’s history linger.

Take a moment to reflect on the past, appreciate the journey of Vietnam, and perhaps leave with a deeper understanding of the human spirit’s capacity for endurance and hope.

Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
NameHoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
LocationHanoi, Vietnam
Historical PeriodFrench Colonial Era to Vietnam War
SignificanceA symbol of the Vietnamese struggle for independence and, later, a place of captivity for American POWs during the Vietnam War
ExhibitsShe thoughtfully curated displays portraying the harsh realities of prison life, focusing on both the French and American periods.
Notable InmatesIncludes individuals such as John McCain, Bud Day, and others who played pivotal roles in history
PreservationOngoing efforts to preserve the site as a historical landmark and educational resource
Visitor InformationOpen daily 8:00-17:00; Entrance fee is 30,000 VND.

Notable Inmates

Delve into the stories of the individuals held captive within Hoa Lo Prison.

From political dissidents during the French occupation to American pilots during the Vietnam War, the prison’s walls echo the voices of those who fought for their beliefs.

NameNationalityMilitary BranchYears in CaptivityNoteworthy Achievements
Everett Alvarez Jr.Mexican AmericanU.S. NavyOver eight years2nd longest-held U.S. POW
John L. BorlingAmericanUSAF6+1⁄2 yearsRetired major general
Charles G. BoydAmericanUSAFAlmost seven yearsRetired general; only Vietnam-era POW to reach four-star rank
George Thomas CokerAmericanU.S. Navy
Robert R. CranerAmericanUSAFFighter pilot
Bud DayAmericanUSAFMedal of Honor and Air Force Cross recipient, political activist
Jeremiah DentonAmericanU.S. NavySenator (R-AL)
Lee EllisAmericanUSAFFighter pilot, motivational speaker, and author
Norman C. GaddisAmericanUSAFAlmost seven yearsRetired Brigadier General
Guy GrutersAmericanUSAFFighter pilot, motivational speaker, and author
Lawrence N. GuarinoAmericanU.S. Air ForceOfficer, a veteran of three wars, and author
Carlyle “Smitty” HarrisAmericanU.S. Air ForceAlmost eight yearsCredited for establishing the “tap code.”
Doug HegdahlAmericanUSNAn inmate who played a fool to memorize prisoner information
Sam JohnsonAmericanUSAFFighter pilot, Representative (R-TX)
Joe KernanAmericanU.S. NavyFormer governor of Indiana
Joseph KittingerAmericanUSAFRecord-breaking parachutist
William P. LawrenceAmericanU.S. NavyChief of Naval Personnel and Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy
Hayden LockhartAmericanUSAFThe First Air Force pilot captured in North Vietnam, the third American captured
John McCainAmericanU.S. Navy5.5 yearsSenator (R-AZ), 2008 Republican presidential nominee
Robinson RisnerAmericanUSAF1965 to 1973Fighter pilot, senior ranking POW
Howard RutledgeAmericanU.S. NavyPart of 7+1⁄2 yearsCo-author of “In the Presence of Mine Enemies”
Lance SijanAmericanUSAFMedal of Honor recipient
Jerry A. SingletonAmericanUSAFHelicopter pilot, Lieutenant Colonel, Silver Star recipient
James StockdaleAmericanU.S. NavyMedal of Honor recipient, 1992 vice presidential candidate
Floyd James ThompsonAmericanU.S. Army Special ForcesAlmost nine yearsLongest-held U.S. POW

The term “Hanoi Hilton” is a sarcastic nickname given by American POWs during the Vietnam War, suggesting a more pleasant experience than the harsh reality of their captivity.

Prisoners at Hanoi Hilton, or Hoa Lo Prison, endured various forms of mistreatment, including torture, malnutrition, and inhumane living conditions during the Vietnam War.

Admission fees for Hoa Lo Prison are 30,000 VND per person.

Apart from Hoa Lo Prison, other notable prisons in Hanoi include the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” (Hoa Lo) and the “Hanoi Citadel,” both with significant historical importance.

The Hanoi Hilton housed various prisoners during the Vietnam War, including notable figures like John McCain, Bud Day, and other American POWs.

Check the table above of Notable Inmates for the complete list.

American POWs famously nicknamed Hoa Lo Prison “Hanoi Hilton” as a sarcastic and ironic reference to the well-known Hilton hotels.

While Hoa Lo Prison had a guillotine during the French colonial period, it was not used during the Vietnam War era.

You can still see the guillotine on the display.

Several attempts were made, but only a few prisoners successfully escaped from Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.

Notably, USAF Captain George McKnight was shot down over North Vietnam on November 6, 1965.

He successfully escaped with George Thomas Coker from “Dirty Bird” on October 12, 1967, in Hanoi, North Vietnam.

However, their escape only took them approximately 15 miles down the river before they were recaptured the next day. McKnight was eventually released in 1973.

As many as 114 American POWs tragically lost their lives in captivity during the Vietnam War, with a significant number enduring the harsh conditions and mistreatment within the confines of the Hanoi Hilton.



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