Skip to main content

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam: The Best Vietnam Travel Guide

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam: The Best Vietnam Travel Guide

Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam: Everything you need to know

Table of contentHide All


    Location: No. 1 Hoa Lo Street, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi

    Tel: (+84) 439 342 253 ; (+84) 439 342 317


    Open hour: Daily from 8h00 to 17h00 (Including festivals and holidays)

    Website: http:/

    How to get there: car, local bus, motorbike, taxi, bicycle, cyclo

    Travel duration: 1h30 minutes from Noi Bai International Airport by taxi

    Ticket: + Adults: 30,000 VND / 1 person

    • Children, pupils, students, special people: VND 15,000 / 1 person
    • Children under 15 years: free.

    I. Overview of Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam

    The Hoa Lo Prison, formally known as Maison Centrale by the French, is located in the heart of the Capital of Vietnam and has been one of the most violent places in Vietnam for a century. Situated at No.1 Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, the Hoa Lo Prison is an emblem of the Vietnamese patriots’ unbeatable morale and uncountable sacrifice for the national independence. This destination is exactly a typical example of the period of Vietnamese revolutionary against the French Colonists, with a lot of types of equipment to serve for torturing prisoners, that most of them are local people or patriots.

    Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam - Things to do in Hanoi 2020
    Source: Shutterstock

    The Vietnamese name of the prison - Hoa Lo consists of two parts: “Hoa” means “Fire” and “Lo” means “Kiln”. This name was also set for two main reasons. First, due to the history of the prison’s area, which used to be a pottery village, the named this Prison was called as the informal commemorative name of the village. On the other hand, this nickname came to be a double entendre for the prison’s hellish treatment. Initially, the prison was built to contain only 450 prisoners. Its quantity was extended from a few hundred to over two thousand prisoners living in filthy conditions, captured to walls by the shackles.

    Hoa Lo is called the incredible prison, which was designed with extra thick bricks and stones. The besieging wall was constructed with steel bars and 4x0.5 meters of stones. The wall is covered with a huge number of pieces of broken glass and equipped with high-voltage electric wire. In spite of the changeable chambers’ ranges, all follow an identical design: tile roofs, solid walls, gray lacquered floors. For the expansion of security, all equipment, from building substances such as glass, steel to types of furniture such as doors, lockers, nails, etc, were imported directly from France.

    Travelers can visit Hoa Lo Prison easily by taxi, bus, motorbike, or bicycle. The parking fee for one motorbike is about VND 5,000. For travelers who want to travel by bus, there are several available lines such as No.02, No.09 or No.23

    II. Historical highlights of Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

    By the year 1884, the French military pressured the Hue Kingdom to accept the protection of France in Vietnam and opened the over 80-year period of being slaves of many Vietnamese generations.

    In the late nineteenth century,to deal with the struggles of the Vietnamese people, the French colonialists intensified their suppression by extending the police force, completing the colonial court system and building the network of imprisonment places. In 1896, on the ground of Phu Khanh Village, Vinh Xuong Ward, Tho Xuong District, Hanoi (the area names now are changed), the French colonial built Hoa Lo prison. This is one of the largest prisons in Indochina.

    Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam - Things to do in Hanoi 2020
    Source: Shutterstock

    A lot of Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary leaders were detained at the Hoa Lo Prison such as:

    • Phan Boi Chau (1867-1940): The influential pioneer of Vietnamese 20th-century nationalism. He was also the founder of “Reformation Society”- one of the biggest revolutionary organization at this moment
    • Luong Van Can (1854-1927): An exemplary teacher, a great intellectual, a passionate patriot, and a well-known figure because of his new and far-sighted political vision. 
    • Ho Tung Mau (1896-1951) and Nguyen Luong Bang (1904-1979): the famous revolutionary activists and politicians of Vietnam. 
    • The Five Ex-General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, including Nguyen Van Cu (1912-1941), Le Duan (1907-1986), Truong Chinh (1907-1988), Nguyen Van Linh (1915-1998) and Do Muoi (1917- ).

    In October 1954, after the liberation of the North, the Government of Vietnam administered and temporarily used the Hoa Lo Prison to detain criminals. Its name had been changed to "Hanoi Detention Center", which is under the management of the Hanoi Police Department.

    From August 5th, 1964 to March 31st, 1973, Hoa Lo Prison was also used to capture American pilots, who were shot down when bombing Northern Vietnam. During this period, American pilots set up a fun-filled name for Hoa Lo as "Hanoi Hilton", due to the warm reception of the government of  North Vietnam. The detained American pilots included Mr.Douglas Peter Peterson who became the first US Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Mr.John McCain - now is a US Senator.

    In 1993,  to adapt to the economic development requirements of the capital, the Government of Vietnam decided to change the purpose of the Hoa Lo Prison. The part of the South East area is preserved, renovated, and upgraded to become a historical attraction relic of Hanoi. There is a monument of the memorial of the patriotic soldiers and revolutionaries of Vietnam, who have bravely sacrificed at the Hoa Lo prison for the independence and freedom of the nation.

    On 18/6/1997 Hoa Lo Prison was recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as a National Historic Site.

    III. Architecture highlights of Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

    On February 27th, 1896, the Indochinese governor-general - Mr.PonDume, with the help of the chief engineer, the bridge manager, approved the design of the prison built by architect Ville. The total area for the construction of the prison and adjacent roads leading to the prison is approximately 12908m2, of which the construction area of the prison is 10,870m2.

    The prison structure was built solidly with the most brutal torture machines. Next to the prison is the Jail and the Agent Department, connecting together and ready to suppress the revolutionary movement of Vietnamese people. Hoa Lo is the most solid construction of Indochina, where even the ant is also difficult to pass over.

    Surrounding the prison is a stone wall 4 meters high, 0.5 meters thick, reinforced by a barbed-wire system with the high-voltage current through. In four corners are the Watching tower to observe every move of the whole prison. To go to prison, you have to go through the ironwood door weighing 1.6 tons. The iron door system and lock are brought from France. The cramped cells, the lack of air in darkrooms, and the notorious prison guards, who had been in charge of the prison for a long time, always ready to suppress and even kill the prisoners.

    Architecture highlights of Hoa Lo Prison

    Hoa Lo Prison was actually “ hell on earth”. Even had not been completed yet, in January 1899, the prison took over the detention. According to the original design, Hoa Lo had just enough space for 500 prisoners, but it was expanded several times to accommodate more captives. In the period 1950-1953, Hoa Lo detained up to 2,000 prisoners.

    The place considered "hell of hell" is CaChot - one of the most fearful places. The cells are dark, cramped and counter light.   here, the prisoners were isolated, shackled in the darkness and pain. The area of cells for the prisoners sentenced to death was also as terrible as CaChot. The revolutionary soldiers were not only detained in the dungeon, foul-smelling but they also were tortured mentally. It was one of the places that used the guillotine machine of the Middle Ages. The body of the dead prisoners after beheading would be thrown away, on the other hand otherwise, their heads would be stuck in the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square (the fountain area near the Hoan Kiem Lake today). Anyone who had to see this widget was terrified, fear but more scornful of the crime of French colonists. Nowadays, coming to this relic, you will see the construction was rebuilt to see the cruelty, brutality of the guards with Vietnamese troops.

    From a handicraft village with famous pottery, the French colonialists turned the land of Hoa Lo into a place to detain and exterminate the body and spirit of thousands of patriotic soldiers, the Vietnamese revolution. Living in the imperial prison, with harsh remorse, living in exile but the patriotic soldiers, revolutionary still keep the air, turning the prison into a school and a place popular revolutionary theory. 

    IV. Things to do around Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi, Vietnam

    1. Visiting Hoan Kiem Lake Area - The heart of Hanoi, the famous destination near Hoa Lo Prison

    Location: Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi (1.5 kilometers from Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam)

    Transportations: Bus, taxi, motorbike, bike, cyclo

    The maximum length: 700 meters

    The maximum width: 250 meters

    The maximum depth: 10 meters

    The perimeter: 1750 meters

    The surface acreage: 120,000 m2

    Others name: Guom Lake (or Sword Lake), Luc Thuy Lake, Turtle Lake


    Hoan Kiem Lake, a landmark in the heart of peace and heroic capital, is a mirror reflecting the historical events of the city and the nation in the years of constructing, protecting, and developing the country. Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Guom Lake, is located at the heart of the capital of Hanoi and surrounded by three busy streets including Hang Khay, Le Thai To, Dinh Tien Hoang Street. Hoan Kiem Lake is covered by the featured green of nature. It is a famous sight and the pride of the capital people. Around the lake are many kinds of flowers and plants. Hoan Kiem is like a glass reflecting the ancient trees, luxuriant willows, temple roofs, ancient pagodas, tower covered with moss .... became a very attractive destination for tourists.

    Hoan Kiem Lake - Place to visit in Hanoi

    The lake was originally the remnant of an ancient river named Nhi Ha. Its name associated with the legend of King Le Loi. According to the legend, when Le Loi stood up as leader of the Lam Son rebellion in Thanh Hoa against the Ming army (the China dynasty in the 15th century), he accidentally caught the sword named Thuan Thien, which means “follow to the sky will”. Thanks to this precious sword, he won many battles consecutively, expelled the enemy troops out of the country and acceded to the throne at the beginning of 1428. One day, the King with his entourage had their trip in a boat on Luc Thuy Lake (the first name of the lake) and one yellow turtle suddenly emerged. When the king drew his sword, the turtle held on the sword and put it down to the bottom of the lake. From there, the lake was named Hoan Kiem Lake, which means the lake of the returning of the sword.

    However, at the end of the 16th century, Lord Trinh made the reservoir into two parts - the right and left and named them Vong. Then in 1884, the Right Vong Lake was flooded by the French colonialists to open up the capital, while the Left one was retained as the shape of Hoan Kiem Lake nowadays.

    This is not only a place for taking a fresh air, but it also associates with the life of the capital. Each morning is a picture of middle-aged or elderly people exercising together, walking around the lake. In the afternoon, boys, girls, young people, and teenagers pull together to take photo memories. The evening is the time to sit on the lakeside to chat with friends or watch the fireworks on many celebrations such as New Year's Eve or Independence Day.

    a. Where to visit in Hoan Kiem Lake

    In the middle of the lake is the old Turtle Tower, however, you can only admire it from the distance only. There are a lot of attractions to see around the lake. If you do not want to walk, you can go by bus or pedicab, but remember to check prices before you go. From the area of Hoan Kiem Lake, you can walk to Ngoc Son Temple, The Huc Bridge, Ly Thai To Statue, Thang Water Puppet Theater, Ba Kieu Temple (opposite Ngoc Son Temple). They are all architectural works which are combined between modern and ancient harmony. Go further, you can visit Trang Tien Plaza, Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, the Notre Dame Cathedral, etc, where you can immerse yourself in the busy life of the local people.

    b. Turtle Tower

    Located on an island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, Turtle Tower has 3 floors, the lower floor is the largest then gradually downsize to the upper floor. The east and west sides have 3 gates, while in the south and the north, there are two gates each. The top has two floors with the railing round, which is the end of the bending embankment to the middle of the top. 

    According to the legend, the Turtle Tower marked the place where King Le Loi returned paid the sword to the goddess. In fact, on sunny days, the turtles of the Lake occasionally float and crawl up the tower, thus making the legend become more convincing.

    c. The Huc Bridge

    The name of The Huc means "where morning sunlight appears". The bridge was built by celebrity Nguyen Van Sieu in 1865, with wooden structures and red paint on the lake. In the beginning, the Huc bridge was made of very rough wood and red paint - the color of life, prosperity, and prosperity. Legend has it that at the end of the 19th century, the bridge was broken and rebuilt with the bridge leg made of reinforced cement, flooring, wooden balustrade and retaining its characteristic red color. The Huc bridge has a curved shape and is now the only way to lead to the Ngoc Son Temple gate.

    d. Ngoc Son Temple

    Located on the big island in Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ngoc Son Temple features many outstanding constructions: The temple gate called Dac Nguyet Lau means "moonlit floor", the temple area, Ba Dinh Palace, and But Tower-Nghien Tower - the symbols of the spirit of education. Ngoc Son temple worships Van Xuong God, who is the star of the academic literature and many folk gods like the Hung Dao Lord, La Dong Tan, Quan Van Truong and the Buddha. This represents the concept of the Vietnamese three main religions. This is a typical example of space and architectural artifacts, with a harmonious combination of temples and lakes that form a unified whole between  God and the Earth.

    Coming to Ngoc Son Temple, visitors not only admire the magnificent architectural works in the traces of nostalgic time, watch the panoramic Hoan Kiem lake but also have the opportunity to learn about the culture as well as untold stories associated with the history of the temple.

    Read more: Ngoc Son Temple Travel Guide - Everything you need to know

    e. Ly Thai To flower garden and King Ly Thai To Monuments

    King Ly Thai To statue was set up in Ly Thai To flower garden and was built to commemorate King Ly Thai To - the first king of the Ly dynasty, who moved the capital from Ninh Binh to Thang Long in 1010 (the previous name of Hanoi). The monument was inaugurated on October 7th, 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the capital.

    Not only is the architectural value of history, flower gardens, and monuments of King Ly Thai To is also a favorite destination for local people as well as tourists in the late afternoon. After visiting the Ngoc Son Temple, visitors can walk here to see the peaceful life of the capital, to feel a very different Hanoi rather than the image of common crowded and busy.

    f. Hoan Kiem Pedestrian Street

    Hoan Kiem Pedestrian Street is the street surround Hoan Kiem Lake. Despite having been officially opened for about three years, the walking street around Hoan Kiem Lake has become an ideal destination for most of the capital's residents as well as tourists traveling to Hanoi every weekend. Ho Guom pedestrian street is opened from 19:00 on Friday to 24:00 on Sunday and the most crowded time is after about 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. When the lights are up, the pedestrian street is immediately crowded with a lot of games, cultural activities, and plays which is really exciting and attractive.

    Best of all, there are many street music genres such as saxophone, flute, violin, EDM, rock, etc, make the street become a huge cultural space, where people will forget all the tired, worry, and bored of daily life and just relax the melodies of life

    Besides that, many popular folk games such as shuttlecock kicking, jumping rope, dancing, etc make not only the children but also the youth and the elders be extremely interested. Besides many exciting activities, in a corner of the pedestrian street, there is much old nostalgic space with the stalls selling traditional souvenirs as star lamp, “to he”, “non la” with colorful and various kinds for you to choose from.

    2. Visiting The Hanoi Old Quarter - The famous ancient streets of Hanoi near Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam

    Location: 2 kilometers from Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam

    Area acreage total: 100 ha, includes 76 streets belong to 10 wards conclude Hang Dao, Hang Bac, Hang Buom, Hang Bo, Hang Bong, Hang Gai, Hang Ma, Dong Xuan, Dong Dong, Ly Thai To.


    Hanoi Old Quarter is a common name of a long-standing urban area of Hanoi located outside of Thang Long Imperial Citadel. This urban area focuses on small-scale industrial and commercial activities, which form the characteristic streets of the city residents. Today Hanoi Old Quarter is an attractive destination for those who want to learn about Thang Long - Dong Do - Hanoi. 

    a. The job streets in Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam 

    The most famous features of the Old Quarter are the streets. Craftsmen from the ancient villages around Thang Long gathered here, focusing on each area of ​​their profession. The merchant ships could go in the middle of the street to trade, making the streets more developed. Besides that, the trading product became the street names, with the word "Hang" (means street) in front of each name. Each street was specializing in trading one kind of item. 

    Nowadays, some streets still hold traditional products such as Hang Ma Street, Hang Tre Street, Hang Thiec Street, Thuoc Bac Street, etc. Even though some streets do not keep their traditional jobs, they still focus on selling one kind of good such as Hang Quat street is selling altarpieces, Hang Buom street is providing confectionery, Ma May street is specializing in tourism services, etc. Some famous streets can be mentioned as:

    Hang Bong street is named after the main street of Hang Bong Buffer, which has many stores providing cotton quilts, pillows, and blankets.

    The old Hang Ma street specialized in the trading of paper-made spiritual items for worship, including the paper money and the gold paper, after that is the expansion of the paper statues, the paper house, etc, to worship and burn for the deadman in their afterlife. Today, Hang Ma street is bustling in the festivities, Tet Festival, and Lunar New Year day with various kinds of toys. In addition, there is also a place for selling wedding decorations with cut shapes made of colored paper or foam colored.

    Ma May Street consisted of two ancient streets: Hang Ma Street and Hang May Street. Hang May street was adjacent to Hang Buom street, on the bank of the Nhi river, where boats gather together to transport forest products such as bamboo and rattan.

    Hang Bac Street was opened by the king’s command to open a silver-plated cast-iron furnace for the court. Due to that, a craftsman named Tin dragged his family and relatives people from Tra Khe village (Thuc Khang commune, Binh Giang district, Hai Duong province) to this street to open the cast iron castings workshop and founded the foundry school at 58 Hang Bac.

    Hang Dao street is a place of silk trading and selling clothes 

    Hang Luoc street connects from Hang Cot street to Cha Ca street, where there are many comb traders as a wood comb, horn comb, and plastic comb.

    Hang Chai street (“Chai” means bottle) is not a place for producing or trading bottles. This street is a small lane connecting Hang Roi street and Hang Cot Street. This is a place where poor people gather to collect scrap materials and garbage.  

    Hang Ga Street (“Ga” means chicken) runs from Hang Dieu Street to Hang Cot Street, where poultry shops like chicken, duck, goose, pigeon, turkey are gathered.

    Hang Chay street was called Rue des Vases by the French, which went through the banks of the river, was a wharf for boats carrying jars, pots from Phu Lang and Huong Canh village, and ceramic from Tho Ha

    Hang Dong street was called Rue des Tasses by the French. Previously, Hang Dong street and Hang Ma street belonged to Yen Phu villages, which was famous for trading the bronze equipment such as trays, pots, peaks, incense burners, flower vases, carpenters.

    b. The Old houses in Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

    The old houses in the mall are mainly tube houses, tiled roofs, and the indomitable storefronts facades. The image of ancient houses and tile roofs is always the inspiration of art, , and poetry. These houses were mainly built in the 18th-19th centuries, before that, most of them were the thatched-roofs houses, only some rich houses, houses of Chinese had the new roof tiles.

    In the period of national resistance (1945),  to avoid direct clashes with the French and the Guards, the people and the National Guard drilled the wall from house to house. When necessary, people could go from the beginning to the end of the street through the gaps between houses without going down the street.

    From the end of the twentieth century,  ancient houses gradually disappeared. Instead, the new tube houses break the original landscape of the old town. However, the interior between the houses is still an  intricate system of ways.

    c. The Relics in Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

    In the old town area, there are many historical relics, including communal houses, temples, pagodas, and congregations.

    Hall: each street often had a hall to worship the god of the occupation of the village. The hall in this area had the lower floor still a shop for rent, just the upstairs was a place of worshiping. 

    Temple: similar to the hall, many temples are only on the upstairs, the first floor is the shop. Some of the temples still remain now as Ma May Temple, Nhan Noi Temple, Ba Chua Temple.

    Pagoda: In the old town, there are some pagodas, although they have almost been encroached such as Dong Bridge Pagoda, Kim Co Pagoda, and Thai Cam Pagoda.

    Assembly Hall: When the Chinese came to trade, they established two assembly hall: Guangdong and Fujian Assembly Hall.

    In the area of ​​the ancient old quarter, there were many cell doors as Phuc Lam, Thanh Ha (Quan Chuong), Truong Thanh, My Loc. Only Quan Chuong cell door remains intact.

    Market: In addition to the streets, the Old Quarter also has some markets to sell goods for daily life, such as Dong Xuan - North Street, Hang Da Market, Hang Be Market.

    V. Make the most of your trip to Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnam

    The Hoa Lo Prison is lying magnificently in the heart of Hanoi city. It is not only a historicl witness, which watched many stages of the ceiling of the country and the capital of Hanoi, but it is also a very attractive tourist destination now. There will be a huge deficiency for those who come here without visiting this historical prison. To make your trip in Hanoi more meaningful, you should please spend a little bit of your time sitting down and feeling the emotional moment with the stories in here. You will not only have  a very meaningful time away from noisy life, but you also have the knowledge of the Vietnam war and understand how our nation could beat two of the most powerful militaries in the world at that time. 


    22 Jan 2020
    Best 5 ways to go between Sapa between Hanoi How to get around Sapa, Vietnam

    Leave a reply

    Best 5 ways to go between Sapa between Hanoi How to get around Sapa, Vietnam

    People are also interested in