Hoa Lo Prison 1/undefined by Tripoto
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12 out of 230 attractions in Hanoi

Hoa Lo Prison

Nidhi Jakhodia
Next we took a cab to Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was built in 1890s by the French colonialists to hold Vietnamese criminals. Later Vietnamese used the prison to house American prisoners of war. The prison is now a museum , with exhibits telling stories of the Vietnamese communists who were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the French. Then there are pictures of American Prisoners of War showing how well they were treated by the Vietnamese. As per Vietnamese, due to the nice treatment meted out, the Americans POW used to refer to the prison as "Hanoi Hilton". You'll read a different version on the internet - that American POWs had to go through severe torture in Hoa Lo and they sarcastically coined the nickname "Hanoi Hilton".
Hoa Lo Prison has an interesting history. The French used the prison to detain Vietnamese political prisoners during their era of rule, and then Hoa Lo was used for captured American POWs during the Vietnam War. Only part of the building is still intact, and preserved as a historical site; sadly, much of the space has been taken over to build new high-rise buildings. The prison tour was quite an interesting experience, seeing how the government presents its historical perspectives. For one, it focuses mostly on the French brutal treatment of Vietnamese prisoners, and only dedicates the last part of the tour to the American experience. Additionally, it tries to claim that the Americans experienced benevolent treatment in the prison, showing videos of POWs laughing, playing games, eating good meals, and even celebrating Christmas. You would think from their claims that the Americans were honored guests rather than enemy soldiers. Indeed, there is a bit of irony in the nickname "Hanoi Hilton," created by the Americans. They chose this nickname ironically, yet the description in the prison uses this American nickname as literal proof of the fine experience that the Americans received. Yet I'm sure there must be some grain of truth to their claims. There always exist multiple histories amongst all the sides of any conflict, and I'm aware that I've only grown up with the American one.