The Hoa Lo Prison Museum was our contemplative/somewhat depressing first stop this morning.
The infamous prison is located in the old downtown, not far from where we were staying. It was built by the French administration in 1896, originally intended to hold 450 prisoners.
By the 1930s the the number of detainees had soared to almost 2,000, the majority political prisoners. During the Vietnam war Hoa Lo became notorious as the place to incarcerate downed US pilots who nicknamed it the “Hanoi Hilton”.
Most of the prison complex was destroyed in 1997 to make way for another building, but the architect maintained enough to the structure to be preserved as the prison museum.
Most of the exhibits are a pretty horrific array of shackles, whips, the guillotine above, instruments of torture, and cells that held men and women prisoners.
A part of the museum is devoted to the “American Period” – blatantly showing how well US prisoners were treated (including Senator John McCain) vs the brutal treatment shown the Vietnamese by the French. At first I felt a bit angry since we know the “humaneness” of the treatment of our pilots is greatly exaggerated. Then I thought, what the hell were we doing there…and when will we ever learn….
On a lighter note, we hopped onto some bicycle rickshaws to take a tour of the old inner city.
As hokey as it may appear it is truly a great, very interesting way to explore a place like this.
And absolutely the best way (besides walking) to get a feel (hopefully not too much of the mind-boggling, law-bending traffic and traffic (impressionistic) patterns of Vietnam.
For an even better representation, click on the link below for some live action from the perspective of a rickshaw.
A good night’s sleep and a short plane ride to our ultimate destination; Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. See you there.