Hoa Lo Prison has the French name Maison Centrale (literally: Hanoi Prison) located on Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi City. Originally built by the French colonialists in 1896, the prison was a place that many Vietnamese revolutionary soldiers were incarcerated. According to a poll published by CNN, the US Cable News Network, Hoa Lo Prison is at the top of the list of the most frightening places in Southeast Asia.
The prison was built with solid, high and very thick stone walls, reinforced by the barbed wires fence with high voltage electricity. The French colonialists turned Hoa Lo Prison into a frightened obsession of so many people.
With a total area of up to 12,000 square meters, the prison could initially detain approximately 500 prisoners. However, the area had been increasing, the number of prisoners had also been increasing. By 1950 – 1953, the prison was able to detain about 2,000 prisoners.
With the extremely cruel ruse of the French colonialists, Hoa Lo Prison has become a place of the physical and mental torture for detained prisoners. Penalties frequently happened such as forcing prisoners to fold their arms, lower their heads, undress for ransacking or forcing to do hard labor like repairing homes, pounding rice, working, etc.
Other penalties are shackling prisoners’ legs with heavy iron blocks, then using clubs, and sticks to beat them. Worse yet, prisoners will be locked up in cache if they commit acts of violence or opposition such as fighting, revolutionary propaganda.
Cachot is a cramped and dark detention room. It would be no exaggeration to say that this place is “the Hell on Earth.” Prisoners will be slapped so badly when stepping foot through the cell door, and then shackled, and brutally beaten in solitary confinements. Prisoners locked up in the cache for a period will be puffed with edema or scabies due to lack of hygiene and sunlight.
The more horrible thing was that prisoners were beheaded. The guillotine was designed as a medieval machine, with two 4-meter pillars and a knife held on the top by a pin. Below is the iron barrel where the heads of the prisoner fall, next to dead body barrels.The guillotine was used continuously, moved from one prison to another. This is also the guillotine used in Yen Bai to execute ten members of the Communist Party of Vietnam, including Nguyen Thai Hoc.
A terrifying thing is probably the detention room for prisoners under a death sentence. The entrance is narrow, dark and the iron doors are rusty, prisoners must pass through three ones to the condemned cell.
Hoa Lo Prison has become one of the indispensable tourist sites when exploring Hanoi travel, especially foreign tourists. Each year, the prison welcomes over a thousand visits, of which 70% are foreign visitors.