Hoa Lo Prison located on Hoa Lo Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi was built by French colonialists in 1896, for years after "the hell on Earth" in Con Dao. Hoa Lo has a total area of more than 12,000 m2, is one of the largest and most solid prisons in Indochina at that time.

The French name of this prison at that time was Maison Centrale, meaning the Central Prophet or Hanoi Prison. It was the central prison of both the North and the Central, confining many people, including political prisoners and patriots against the French colonial government from 1896 to 1954. The remaining area 2,434m2 is currently planned to preserve a relic.

The prison's construction design allowed to regularly contain about 500 inmates with extremely strict and cruel detention. Along with the most brutal weapon of the French Colonialists -  the giant guillotine, the Hoa Lo prison is known as one of the 10 most notorious prisons in the world or the top 5 most horrifying places in Southeast Asia. 

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison

The French colonialists paid special attention to the construction and selection of construction materials for prisons. Iron door system and lock brought from France were strictly controlled before construction.

Cachot (the dark prison) was used to detain punished prisoners for violating prison rules or to oppose acts (organization of fighting, prison escape, revolutionary propaganda). Cachot in Hoa Lo is "hell of hell", a narrow, dark cell.

Here, the prisoners were locked up in isolation, shackled in the night, and had to eat and sleep in the place. The floor was sloped upside down so the prisoners could not lie. Prisoners imprisoned in Cachot after only a short time were edema, blurred eyes, full of scabies due to lack of hygiene, light, and oxygen.

The most horrible thing in Hoa Lo is a medieval guillotine, designed by two 4m-high wooden pillars with blades held high above the latch. Below there is another crossbar and a narrow rack for death.

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison

The prison cell for female prisoners was eased when the prisoners are not shackled to take care of their young children.

However, the colonial prison has extremely cruel tortures for female offenders with electric shocks or rudimentary cane to use humiliation weak of political prisoners.

Surrounding the prison are reinforced stone walls 4m high and 0.5m thick which is still sustainable after more than a century.