The front gate and a small section of the original Maison Centrale (Hoa Lo Prison) are still standing and now house a museum exhibiting the history of this prison perhaps best known in the US because John McCain spent some time there after being shot down during the Vietnam War. (The Vietnam War is here referred to as the American War to distinguish it from the preceding 80 years of conflict.) A new high-rise hotel has been built on the grounds of the demolished portion of the prison. It is not a Hilton.
As horrific as the treatment of US servicemen may have been (the Hoa Lo exhibits claim otherwise), one comes away from the museum with an appreciation of the length and intensity of the Vietnamese people’s struggle against foreign aggression. Built in the 1880s-1890s by the French, Hoa Lo was first used to house, and in some cases to execute by guillotine, Vietnamese insurgents. The prison was used in this capacity, mostly by the French, but also by the Japanese during World War II, until the mid-1950s. The prison’s relatively short period of use during the Vietnam War to house US POWs felt like a mere footnote in its long and gruesome history.