We decided to spend another day in Hanoi before taking a cruise along Halong Bay. We started the day weaving in and out of Hanoi’s motorbikes to make it to Hoa Lo Prison.
Hoa Lo Prison was built by French colonialists during 1900s and was used by the French to torture and interrogate political prisoners rallying for independence. The prison even had the guillotine on show that was used to execute prisoners. After Vietnam’s Independence from the French in 1954, the Hoa Lo Prison was actually then used by the Vietnamese to incarcerate American POWs who’d been shot down during bombing raids.
The Hoa Lo Prison today tells a very different story of the treatment of the American POWs at the hands of the Northern Vietnamese. The prison denies any knowledge of any torture or interrogations of American POWs. The museum paints a very different picture with photos showing American POWs enjoying their stay at the prison. The photos had captions like’Americans making Christmas Dinner’, ‘American pilots listen to Ho Chi Minh’s speech’, ‘American pilots enjoy playing games in the yard’ and so forth. All the pictures suggest the prison was more like a hotel and the museum even goes on to how say American POWs called it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
I found the prison a little disappointing with all its Hanoi Hilton propaganda and its inability to show both sides of the story.
After the Hoa Lo Prison we walked to the Temple of Literature which is also Hanoi’s university. The Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius, who put a lot of emphasis on the importance of studying and scholarship. Like the lake yesterday, the Temple of Literature and the surrounding grounds were full of students in graduation gowns and traditional Vietnamese dress taking pre-graduation photos. I still can’t get my read around pre-graduation/weddings photos but hey!
We then decided to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. I’d read in the guide book that despite Ho Chi Minh’s desire to be cremated, the Vietnamese buried him in the mausoleum. You can apparently spend 10 seconds in front of his preserved body in his glass casket. We heard the guards at the mausoleum were very strict: no bare flesh, no smiling, laughing or talking, you must be silent and walk in two lines, and hands can’t be in your pockets, nor can they be crossed. We thought it sounded like an interesting thing to go and see, but unfortunately I’d read the entrance times wrong and the mausoleum was closed!
Next stop : Halong Bay!