Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Hanoi Hilton Reservations; A Lot of the Guests Checked inTO (but Never Left) the French-Built Maison Centrale Prison in Vietnam

Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Hanoi Hilton Reservations; A Lot of the Guests Checked inTO (but Never Left) the French-Built Maison Centrale Prison in Vietnam

Article excerpt

Byline: WORDS: ANN RICKARD

Not sure how the term "dark tourism" can be fully defined but it is obvious it means visiting destinations historically known for death and tragedy. It raises many questions.

Is it ghoulish to visit Auschwitz or is it a tourist's duty to make the trip if you are in Poland? Would visiting a slum in India be bad taste? The Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon? The Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn?

Is a gruesome curiosity to see these sites where so much suffering and misery took place a bad thing? Or an opportunity to learn from the past and be thankful for where we live today?

We felt this way when a visit to the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam was proposed recently.

Called Hoa Lo Prison it was built by the French in 1896 in the middle of the city, planned to house 450 inmates but by the 1930s it held close to 2000 detainees, mostly political prisoners. Later it was used by North Vietnam to hold US Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War, or what the locals call the American War.

The French called it Maison Centrale, meaning Central House, their euphemistic name to signify prisons in France.

During the Vietnam War, the American POWs nicknamed the prison the Hanoi Hilton and most visitors to Hanoi today do consider a visit an essential part of their itinerary.

Most of the vast prison was torn down in the 1990s, the only part left today is a well-preserved museum, but it is enough to send chills down the spine as you walk through the displays.

Life-sized models of bone-thin, wretched prisoners shackled to the floor or languishing in groups on long, low wooden benches, make you shudder, despair.

It's an uncomfortable place to be as you walk through the narrow corridors flanked by heavy steel doors, some with grills where you peer through to small cells. The dungeons where dangerous prisoners were kept in solitary confinement are especially harrowing. …

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