Feb 15, 2018

Hanoi Travelogue: The Afternoon in Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton (31 Jan 2016)

After our tour at Ha Long Bay the day before, we decided to sleep in until 11am, before paying visit to the porridge stall nearby Especen Hotel. Nothing beats waking up in a winter morning to a bowl of piping hot porridge to warm our empty bellies.

Our itinerary today was to visit Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton, a prison used by French colonists for political prisoners, and later for US prisoners during War of Vietnam. Before that, we needed to hunt for Banh Xeo at Quan An Ngon, approximately 900m away from Especen Hotel.

Vietnamese Fried Pancake with Shrimp and Pork @ Quan An Ngon (VND60k)
Banh Xeo is crispy rice flour crepe made with turmeric and plenty of coconut milk, loaded with shrimp, pork, onions and perhaps sprouts, and served along with a bed of local herbs. Our Banh Xeo at Quan An Ngon matched the description. That paper thin crepe crumbled upon touch. Don't mind the shape no more, drizzle some of that sweet and sour sauce, sprinkle a leaf or two on top of the fillings, and scoop away the savory fillings!

Steamed Rice Pancake with Shrimp and Minced Pork @ Quan An Ngon (VND50k)
Banh Cuon (aka steamed rice pancake) at Quan An Ngon was similarly loaded with shrimp and minced pork, and topped with a bed of fried onions and meat floss. I personally loved mine with a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of fish sauce that served alongside, which provided the crucial differentiation against the Banh Xeo, though the fillings was similar. If you are a fan of steamed pancake, you would find Banh Cuon here delightful.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND206k (don't remember what else we ordered...)

Maison Centrale Gatehouse @ Hoa Lo Prison
500m walk around the corner brought us to Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was demolished back in 1990s, but the gatehouse remained as a museum for the public to visit. The ticket price to visit Hoa Lo Prison was priced at VND30k/pax.

Heavy Door @ Hoa Lo Prison
Vietnamese prisoners held captive for fighting for independence @ Hoa Lo Prison

Vietnamese prisoners held captive for fighting for independence @ Hoa Lo Prison
Upon entering the gatehouse, we first came upon the male prison where about 30 prisoners were held captive. Their feet were restrained, leaving them in constant sitting/sleeping positions.

Torture @ Hoa Lo Prison
After the common prison, the museum led us to an open air area where murals were hung along the walkway. This mural depicted the torture of prisoners.

Painting of Hoa Lo Prison @ Hoa Lo Prison

Female prisoners behind bars @ Hoa Lo Prison

We then entered into the female prisoners section, where the prisoners were allowed to move freely in the cells. Babies born in the prison remained with their mothers.

The Guillotine Room @ Hoa Lo Prison
Then we came into a dark room, featuring all tools and equipments used to torture its prisoners. Being the tallest structure, the Guillotine stood tall and daunting, spelling misery to those heads come below it.

After the Guillotine Room, the exhibits switched its focus to American prisoners of Vietnam war. Interrogation room, accommodations, leisure room, just to name a few. Its nickname, Hanoi Hilton, was said to be the proof of the quality of its inmate accommodations comparable to a hotel's.

Vua Tao Pho
After spending 2 hours in Hoa Lo Prison, we concluded our visit and headed out to Vua Tao Pho for some Tao Pho De. Tao Pho De is an unique food of Northern Vietnam for hot summer. Tao Pho was sliced into a bowl, topped with flower sugar and ice, and there you have your cool Tao Pho.

Tao Pho De @ Vua Tao Pho (VND 20k)
I know what you are thinking - is it not tau fu fa? Smooth and silky, it was tau fu fa but less sweet. Ours came with milk tea bubbles too!

Total damage = VND 20k

Nha Hang Mien Luon
On our way back to hotel, we made a pitstop at Nha Hang Mien Luon for its Mien Luon of course!

Condiments @ Nha Hang Mien Luon

Mien Luon @ Nha Hang Mien Luon (VND 50k)
Mien Luon can be directly translated into noodle eel. Basically it is a glass noodle dish, topped with fried tiny eels, bean sprout and eggs, garnished with fried shallots and fresh cucumber. I liked the texture of glass noodles, contrasting against the crunchy fried eels as you bite into it. It was definitely not as daunting as it may sound. For me, I liked to complement my Mien Luon with some limes and pickled garlic.

Total damage = VND 50k

29 Cau Go
After catching a few hours rest in the hotel, we headed out again for dinner and walkabout. At 29 Cau Go, you can have all the local dishes above. For me, it was definitely more Bun Cha.

Bun Cha @ 29 Cau Go (VND 40k)
The best part of Bun Cha was none other than the sizzling grilled pork served in sweet and sour broth. I personally found the broth refreshing and aptly so ,as it also served as the dipping sauce for the rice vermicelli. Portion wise, Bun Cha Dac Kim's had better meat to rice vermicelli ratio along with its VND 60k price tag. Flavour wise, Bun Cha Dac Kim's was definitely more punchy.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 80k

Vietnamese Coffee with Yoghurt @ Quan Mon Ngon 24
We spent the rest of the night exploring different streets in Hanoi, with each street named after the kind of trades the shops specialised in. To name a few, toys in Luong Van Can street; silk, gowns and tailors in Hang Gai street.

We got ourselves some fried crackers and dried fruits and ended the night with a cup of Vietnamese coffee with yoghurt (VND 35k) and iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (VND 20k) at Quan Mon Ngon 24. The combination of bitter coffee with sweet and thick yoghurt was an unusual delight. Besides its sweetness that could well replace condensed milk, the creaminess of yoghurt did blended well into the concoction.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 55k

Life is good.


My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:

  • Ambiance
    • Quan An Ngon - 5/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 4/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 4/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 2/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Price
    • Quan An Ngon - 3/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 3/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 5/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 5/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Food
    • Quan An Ngon - 5/5
    • Vua Tao Pho - 4/5
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - 4/5
    • 29 Cau Go - 4/5
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - 4/5
  • Verdict
    • Quan An Ngon - A starting place for tourists to experience all the local dishes before venturing to street style
    • Vua Tao Pho - A little twist to the usual tau fu fa I am used to but not a bad thing to try at all
    • Nha Hang Mien Luon - I liked it, just don't keep thinking about the eels
    • 29 Cau Go - Cheap and good, might not be enough if you order just one
    • Quan Mon Ngon 24 - A quiet cafe nearby hotel, nothing fancy, just local daily fare

My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Especen Hotel: Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake and local food. Spacious and comfortable room. It could use a fan for ventilation during winters. Do ask for lower floor rooms if you are not a fan of climbing narrow staircases
  • Hoa Lo Prison: A sneak peak into the central prison in Hanoi, along with its local and Western history


Quan An Ngon
18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 8am - 10pm
Tel: +84 90 212 69 63
Credit Card: Yes

Vua Tao Pho
192 Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 7.30am - 12am
Tel: +84 93 499 93 33
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

Nha Hang Mien Luon
87 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 6.30am - 9.30pm
Tel: +84 24 3826 7943
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

29 Cau Go
29 Cầu Gỗ, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

Quan Mon Ngon 24
24 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: N/A
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: No (we paid cash)

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