The remains of Hoa Lo Prison, a penitentiary ironically known by the American soldiers held captive there during the American-Vietnamese War as the ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ was turned into a museum in the ’90s chronicling the experiences of prisoners of war in Vietnam. Primarily a memorial to Vietnamese revolutionary martyrs who endured horrible suffering at the hands of the French colonialists, Hoa Lo’s most captivating display is of a macabre French guillotine. The remaining chilly, damp cells and rusted iron stocks used in the torture of prisoners give a disturbing glimpse of life as a prisoner in Vietnam’s most notorious prison, but the most intriguing award has to go to an exhibition dedicated to the experience of American POWs held at Hoa Lo. The exhibition features John McCain’s flight suit and parachute. That’s the same John McCain who admitted to attempting suicide numerous times during his stay at Hoa Lo, but judging by the shameless propaganda on the walls of this exhibition, he and the other US captives thoroughly enjoyed their time there. Cost: 20,000 VND.
Housed in a gorgeous French Colonial building formerly used by the French Ministry of Information, the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is a real treasure trove of traditional, religious, modern and contemporary Vietnamese art. The museum can sometimes be completely empty, a remarkable detail considering the quality of the work on display and the low cost of entry, just 30,000 VND. Chronologically organized, the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum offers an easy lesson in the history of Vietnamese art and features ancient Champa carvings, 20th-century folk paintings, and 21st-century abstract works. The museum is so large and densely packed with artworks that you might want to make more than one visit to take it all in and be sure to take a moment to view the sublime effigies of Guan Yin, the 1,000-armed and 1,000-eyed goddess of compassion. Cost: 30,000 VND.