One needs to know the history of French Indochina and the history of the American Vietnam war before one goes to visit the maison centrale. The Hoa Lo prison gives a side of history filled with propaganda which is sometimes difficult to stomach. The French are depicted as cruel and evil, the American pilots emprisoned at Hoa Lo as immature little boys who like to play basketball and have fun. And the Vietnamese as either innocent victims of French torture or as fun-loving buddies who made the stay of the American pilots at Hoa Lo an amusing recreation camp. Pull aside the curtain of propaganda, and the visit of Hoa Lo is more than interesting. The building is well-preserved and one can get a feel of history in it. The prison is big and full of narrow alleys, a big courtyard and an upper floor. The guillotine is better preserved than the one at the Conciergerie in Paris. The open book store in the courtyard has a good choice of books on Vietnam. The entrance fee is 25,000 dong and I stayed for 2 hours to see and read all.