The one thing you must do in Vietnam: attend a water puppet show

Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique folk art practiced since the 11th century. Villagers in the delta of the Red River and in other rice-growing regions of Northern Vietnam staged water puppet performances at religious and end-of-harvest festivals, and on other important occasions.
Water is both the stage and a symbolic link to the rice harvest at water puppetry shows. It also conceals puppet strings and puppeteer movements, improves musical and vocal acoustics, and provides a shimmering lighting effect.
Each water puppet is hand-carved and given five layers of lacquer paint to make it waterproof and add vibrant colours to the performance.

waterpuppet show hanoi 10

 While puppets move around, directed by puppeteers standing waist-deep in the water behind the stage, singers tell their stories in songs. A water puppet show typically depicts Vietnamese day-to-day rural life along with important historical events and ancient legends.

Water puppetry is a popular form of entertainment nowadays too, especially for local children and foreigners discovering Vietnamese folk culture.

The world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

I had an opportunity to watch a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi.

thang long waterpuppet theathre hanoi

I went to buy a ticket first thing in the morning on the day of the show. When it was my turn in the short line at the ticket office, I was told they only had a few tickets left for the last performance of the day, at 8 p.m. I still happily bought it as it was my only chance to watch such a performance on that trip. The ticket cost 100 000 dongs, about 5 USD.

The audience comprised mostly adult foreign tourists, but some children too.

waterpuppet show hanoi 11

The show started with a folk music composition played by a Vietnamese orchestra on traditional music instruments: drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes, and cymbals.waterpuppet show hanoi 12

There were fourteen sketches, all in all, portraying agricultural work, catching frogs, chasing a duck-hunting fox, and fishing, among others.

waterpuppet show hanoi 14There was also the traditional sketch of Le Loi returning the sword, Le Loi being a national hero and the leader of the resistance against foreign invasion in the 15th century. As legend has it, he was granted a sword by deities to win the war. After the victory, the Golden Tortoise God appeared to claim the sword back when Le Roi was boating on a lake in Hanoi. Hence the name of the lake – “The Returned Sword”. It’s Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Hanoi, with the Turtle Tower on the island.
The performance was concluded by dances of four animals sacred in Vietnam: a dragon, a unicorn, a tortoise, and a phoenix.

waterpuppet show hanoi 15

The show was about one hour long and left a distinctive and lasting impression.

Water puppetry in the Museum of Ethnology

Later on the same trip, I was in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and learned that in November 2015 a new open air pavilion for water puppet performances had been opened there. The pavilion was built in a traditional style similar to that of the Thay Pagoda pavilion dating several hundred years back.


waterpuppets ethnology museum hanoi 10

 One of 16 Vietnamese folk water puppetry troupes performs there every Saturday and Sunday, four times a day. There is also a small exhibition of water puppets in the building nearby.

waterpuppets ethnology museum hanoi 14No trip to Vietnam is complete without a water puppets show, it's an experience not to be missed. Have you seen it? Share your impressions in the comments below!

Some venues for watching a water puppetry show

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hanoi

Hanoi Museum of Ethnology
Shows only on weekends
Address: Nguyen Van Huyen, Hanoi

Lotus water puppet
Address: 16 Le Thai To Street, Hanoi

Venues in the other cities of Vietnam

The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater
Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ho Chi Minh City

Hoi An Theatre - Water Puppets
Address: 548 Hai Bà Trưng, tp. Hội An

Co Do Hue Water Puppet Theatre
Address: 2 Phan Boi Chau, Hue

Check out even more things to do in Hanoi.

  • Published by Anita on April 2016
  • Visited April 2016


Author: Anita Sāne

Anita 03 18

About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, 
travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitter and Bloglovin.



Wow this looks incredible! I had never heard of water puppet before but it sounds like an amazing thing to watch.
Those puppets are so beautiful! The lacquer paint really makes them shine. I think it's so important to take in different kinds of cultural performances when possible. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
We went to Thang Long in Hanoi on our visit and were a bit perplexed by the whole experience! It was amazing to see the traditional form of entertainment - but I think my partner enjoyed the music more than I did - it's definitely a blast for muso's! Unfortunately my musical tastes are not as cultured as they could be!
Envy! I gave the show a miss due to limited time I have in Vietnam. :( The performance looks great on your photos. Hope get a chance to be there again one day.
I missed the show when I visited Vietnam few years back. The overall performance looks good on your photos. Envy! Wish to be there again one day to watch it.
This is so interesting!I'll be heading to Vietnam later this year so I'll have to check one of these shows out!
Wow! I had never heared about this before but it does like intriging. What a detail goes into such a show
Wow, I have never heard of water puppetry before, but it seems so cool and unique. Love your photos!
Have never heard of this but it looks amazing! So intricate! This is now on my list for when I visit! Thank you for sharing (:
Oh wow :O I have never heard of this before but it looks so beautiful! Will definitely have to attend one if I visit Vietnam :)
Been all over Vietnam but safly never got to watch any of the shows- these photos are great. Will be sure to not miss out on it next time.
I spent ten days in Vietnam and never heard of this, I feel like I really missed out. How absolutely beautiful.
Wow, how random! I've been to Vietnam and still hadn't heard of these! Thanks for sharing!
Wow! I've heard of this before, it certainly looks interesting! When I eventually make it to Vietnam, I will definitely visit a water puppet show. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!
I spent 3 weeks in Vietnam last year but did not go to any of these. And now that I see them I think I should have!
Oh wow that's so cool! I've seen a lot of pictures of such shows. Now I'm getting super excited for my trip to vietnam later this year.
I have NEVER heard of this art form! It is so neat, like water ballet. The costumes and puppets are so beautiful. Do they all sell puppets in the area? It is such an interesting form of storytelling, I would definitely want to check it out on a visit to Vietnam.

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