What is water puppetry about?

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 thesanetravel.com 10

 While puppets move around, directed by puppeteers standing waist-deep in water behind the stage, singers tell their story 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 of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.

thang long waterpuppet theathre hanoi thesanetravel.com

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 of mostly adult foreign tourists, but some children too.

waterpuppet show hanoi thesanetravel.com 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 thesanetravel.com 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 thesanetravel.com 14There was also the traditional sketch of Le Loi returning the sword, Le Loi being a national hero and the leader of 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.

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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 traditional style similar to that of the Thay Pagoda pavilion dating several hundred years back.

 

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 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 thesanetravel.com 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 where to watch a water puppetry show

Hanoi
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 even more things to do in Hanoi.

  • Published by Anita on April 2016
  • Visited April 2016

 

Author: Anita Sāne

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About the author
Anita is a part time traveler, passionate photographer and a mature career woman
from Latvia, 
traveling mostly solo for more than 10 years. She is a skilled travel planner
planning and executing her travels by herself. Follow Anita also on Instagram.

 

 
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Comments   

AlicevstheWorld.com
#17 AlicevstheWorld.com 2017-01-13 09:05
Wow this looks incredible! I had never heard of water puppet before but it sounds like an amazing thing to watch.
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Stella
#16 Stella 2016-05-01 19:02
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.
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Vicki Louise
#15 Vicki Louise 2016-04-29 08:54
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!
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Tracy
#14 Tracy 2016-04-29 06:39
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.
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Tracy
#13 Tracy 2016-04-29 06:37
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.
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Taylor
#12 Taylor 2016-04-28 19:19
This is so interesting!I'll be heading to Vietnam later this year so I'll have to check one of these shows out!
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Naomi
#11 Naomi 2016-04-28 17:22
Wow! I had never heared about this before but it does like intriging. What a detail goes into such a show
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Yilin Wang
#10 Yilin Wang 2016-04-28 16:54
Wow, I have never heard of water puppetry before, but it seems so cool and unique. Love your photos!
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Rebecca Huxley
#9 Rebecca Huxley 2016-04-28 08:37
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 (:
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Nam
#8 Nam 2016-04-28 02:50
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 :)
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