Is the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show Worth Seeing?

Vietnamese Water Puppets Performing

Many years ago, a friend told me that he thought to see the Vietnamese water puppets show was not really worth anyone’s time. I listened to him, and though I lived quite close to the theatre, it took me many years to actually go to see the Vietnamese water puppet show performance.

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Every visitor to Vietnam should go to see the Vietnamese Water Puppets show. This water puppet show is very much a part of the Vietnamese culture. The water puppets are also a rich part of Vietnam’s history.

Here are some aspects of the Vietnamese water puppet show that you may not know about:

The Vietnamese water puppets date back to the 11th century.

The Vietnamese water puppets are an ancient cultural tradition; the puppet show dates back to the 11th century. The puppet shows started in the villages along the Red River in North Vietnam.

Interestingly, the tradition of the Vietnamese water puppets has really withstood the test of time, including Vietnam’s colonization by the French and the Vietnam War, or what they call here in Vietnam, the American War. Through all this, the Vietnamese water puppets have lasted as an important cultural art form.

The Vietnamese refer to the water puppets as”making puppets dance on the water.”

The Vietnamese word for the Water Puppets is Múa rối nước when translated means making puppets dance on water. That is a wonderful translation that really does describe the water puppets.

When you see the water puppet show, the one thing you notice is that the water puppets really dance on the water. And how they can gracefully dance on the water is actually quite amazing. I have personally never seen anything like it before.

The Puppets are carved out of wood and then lacquered.

Many years ago, we went to a lacquer factory, and we visited one of the master water puppet manufacturers. He was in the process of manufacturing puppets for the Water Puppet show in Hanoi.

His puppets were all made out of wood and used a lacquer that could withstand the water. The puppets are also made with a traditional Vietnamese lacquer technique. If you are interested in lacquer production, you can read Mondoro’s blog about lacquer by clicking here.

Close up of the Vietnamese water puppets
Close up of the Vietnamese water puppets.

Some actual puppeteers operate the water puppets.

In a world when so much has been computerized or mechanized, it is refreshing to see a show like the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show that is still performing the way it has been for centuries.

Modern-day Vietnamese water puppet shows are performed in a pool that is about 4 meters deep. Usually, about 8 puppeteers are hidden behind a screen so that you cannot see them as they are operating the puppets.

Of course, to add to the show, some modern elements were added to the water puppet theatre. Still, the Vietnamese water puppet tradition’s essence and how it is performed is similar to how it has been performed for many centuries.

The puppet shows are filled with symbols of Vietnam’s rural life.

Vietnam’s countryside and rural life have always been an essential part of the Vietnamese culture, so it should be no surprise that the Vietnamese water puppet show also reflects this part of Vietnam.

Though the shows change in the stories, themes, or choreography, many themes run consistently through the Vietnamese Water Puppet shows. Here are some themes:

  • The Rice Harvest – Rice is a staple of life in Vietnam, and since rice is so important, many of the water puppets show also reflects the importance of the rice harvest.
  • The Everyday Life and Activities of the Vietnamese – The water puppet show will also celebrate the Vietnamese’ everyday life and activities. As the countryside is such an important part of this, a lot of this will be focused on the rural side of Vietnam.
  • Vietnamese National Heroes – Like most countries, they will celebrate some of their National heroes; the water puppet shows are no exception.
  • Traditional Vietnamese Songs and Opera – The water puppet shows will also celebrate many traditional songs and operas. This is why the water puppet shows usually have a live orchestra with traditional Vietnamese musicians and traditional Vietnamese musical instruments. Many also have Vietnamese singers performing some traditional songs.

The water puppet shows the ingeniousness of the Vietnamese people and their artistic skills.

The water puppets and how the puppet masters can operate and perform these water puppets are really ingenious. The water puppet shows show the ingeniousness of the Vietnamese people and their artistic skills. The puppet masters can literally make the water puppets “dance on the water.”

I can imagine how centuries ago, the water puppet shows were like magic to the many communities along the Red River in North Vietnam. It must have been a much looked forward to entertainment when the water puppet shows came into the village for a performance.

Vietnamese water puppet performing.
Vietnamese water puppet performing.

Your participation in attending the Vietnamese water puppet show will help to keep this ancient art alive.

By attending the Vietnamese water puppet show you will be supporting and helping to keep the ancient Vietnamese water puppet art alive and flourishing. Without the support of the patrons that attend this water puppet show today, this ancient art form would be lost.

Not only do you help keep this art alive, but you also help to ensure those that make and support the water puppets as the puppet manufacturers, the musicians, and singers also keep their art.

If you can think of no other reason to go to see the Vietnamese Water Puppet show, go because it will help support an ancient art form that could otherwise be lost.

Where can you see the Vietnamese water puppet show in Hanoi?

The main water puppet show is in the Hanoi downtown area near the Hoan Kiem Lake area of Hanoi, the name of the theatre is called Thang Long Theatre at 57b Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.

If you are planning to attend the water puppet show, it is suggested that you look to purchase your tickets at first online, as due to the popularity of the show and the tour groups who attend the show, tickets can sell out. You can go to the Viator website by clicking here to purchase some tickets or via Trip Advisor on their website by clicking here.

You can find out more about the showtimes and tickets to visit the Thang Long water puppet website by clicking here. This is the official website of the Thang Long water puppet theatre.

Additional water puppet shows at The Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre at the address 361 Truong Chinh, Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi. You can find information on their website by clicking here.

And also the Vietculture Space – Lotus Water Puppet that is located at 16 Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. You can also see more information about this show by viewing their website by clicking here.

For the Vietnam National Puppetry Theatre Shows and the Vietculture Space – Lotus Water Puppet Shows, you can book the tickets directly on their websites.

Where can you see the Water Puppet show in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam?

If you are in Ho Chi Minh, you can also see the Water Puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, at 55B Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh. As with Hanoi, it would be best to purchase the tickets in advance on the dates and times you want to see the show. You can book a Viator tour by clicking here or buying tickets on Trip Advisor by clicking here.

The Ngon Restaurant at the Thao Dien Village in Ho Chi also has some dinner water puppet shows. They are located at 195 Nguyen Van Huong | Thao Dien Ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City. You can book a tour on Tripadvisor by clicking here.

Are there other locations in Vietnam I can see a water puppet show?

Hoi An, near Danang, also has a water puppet theatre. To find out more about the water puppet show in Hoi An, click here. Basically, any city you visit in Vietnam can check to see if they have a water puppet show going on. You must get lucky and be able to see a very local show.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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