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Water puppet show in Hanoi – an insight to Vietnamese culture

Home Travel Blog Water puppet show in Hanoi – an insight to Vietnamese culture

Water puppet show in Hanoi – an insight to Vietnamese culture

Being a small country in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is not only well-known among worldwide tourists for breathtaking landscape but a rich cultural identity. This is illustrated through a great number of festivals, holidays and even art performances. One of the most favorite show in Vietnam nowadays that must be mentioned is Water Puppet, which also plays an integral role in the Vietnamese people’s life. And it is a must-see show during your North Vietnam tours.
Brief history & meanings
Since a long time ago, agriculture has been the main industry in Vietnam and endless paddle fields is a typical image of the countryside, with buffaloes and hard-working farmers. The establishment of Water Puppet art has a close bond with this industry, when the rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers thought of a way of entertainment while they were working at the fields. According to national record, Water Puppet appeared in the Ly dynast, around year 1010 and 1025. As time goes by, this art was passed among generations and developed into a traditional game in festivals. Until nowadays, this comes to be a time-honored folk art and is preserved and introduced widely by the Vietnamese Government.
look at the wooden puppets
look at the wooden puppets

How the performance is carried out, what is included
As its name indicates, Water Puppet show is a show where puppets perform on the water, the feature that differentiates this puppet show to any other ones around the world. If you find out about its origin, you will be more amazed. During the early days, the show took place on the actual rice fields around the Red River Delta, northern of Vietnam. The water is not only a main stage for the puppets but also a symbol of the rice harvest. Expert puppeteers were farmers standing waist deep on the water, skillfully controlling the puppets in order to regale the audiences, who were also the villagers.
Skillful puppeteers standing behind the scene
Skillful puppeteers standing behind the scene

The puppets are hand-made wooden sculptures with tough lines, simple colors of lacquer paint and broken movements. Despite that, by moving on the water and thanks to the reflector of water, puppets look so lively and vivid. They are manipulated by puppeteers hiding behind a bamboo screen, specifically by hard strings. Puppets can move quickly on the water not only because of the rods but based largely on the steering wheels and bouys assembled inside each puppet. Nevertheless, the competence of puppeteers remains a secret with many people, even the Vietnamese.
Nowadays, modern water puppet show depicts various stories about daily life and historical legends such as:

  • Praising day by day jobs: cultivating rice, raising ducks, fishing, etc…
  • Traditional entertaining games: horse racing, wrestling, swinging, etc…

Honoring national heroes
By telling these stories, many messages are conveyed and bringing a laugh to the audiences.
The show has not changed much today, only the location and setting. The attractiveness of the show is elaborated by another significant part, Vietnamese traditional music. During one show, a plenty of traditional Vietnamese folk instruments is played: wooden bells, bamboo flutes, cymbals, drums, horns, a single stringed guitar. Additionally, instrumentalists shout words so as to add much more excitement and fun atmosphere. The music played in the show is called Cheo, a unique folk performance in North Vietnam, you shouldn’t ignore in your Vietnam private tours

The orchestra with traditional cloths and instruments
The orchestra with traditional clothes and instruments

Where to see the show:
The Water puppet show is introduced worldwide these days. If once tourist come to visit the country, it is not difficult to get a ticket to the show. In big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, some theaters locate just centrally with a view to help tourists have better access to the show. In Hanoi, some spots you can come and see the show are: Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, Lotus Water Puppet Theater, and Ethnology Museum. The most famous theater must be mentioned is Thang Long Theater that sits just right Hoan Kiem Lake. Sometimes, the foreigners can have troubles understanding what is being told during the show due to the lack of English subtitles. Normally, each customer will be handed a flyer in English that explain about the show. Other than this, the show is still appealing in many aspects and is worth to see.
To summarize, Water Puppet show is such an amusing way to help people quickly look into the daily life and history of Vietnamese people, hence make sure you will not miss it once you come here.
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