They say, ‘Not watching a performance of Water Puppetry means not visiting Vietnam yet’, this I have to agree with. It is easy to consider that ‘this just another tourist trap or you think that you are just too old for puppets’; but I can assure you, you will be pleasantly surprised. This traditional presentation shows the wooden puppets actively moving around on top of the water, which is a fascinating maneuver when you cannot see any mechanics at work.

Thang Long Water Puppets, Hanoi - Let it begin. Musician’s make magic from scene one.
Thang Long Water Puppets, Hanoi – Let it begin. Musician’s make magic from scene one..

Boisterous music starts the first act, musicians in the orchestra play traditional music with classical instruments like drums, Chinese guitars, bamboo flutes, zithars, clarinets, cymbals, 2 stringed violins and a monocord (found only in Vietnam). Music and songs all originate from folk music; audiences are treated to classic tunes that date back to simpler times.

Gain an insight to everyday scenes of village life with fishing, farming, to ancient myths and legends. The

puppeteers have to be strong and be able to stand in cold waist deep water. Luckily these days the artists wear waders and from behind a bamboo screen they control their puppets with a complicated system of bamboo poles, pulleys and jute ropes that really do bring the puppets to life.

Elaborate Vietnamese water puppet from Ethnology Museum display
Elaborate Vietnamese water puppet from Ethnology Museum display

 

Water Puppetry has preserved its art and been handed from generation to generation for 1,000 years.

Originally being performed in rural village ponds in the Red River Delta area. Created by farmers when they had time on their hands between harvesting their crops. The wood from Engenia trees, is selected as a perfect soft wood to make puppets, are it is light and waterproof.

In 1958 it was first displayed in Hanoi, and then in 1973 the first state-run troupe was established to serve the public. 1984 was the first international tour to France. Puppeteers have long been part of the same family or community, following strict regulations to protect their trade secrets. Any chance to get to  experience this in a village pond, relish in this cultural experience as not many foreigners don’t often get to enjoy this.

Your chance to watch this is at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, 361 Dinh Tien Hoang, (opposite Hoan Kiem Lake).  At least three shows a day, best to book a day in advance if you can, as it’s on hot demand and can be sold out.

If you are heading out to the Ethnology Museum they normally have performances twice a day.  It’s in outside pond so quite an experience, seating in under cover.  Before it starts you can be cheeky and go and see the amazing instruments that the musicians are playing.  Address is: Nguyen Van Huyen, Cau Giay, it’s takes about 30 mins by taxi from the city, but if you have kids, the museum is well worth the trip.