I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I had a brilliant time at the water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi, northern Vietnam.
What I’m less certain about, however, is what in the world the show was about.
To say that the story was lost in translation would be a massive understatement (the entire show was in Vietnamese). All I know was there were puppets and there was definitely some water.
There were dragon puppets and birds, fish and livestock. Some puppets danced and splashed around in the water, while some of the human characters rode around on horses and cows. There was also some coloured lights, fire and smoke.
Some people near the front row even got a tiny bit wet.
There was some pretty cool music, too, played by a band with authentic-sounding Vietnamese instruments to the left of the pond where the action took place (see pic above). Either the band or the puppeteers had impeccable timing, because when a puppet would clang its miniature cymbals, sure enough, you’d hear them.
Honestly, I think the music was worth the price of admission alone. And I mean no disrespect to the show itself because, as I said, I had a brilliant time.
The water puppets themselves are pretty neat, and you can’t help but admire the puppeteer’s craft of making them move around so fluidly on the top of the water, while staying behind the curtain the entire time.
Water puppetry is a tradition in Vietnam that dates back as far as the 11th century, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi (see the best places to visit in Vietnam) is meant to be among the most famous places to watch such a show.
According to my research on Wikipedia, the water puppets are made from wood and then lacquered. When the rice fields used to flood back in the day, Vietnamese villagers used to both entertain each other and appease the gods by putting on these water puppet shows.
From what I understand, which obviously isn’t much, the shows at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre stick pretty close to the ancient traditions.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang street, near Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Tickets are pretty cheap at 60,000 Vietnamese dong (only a couple of bucks American) and water puppet shows are on several times a day, every day of the week.
Apparently they do a bunch of different shows – some are from traditional Vietnamese folklore while others are about, well, your guess is as good as mine. You should definitely check it out, though – it’s not every day you get to see some traditional Vietnamese water puppet theatre.
While you’re here, check out these Vietnam travel tips learnt the hard way.