Adventures in East Asia

Traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet Show in Hanoi

One thing on our list to do in Vietnam was to see a traditional water puppet show and we did this in Hanoi at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre - along with all the other tourists! The place is opposite the Hoan Kiem Lake and at showtime in the evening, seemed to draw in the tourists like moths to a flame.


However, all the seats were bought earlier in the day - as we were advised to by our guide - as all the shows (several performances a day) frequently sell out. We booked two of the 60,000 VND (£2.50) around 5pm for the 9.15pm showing and half the seats were already booked. We knew because we could choose where we wanted to sit and the front half of the seats were all taken up.


Our guide explained that water puppet shows are almost attended exclusively by tourists as it doesn't appeal to modern Vietnamese audiences. I was interested to visit since I'd heard about it through David Tse, former Artistic Director of the UK's Yellow Earth Theatre, who are one of my clients.

When we filed into the theatre, we had the opportunity to pay for additional tickets for the right to film or take photos during the performance. We bought a couple but it was hardly worth it, since the view for recording where we sat was crap, nobody checked and with all the audience photography taking place during the show, there's no way of knowing who paid. However, the tickets are only 15,000 VND (60p) so anything to help the upkeep of the art.

Which brings me to a tip for filming/photographing - if you can book early enough and want to see this water puppet show in Hanoi, try to get a seat in the first couple of rows. It's the only way to get a close enough decent shot without any audience heads in the way!


Once seated, the performance started with the introduction of the traditional live band and their musical prelude, interlaced with Vietnamese vocals. Then the puppets began - flicking their way across the water accompanied by music and Vietnamese commentary.

Throughout the forty five minute show, the performance plays through different scenes. Lots of animal action, with buffalos, frog catching, fox chasing, fishing and duck rearing. The puppets are actually quite ingeniously performed, making use of the water dimension (which is also a novelty, different from any other theatre I've seen) and the flicking and swirling motions of the figures to animate their limbs, feathers and any other appendages. It gives a low tech but charming feel which really works!


There are also some historical and cultural lgends such as a scene where the victorious Vietnamese King Le returns a magic sword to a giant golden turtle and mythological creatures such as unicorns, phoenixes and dragons. A pair of phoenixs are used for a charming and humorous scene depicting their amourous union and the consequent egg and phoenix chick. However, a pair of dragons are introduced early on, amidst some unexpected and stunning sparkers, smoke and water jet action.


At the end of the show, the puppet performers revealed themselves by raising the short curtain to briefly show the operation of the puppets (long, horizontal sticks reaching to the back of the stage and under the water) before all coming out in a line to bow to the audience.


To get an idea of the water puppet show experience, check out this video below.

More photos of the Water Puppet Show on Flickr

Visit the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre website

This entry posted in : Attractions. Culture. History. Tourism. Vietnam.

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