Water Puppet Show
Home Travel Guide Vietnam Travel Guide Vietnamese Water Puppets: All Things You Should Know

Vietnamese Water Puppets: All Things You Should Know

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What is the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show?

The Vietnamese water puppetry with a history of 1,000 years is a unique and traditional Vietnamese art performance. The stage of the water puppetry is set on the water and puppets are manipulated by hidden puppet masters backstage with long strings or bamboo poles, which are most times invisible to the audience. The puppets can be controlled to perform various movements and scenes. All the time, water puppetry is a great way of entertainment and is favored by Vietnamese people. It also plays an important role in international cultural exchange, opening a window to display traditional Vietnamese culture.

Water Puppet Show
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History of the Vietnamese Water Puppets

The water puppetry in the Vietnamese language is called Mua roi nuoc and it derives from the Red River Delta, North Vietnam in the 11th century. As lakes and ponds widely existed in that region and paddy fields were easily flooded with water during that time, peasants could build a shelter in the water and controlled puppets to perform stories for fun during slack seasons. The puppet masters just stood in the muddy water and handled puppets with the strings on a simple stage. The simple but interesting art had become popular among common people as it can be easily enjoyed by young and old. Gradually, the stage and puppets become more and more exquisite, and more vivid scenes were created and performed. By the time of the Ly Dynasty (1009-1225), water puppetry had become entertainment also for nobility, and even for the emperor at that time.

Water puppetry then peaked in the 18th century, but declined in the mid-to-late 19th century, when the French colonized Vietnam. Until 1954, water puppetry was experiencing a renaissance in northern Vietnam. And nowadays, it has become more and more important in Vietnamese culture.

Water puppetry is so important that it has been included as a formal course at Hanoi University since 2007. Traditional art has spread over mega cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and people can easily enjoy them in modern theaters. You cannot miss the fantastic traditional performance once you have visited Vietnam.

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Stage Details of the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

Setting Stage

The Vietnamese water puppetry is mainly performed at festivals or celebrations. Before the performance, the pavilion will be built on a turbid pool one meter deep, which is mainly for hiding the operating tools in the water. The pavilion is decorated with some items and bamboo curtains are hung on both sides, surrounded by vegetation scenery. The puppet masters just stand in the water behind the bamboo curtain and manipulate the puppets with poles and strings, making them jump, row and roll. These puppet masters will drink fish sauce and massage the body with old ginger before the performance so that the lower part of the body can resist cold when immersed in water, and they will also wear waterproof clothes.

Music

Apart from these masters, music is also very important in the performance. The instruments they used include drums, horns, and single-stringed guitars. Drums play an important role in the performance and it is closely related to the plot. For example, when the climax of the play is coming, the drumming is often most dense. Drums can also signal the start and end of a performance.

Water Puppets

Water puppets are made of fig trees as they are light, insect resistant, and with good buoyancy. Puppets are generally painted with vivid images in bright colors, with 40 centimeters in height, and 7 kilograms in weight. One large puppet needs at least three people to manipulate at the same time. It sometimes takes twelve strings to control a single puppet, and the grandest performance can have up to two hundred puppets with fifty puppet masters.

Themes of the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

Traditional themes of the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show mainly revolve around rural life, legends of kings, historical stories, and Vietnamese mythologies. Some highlights include stories of the harvest, fishing, boating, and festivals. Nowadays for better international culture exchange, some foreign stories are also added as the subject of puppetry, like some classic fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen: Nightingale, the Ugly Duckling, and Snow White.

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Best Places to Enjoy Water Puppet Shows in Vietnam

  • ThangLong Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi:

This is undoubtedly the most well-known water puppetry theater in the capital city of Hanoi, and also the only theater where you can enjoy a fantastic performance on any day of the year. As its performances are very popular, booking tickets in advance is necessary.

Address: 57 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi

Tickets: VND 100,000 to VND 200,000 per person according to different viewing areas

  • Lotus Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi:

Lotus Water Puppet Theatre is an alternative if you have not got a ticket for Thang Long, also one of the best theaters in Hanoi.

Address: 16 Lê Thái To, Hàng Trong, Hoàn Kiem, Hanoi

Ticket: from VND 100,000

  • Vietnam National Puppetry Theater

Address: 361 Trưong Chinh St., Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi

  • Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater, Ho Chi Minh City

If you are in Ho Chi Minh City, Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater is a must-place to see the performance, which can serve up to 500 people. The puppet show generally lasts about 1 hour.

Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Ticket: from VND 160,000

  • Hoi An Theater

The theatre in Hoi An offers the finest forms of water puppetry to you as the water quality is good and the light and sound effects are smooth as well.

Address: Hoi An Theater, 548 Hai Ba Trung, Hoi An

Ticket: from VND 80,000

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