If you have a chance to visit Hanoi, it will be regretful to miss the Water Puppet Theater even if you don’t know much about puppet things. The Hanoi Water Puppet show is not just geared for children but meant for adults as well because it holds Vietnamese traditional culture.

Metta Vogaye’s team has tried our best to acquire related information and gather them in this article for you to explore.

YouTube video

1. A brief history of water puppet shows

There is a long history of water puppet shows from 1000 years ago, the Ly Dynasty is when water puppetry first appeared. The first water puppet performances took place in northern Vietnam’s rice paddies near the Red River Delta.

The first water puppet shows were only performed outside, with the stage being set up in a big open area beneath the sky. It is also stated that the performances were initially meant to keep mystical spirits amused so they wouldn’t cause trouble as well as to amuse rice growers.

The main point of the show hasn’t changed until now, only the setting and the locations. The typical concepts of a water puppet show have deeply rooted in rural Vietnamese traditions that combine fishing, planting, harvesting of rice, and village folklore.

The first modern water puppet shows were played at Thang Long Theater in 1990. It’s said that about 500 shows are performed in front of approximately 150,000 people each year. This theater has also brought water puppetry to more than 40 foreign countries through performance tours, international cultural exchange programs, and puppetry festivals. This is a great chance to bring a signature Vietnamese culture to the world.

2. What is performed in a water puppet show?

2.1 Performant of a water puppet show

For many years, Vietnamese water puppet artisans always suffer in cold and wet conditions. A water puppet show is performed at a chest-deep water level, and the water’s surface is the main stage. The puppeteers stand behind a screen and control the show by using long bamboo rods and string mechanisms beneath the water.

The wooden puppet is usually up to 15 kg in weight. Water puppets are coated with resinous paint and built of lightweight wood like fig and vine (which are easily found around ponds). Simple or sophisticated tables, pile systems, word rods, and bamboo poles are used by the puppeteers to control the puppets’ wires and poles.

The puppeteers use a big pole to support the puppet underwater and to operate it. The puppets look to be floating over the water. The puppets either come out of the murky water or enter from either side of the stage. The peasants used to amuse one another with these puppets in the past when the rice fields were flooded.

A standard water puppet show is performed by 7-11 skilled puppeteers working in harmony with each other to create a lively show. The puppeteers get training for at least three years before officially performing on the stage.

2.2 The content of a water puppet shows

Traditional Vietnamese music is played while the puppets recite well-known folk tales and legends. Vietnamese musicians perform traditional music on drums, cymbals, horns, bamboo flutes, and wooden bells. Vietnamese operatic tunes are also included, describing the tale the puppets are enacting.

The programs tell Vietnamese folk tales and legends, including subjects like the rice harvest festival, which is humorously depicted, agricultural production, animal husbandry, sports like wrestling, and even the valiant acts of national heroes like Ba Trung, Ba Trieu, and Tran Hung Dao.

3. Where to watch a water puppet show in Hanoi

Location: Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hanoi

Ticket price: VND 60,000 – VND 150,000/pax ($3 – $7/pax)

Opening Hours:

  • Mondays – Saturdays: 3.00 pm; 4.10 pm; 5.20 pm; 6.30 pm; 8.00 pm
  • Sundays: 9.30 am

Duration: ~45 minutes

For visitors looking to watch water puppet performances and appreciate the beauty of this distinctive Vietnamese traditional art, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is a well-known destination close to Hoan Kiem Lake.

Instead of one long story, modern performances typically consist of several brief sketches that transport the audience to a bygone era of village life, agricultural harvests, and mythological creature dances.

Most programs also include the well-known King Le’s Returned Sword Legend, which includes Hoan Kiem Lake and the enormous tortoise. With singers frequently yelling encouraging words to the puppets, live music plays a crucial role in the performance.

The theater has four standard shows and an additional show during the winter season from October to April when Vietnam welcomes thousands of foreign tourists. After the show, you can buy souvenir puppets and try if you can figure out how to make them dance in the water!

YouTube video

4. Tips when visiting the Hanoi Water Puppet Show

4.1 Buy tickets

It is wise to purchase your tickets as soon as you can because they tend to sell out in advance. You can go to the theater in the morning and buy tickets for the afternoon show. If you want to photograph or film the performance, there are additional camera or video expenses in addition to the standard price of about 100,000 VND.

4.2 Check the schedule

There are daily water puppet shows on

  • Mondays – Saturdays: 3.00 pm; 4.10 pm; 5.20 pm; 6.30 pm; 8.00 pm
  • Sundays: 9.30 am.

Check it carefully because you can get stuck on the street and not come to the theater on time.

4.3 What to do in the show

In the water puppet show you have around 45 minutes to enjoy the magnificent show. Also, there are other services such as: taking pictures, buying puppets as souvenir gifts, and interacting with puppeteers. You should attend other activities to understand every aspect of this unique culture.

To find out more about Vietnamese culture, travel destinations, and other tips while you are in Vietnam. Check out Metta Voyage’s blog for more valuable information.