Water puppetry in Vietnam – (Part 1) Wonder Water Puppets

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There is a type of art found in many countries in the world; however, in Vietnam, it has a different style. Looking at a picture below, can you guess which type of art is mentioned?

Photo: Wikipedia.org

Exactly! That is puppetry. Puppet shows appear in all five continents and bring the uniqueness of their own countries. However, only by coming to Vietnam can you see a different kind of puppet show. It is not performed on the ground, but on the water, which makes its name “water puppetry.”

Viet Nam water puppet show (Photo: thebcr.vn)

Water puppetry has existed for a long time. According to some documents, it began from the Hung Kings (2879 B.C. to 258 B.C.) while some others show that it dates back to the 11th century. This is a type of unique folkloric art, which originates from the Vietnamese wet-rice culture.

Water puppetry attracts many tourists due to its humorous and creative features. The stage, called a “puppet house” or “community’s central pond”, is actually a raised pool with a set behind it in the shape of a pagoda rising from the water. The audience can only see puppets moving flexibly, not the puppeteers. Behind the puppet house, there is a bamboo curtain to make the stage look exactly like altars in Vietnamese pagodas. Flags, fans, parasols, etc.. are decorated colorfully around the stage. Artists stand in waist-deep water behind the stage and operate the puppets via a pole and string apparatus hidden under the water surface.

Water stage (Photo: Hanoi Hotels)

Artists must be adroit and adept so that  puppets are as lively and flexible as possible. They either use a single pole or control the puppets with a complicated underwater string system.

The water puppeteers manipulate puppets in the cubicle (Photo: Livingnomads)

There is a variation of water puppet performances which describe daily activities of Vietnamese farmers from past to present, such as boat contest, buffalo fighting, dragon dance, martial art performance, ceremonial procession, or the work of farmers like catching frogs and ducks.

Every performance is bustling and joyful thanks to talented instrumentalists with drums and flutes, as well as puppet characters dubbed naturally and lively.

Thang Long water puppet theater (Photo: Hanoi Free City Tour)

It is not difficult to find water puppet shows in Hanoi. Below is a list of places to go and enjoy this unique folkloric art of our country.

1. The Vietnam Puppetry Theater.

Address: 361 Truong Chinh, Khuong Trung, Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi.

Opening hours: 8:30 a.m. – 21:00 p.m.

Everyday except holidays and Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)

2. Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre:

Address: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Ly Thai To District, Hanoi.

Summer: 16:10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00.

Winter: 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00, 21:15.

Morning Sunday: 9:30.

3. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology:

Address: Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay district, Hanoi.

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 8:30-17:30 except holidays and Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)

4. The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre:

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

Don’t forget to follow the next part “How are water puppets made of?”

Linh Dang

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