Thursday, June 08, 2023

Caught a Water Puppetry Show @ Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi [Vietnam]

Look at any travelogues for
Hanoi and I bet that over 90% of them would talk about catching a water puppetry show; said to open a window into the local and traditional Vietnamese culture! 

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is one of the oldest in the capital city; established in 1969, this was said to be the most famous with a few shows on a daily basis. Its location at the Old Quarter was also an advantage for us since our hotel was just a few minutes' walk away.

It wouldn't be hard finding the theatre; Google Map was accurate and you would chance upon it while walking around the legendary Hoan Kiem lake. Look out for the building with hanging lanterns and a column displaying a puppet on every level. 

While you can buy the tickets online (via KLOOK), we decided to purchase on the spot. As you can see, there were about 3-4 shows daily between 4.10 pm and 8.00 pm, with three types of pricing ranging from 200,000 dong (about S$11.70) to 100,000 dong.

To be honest, we were gunning for the VIP seats at 200,000 dong but only the early birds get such privilege. Only 100,000 dong seats were available for the 4.10 pm show when we were at the counter at about 3.10 pm. 

Only CASH was acceptable. I am more shocked with the fact that the ticket schedule was based on an old school method that I haven't seen since my primary school days; printed on paper and manually struck out whenever a ticket was sold!

Back to the theatre at about 4.00 pm after having banh mi at the nearby Banh Mi Long Hoi. You may get your audio guide here for a price. Do note that the water puppet show is in Vietnamese and I kind of regretted not spending a bit more for an English translation.

Up on the second level where you would be greeted by this puppet by the name of "Chú Tễu"; said to be a recurrent character, he was said to be a jester providing witty comments. 

As the name suggest, water puppetry had to take place where water was a necessity. The shows shall take place "in a pool of water 4 meters square with the water surface being the stage". 

Audience seating; the more expensive tickets were in front whereas our 100,000 dong tickets were placed at the back. In total, 16 rows and about 19 seats per row.

Seats were the old school type used in cinemas in the 1980s. It was tight between each row and you can only pray that the person sitting behind you wouldn't keep hitting against your seat! Should you select a seat in the middle, be sure not to be too late as everyone in the row would have to stand up to let you pass. 

Mini platforms on both side for the musicians and singers. 

Show was about to start! Just in case you were wondering where the puppeteers were; they were behind the bamboo curtains in the middle of the 'building. 

Drumming and singing to start the show.

I was super in awe with this instrument; known as Dan Bau, it was "a one-string zither native to Vietnam"! And the sound it made was mesmerizing! 

Chú Tễu was the first puppet on the water! This was the moment I realized an audio guide would have been helpful as the language was just foreign to visitors and we wouldn't be able to apprehend its message and wit.

For a puppet show, amateur me was impressed on a few fronts; how did they manage to move the puppets with such ease when the controls were under the water? And it wasn't just movements since the dragons here were spitting water at each other! 

Different scenes were played out and they were individual stories with no link to each other. Words weren't necessary as you can roughly guess what the theme or story was.

At times, the voice actors would also complement the puppets although again, with no knowledge of the language, it was just plain gibberish to a foreigner. What I couldn't stand was when they try to mimic animals and it was exaggerated and pretty irritating to the ears. 

My dear friend, Lock, is very much into such cultural experience; he had vast travelling experience with an adventurous streak; I even remember he ever slept under a rock while holidaying in a European country! 

More on the shows; the pool was said to be waist deep and the puppets were controlled via a long bamboo rod and string mechanisms under the water. It would have been tiring for the puppeteers since each puppet can weigh as heavy as 15 kilograms! 

In addition, during some of the performances, the puppets appeared to cross each other and I don't know that can be done given that it would involve crossing the rods underneath too! 

A wedding procession!

This spoke of the Hoan Kiem lake legend, where a turtle appeared while the king was boating, to ask the king to return a borrowed magical sword that helped him defeat the Chinese Ming Dynasty. 

Not everyone can appreciate the performing arts; Alex fell asleep and it's hardly surprising as this was the same guy who can doze off in most of the movies I watched with him, like Night in the Museum, Avengers: Infinity War etc. 

Some dancing puppets. 

End of the show, with the puppeteers coming out from behind the curtain. With so many people, I wonder if it was mayhem behind the curtain when the show was ongoing!

The end. In all honesty, I think it was a one of a kind performance and foreigners who haven't watched it should consider catching it, especially when ticket prices weren't that expensive in the first place.

At 50 minutes long, it was said to be the record holder for the longest water puppetry performance by Asia Book of Records. Not sure how long ago that was.

Anyway, there's a short video for you to have a rough feel on what to expect from the Water Puppetry Show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi. Do watch and like! :) 


57B P. Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Bạc, 
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

As above.


Operating Hours
9.00 am to 5.00 pm (daily)
Shows from 4.10 pm to 8.00 pm

Cheapest - 100,000 Dong

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