Puppetry has existed in many parts of the world for as long as 4000 years. But the culture of water puppetry is something that is very unique and integral to the Vietnamese people. Water puppetry is exactly as it sounds - puppets dancing and moving along the water, controlled by the invisible hands of the puppet masters. It is not just a great source of entertainment but also a form of art that needs extreme precision and tremendous practice. The art of puppetry flourished mainly in the northern region of Vietnam but it spread all over the country through the years providing entertainment for the people.
Water puppetry originated from North Vietnam in 11th century, from the Red River Delta. Back when Vietnam witnessed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity after the year 1010, people were motivated to relax more and organize festivals and performances that would later become the country's traditions. Water puppetry is one of the many traditions that is very close to the hearts of Vietnamese people as it provides a great source of entertainment for both the young ones and elders alike.
The storyline of the show mainly revolves around many legends of kings and stories focusing on Vietnamese rice farmers. The puppets are portrayed in many creative ways like boys riding on buffalos and dragons appearing suddenly from underwater. The performances are enhanced by the use of music created with instruments like cymbals, drums, horns, single-stringed guitars, etc. while the puppets jerk around in human or animal characters. Even though the language of delivery is Vietnamese, it is not hard to understand what is being conveyed on stage. The gestures of the puppets are very expressive and the music is executed perfectly in sync with the story and the singers even shout words of encouragement to which the puppets react sharply. In addition to music, the use of light plays a significant role as well to highlight the dramatic parts making the performance even more interesting. There is also a show of firework making the night skies colourful and the entire scenery completely breathtaking.
History and Evolution of Water Puppetry in Vietnam
In the olden days, water puppetry served as an entertainment source for the rice farmers of Vietnam. The story of this art goes way back in the fields of paddy rice that remained flooded with water. The puppet masters would keep their feet deep inside the muddy water and manipulate the puppets with their fingers along the strings on a stage built around the fields. Ever since then, water puppetry has evolved in many ways but it is still very much the same in its essence. This tradition has still remained deep-rooted in rural Vietnam and has spread over in modern theatres in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City making it a popular form of entertainment. In fact, if you have visited Vietnam and not seen the beautiful shows of water puppets, have you really visited Vietnam?
The modern-day water puppetry theatre is called Thuy Dinh in Vietnamese. The shows are extremely professional, consisting of 7 to 11 puppeteers, seated deep inside the waters while controlling the puppets in perfect sync behind a bamboo screen. The puppets are made of wood and varnished later to make it lightweight as well as durable. They are controlled via underwater rods that are not visible to the naked eye.
The most famous theatre for water puppetry is the Thanh Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi, the capital city. It is also the only theatre to run shows for 365 days of the year. During winters, they run additional shows as well. It is advisable to pre-book your tickets because it almost always gets filled. At a shop nearby, you can even buy your own puppets and become puppeteers yourselves!
Address: 57b Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam. Tel: 04.38249494 Website: http://thanglongwaterpuppet.org Show timings: Summer: 4:10 PM | 5:20 PM | 6:30 PM | 8:00 PM, Winter: 3:00 PM| 4:10 PM | 5:20 PM | 6:30 PM | 8 PM | 9:15 PM Sunday: 9:30 AM Ticket costs: Adult: VND 100,000 per person, Children under 1.2m: VND 60,000 per person, Camera surcharge: VND 20,000 per camera, Camcorder surcharge: VND 60,000 per camcorder Email: [email protected], [email protected]
2. Lotus Water Puppet Theatre, Hanoi:
If you don't get a ticket for Thang Long, don't worry! Lotus Water Puppet Theatre is here to save your day. Also located in Hanoi, you can witness the best puppet shows in here as well. The shows last usually for an hour and the main theme revolves around everyday Vietnamese culture and some traditional folks like the famous Dragon Dance where puppets are manipulated cleverly. It is advised that you get your tickets early to get your preferable seats.
Address: 16 Lê Thái To, Hàng Trong, Hoàn Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam Phone: +84 97 203 04 20 Show timings: Daily- 3:30 PM, 5:00 PM, 6:30 PM, 8:00 PM Website: http://bongsenwaterpuppet.com/ Ticket costs: VND 100,000
3. Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City:
The largest city of Vietnam also has several puppet theatres. One of them is Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre located in District 1. Serving upto 500-600 people, this theatre is known to attract both national and international visitors. Each show lasts upto 50 minutes where you will get to wirness the traditional art of Ho Chi Minh City with the puppets performing on the water surface beautifully managed by the puppeteers. If you are in Vietnam for a short period and are visiting Ho Chi Minh City, this show is a must see!
Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Phone: +84 28 3930 2196 Show timings: Daily- 5:00 PM, 6:30 PM, 7:45 PM Ticket costs: VND 160,000
4. Yen Duc Village, Quang Ninh:
You will not get a more authentic experience of witnessing a water puppet show than in Yen Duc Village. The unique feature of this theatre is that the shows are held in outdoors of the village. Very spacious and airy, you get to enjoy the performances surrounded by greenery of orchards and rice fields. The artists behind the puppets are also the locals of the village.
There are no fixed timings for the shows so you will have to contact their management to know about shows.
Address: Yen Duc Village, Dong Trieu, Vietnam Phone number:+84 96 434 33 22 Show timings: Contact the management of the village to know about the timings
At the theatre in Hoi An, you will witness water puppetry at its finest forms. The theatre even makes sure that the quality of the water is good and the light and sound effects are smooth as well.
Address: Hoi An Theater, 548 Hai Ba Trung, Hoi An Phone number: +84 235 3861 327 Show timings: Tuesday, Friday, Saturday: 6:30 PM Ticket costs: Adults: VND 80,000, Children: VND 40,000
Many puppeteers spend years to master this craft and this tradition has lasted for centuries. Now that you know a little about water puppetry, you will realize that it is not just a show for pleasure but it is a way of life, which makes us appreciate this art all the more!