When researching things to do in Hanoi, the water puppet theater kept popping up. At first, I was not interested because our kids are young, active and generally disruptive, so concerts and shows are not usually in our itineraries. But, after researching it a little more and regarding it as more of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see something really cool and different, and learning that the show was only 45 minutes long, we decided to check it out. We took a taxi to the doors of the puppet theater and waited in a short line for tickets. Adult tickets were 100,000 VND and kids were 60,000 VND. Bringing a video camera or camera into the theater is extra. The puppet show is very popular with tour groups- there were always a few groups milling around the entrance along with buses, so it is hard to miss. There are various show times in the afternoon and evening most days of the week.
The theater doors open for seating a few minutes before the show is set to start. The theater is upstairs in the building, so we had to stow our stroller at the ticket office and take the stairs up to the theater entrance. The show starts with a few songs from a traditional Vietnamese musical group. A very talented woman played an awesome song on the one-stringed harp. She used a handle on the side of the instrument to change the pitch, while striking the string with a small mallet with the other hand. There were a few vocalists, some other string and woodwind players, and a percussionist.
After their showcase, the puppets came out. The set stayed the same, with the puppets popping out from behind a bamboo curtain. The stage “floor” is a pool of water, so the puppeteers stand in waist deep water while controlling the puppets. The movements they were able to elicit from the puppets were unreal! There were jumping fish, dancing people, and boys rowing little boats. There were several vignettes highlighting traditional Vietnamese scenes, including plowing with ox and rice planting. The background music was instrumental at times, but the singers also sang traditional Vietnamese songs, and even had some call and response between the puppets and singers at times. I have no idea how they achieved some of their special effects- including fire-breathing sea dragons that dove underwater and came up without their fire going out! For most of the performance, there are 3-4 puppets out on the stage at a time, but at times there are many more. At curtain call, there were eight puppeteers. It was amazing all that they were able to do with just eight of them behind the curtain!
The water puppet performance was the perfect length for my boys. Both sat transfixed by the music and puppets for about 20 minutes, and then remained interested until just the last few moments. It really is appealing to kids and adults. I would highly recommend the puppet theater for travelers of all ages. This puppet theater goes on tour all over the world, and it is an awesome glimpse into traditional Vietnamese culture.
We took a few photos of the show on our phone, along with this Short clip of Rice planting song. Enjoy!