Prior to having a travel blog or traveling to Vietnam, when the term ‘puppet show’ was mentioned, it would usually bring back memories of the tiny finger puppets I made in my childhood using permanent markers. Funny faces were painted on the pads of my ten digits and then an impromptu show was performed for my imaginary friends. I was the cast and the only one in attendance, but it surely was a fabulous show.
The Vietnamese Water Puppet Show in Hanoi was just a wee bit different.
Water puppetry is a traditional Vietnamese art form that dates back several centuries and is performed in a shallow pool of water. The wooden puppets are manually controlled behind a screen by master puppeteers who splash them through the stage with precision and skill.
Move over finger puppets. “Hello” water puppets.
Last night we had taken an incredible street food tour where we snacked on Vietnamese worm cakes (yes, made with real live, wiggly worms) and tonight it would be all about watching wood figures slosh through water.
Strange. And I like it.
In the Hoan Kiem lake area of Hanoi, close to our hotel, the Lotus Water Puppet Theater has a performance every night of the week. We chose a random weekday evening and headed out for an evening filled with unique entertainment. Any cyclo (Vietnamese bicycle) could have taken us there for a couple of bucks, but we chose to walk. Mostly, because the nightlife around the lake is just as entertaining as the show was bound to be.
We arrived at Lotus a little early, because we had neglected to purchase our tickets in advance, which is definitely not recommended as the shows tend to sell out.
Luckily, for a mere five bucks we got two seats in the front row of the balcony.
The musicians were the first to enter the program three lining each side of the stage. They began to play powerful music using folk instruments, such as drums, horns, cymbals and wooden bells. Their rhythmic melody was a show itself.
For the next hour we witnessed dragons shooting sparklers out of their mouths, dancing turtles, colorful swimming birds, men riding ox and speedy fish, all telling a special story.
These tales were of Vietnamese folklore, culture, farming and historical legends.
Even though the show was not in English and it was a bit difficult to follow every storyline, I couldn’t help but smile through the entire performance. It was unusual and entertaining, with a little piece of Vietnamese tradition thrown in.
A good way to spend 50 minutes and 5 bucks in Hanoi.
After a quick 50 minutes, the show came to an end and the puppet masters took a well-deserved bow.
We exited the theater and hailed a Cyclo right outside the front doors. The driver would be taking us on a ride through the old quarter where we would be hunting for a replica of these wooden puppets that are found in many stores. I wanted to take a little piece of tradition home with me.
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The Tha Long Puppet Show in Hanoi is actually more popular amongst the tourists than Lotus, but it is also much larger. You will be in for a treat either company you choose, but remember to purchase your tickets beforehand just to be safe. Though it is not necessary to have a tour guide for this excursion, if you choose you can book the Water Puppet & Buffet Dinner tour through Viator.