If you find yourself in Hanoi, looking for a unique cultural experience, you might seek out Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre for a distinctly Vietnamese tradition, Water Puppetry. Though the term tradition may conjure images of age-old customs, and long-established conventions, the Múa rối nước (water dancing puppets) experience is anything but ordinary. Included in VBT’s Vietnam Bike Tour, a water puppet performance is a great way to get a taste of Vietnamese culture as you travel in Hanoi.
The surprises begin almost immediately. As you enter the theater, you’ll note a stark contrast to the layout you’ve become accustomed to at performance halls in Europe and the U.S. Musicians sit to the left of the crowd, at the same level as the audience as they provide a live soundtrack for the performance. Fixing your gaze to the center of the theater, you’ll find a small replica of a traditional Vietnamese Temple. However, the replica is merely a backdrop for the action and rather than peering up at a stage, onlookers are situated to look down at a waist-deep, 12 square foot pool of water. Finally, the music begins and the performance unfolds, as puppets glide, dance, skim, and appear to float along the water. You’ll enjoy ensemble dances, fire spraying dragons, and an assortment of Vietnamese folk songs through the course of the show.
Today’s puppet shows are whimsical and light, and employ a series of well-coordinated modern efforts. Throughout the performance, vocalists will interact with the puppets, singing the dialogue and plot as well as sending the occasional warning to a puppet in need. Puppeteers stand behind a decorated façade and utilize string and bamboo rods to manipulate the puppets from under the water. Despite the advanced techniques, this tradition began almost a thousand years ago in Northern Vietnam’s Red River. Perhaps in rice fields, or flooded plains, it is believed that water puppetry was initially practiced as a combination of entertainment and a means to please the spirit world. For a time, the custom was nearly lost, though recently it has seen a resurgence in the form of modern performance. And it’s latent, widespread appeal has ensured Water Puppetry as a mainstay among residents and travelers in Hanoi.
As you explore verdant rice fields and craggy mountainside valleys on our Vietnam Bike Tour, be sure to take in Hanoi’s famous Múa rối nước. Performances fill up quickly, but with VBT’s included water puppet show you’ll be assured a poolside view of one of Vietnam’s oldest and most unique cultural traditions.