Vietnamese Culture and Water Puppets in Hanoi

Vietnam Bike TourIf 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.

An Italian Experience: VBT Travelers Recount Their Italy Bike Tour

Often, our most resounding travel memories are born out of happenstance. With the help of outstanding local Trip Leaders, VBT vacations are designed to foster our travelers’ natural inclination to wander and explore, making the occurrence of a delightful chance encounter possible at any bend in the road. VBT travelers, Maryanne and Rich D. were kind enough to lend us a bit of their experiences on one of our Italy Bike Tours.

Rich and I cannot wait to have an opportunity to provide feedback regarding our recent tour to Puglia, Italy. Our tour guides Marco and Giuliano were superb in every way and they worked so well together. Since Rich and I were frequently the first riders to venture out in the morning, we had several opportunities to get lost, but we typically didn’t have any trouble at the “tricky turns” as Giuliano or Marco were there to lead the way. When we did veer off course (exploring as they would say) we weren’t away for long as Marco and Giuliano found us. When we asked if we were lost, they would gently state “Just a little, of course. Follow me!”

One of the highlights of the trip came when a local dog followed a small group of us as we rode. We affectionately called him VBT or Pawsers. He started out with us in the morning, but when we stopped for lunch he appeared to find a new pack, down by the Adriatic Sea. However, when we ventured out on the road to start our trip back to the hotel, he was there with us again. He ran 20 miles that day, and even managed to run faster than we could pedal! At the end of the day, one of my fellow bicyclists asked Marco to bring him back to the square where an inn keeper offered to keep him along with her other 8 dogs. It was decided that since he appeared to be so well cared for – that Marco would bring Pawsers back to the square.

In short there wasn’t anything that Marco and Giuliano wouldn’t do to make our trip memorable. All the best, and thanks for an absolutely wonderful time.

Maryanne and Rich D.