Results 1-10of 10 Reviews
London, England, United Kingdom
October 11, 2010
From journal Vietnam Part 5: Hanoi & Ha Long Bay
July 17, 2008
From journal Quirky but Delicious Hanoi
Vancouver, British Columbia
December 25, 2005
I must admit that the first time somebody told me to go see the water puppets in Hanoi I was skeptical. I mean how interesting can a puppet show really be? I was dead wrong. I loved every minute of it. It was easily the Highlight of Vietnam. Water Puppets have been around for about 1,000 years. The art form is called mua roi nuoc in Vietnamese and originated in the Red River delta. I am fairly certain you can find performances elsewhere in Vietnam, but the Thang Long Troupe of Hanoi is internationally renowned and probably your best bet.
The theatre is located in the old quarter right next to Hoan Kiem Lake. Tickets were cheap (20,000 - 40,000 dong), and there were three shows a night to choose from: 5:45pm, 6:30pm, and 8pm. Unlike most other forms of puppetry, the stage is a three-dimensional pool of water about waist-deep. The puppets emerge from a curtain at the rear and (I found out later) move around on an intricate hidden system of long bamboo poles and strings. When I first saw the puppets, the way the moved was so fluid and precise that I though there must be someone underneath them in the water.
The show lasts about 45 minutes to an hour and is made up of roughly twenty different sketches of about 2-4 minutes each. They're split between scenes from rural life in Vietnam and Vietnamese myths and folk tales. It's all accompanied by live music with singing and commentary by the musicians. Everything was in Vietnamese, so I'm not sure if they were speaking for the puppets or providing narration.
Either way, I didn't feel like I was missing anything. The puppets were very expressive with their movements, and the gist of each story was easy to follow. Some of the scenes had the audience roaring, like when two inept fishermen ended up catching each other rather that the fish. Others were more reserved and set to pastoral music, but still quite interesting and pretty. The mythological scenes were visually stunning. The dragons spouted genuine sparks and smoke and I saw a stunning creature that I think must have been a Qilin. It was listed in the English program as a unicorn, which I suppose would be the closest Occidental equivalent.
I really wish I had done a bit of background reading and then gone back to see a second performance. One story that I actually recognized was the story of King Le Loi (sort of a Vietnamese King Arthur fable where the lady of the lake is played by a giant golden turtle). I found that knowing even that little bit really added to my understanding and enjoyment.
From journal Hanoi and Halong Bay
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
November 6, 2005
Vietnamese water puppet has appeared in the Ly Dynasty. It is developed in lake and pond-rich areas in the Red River Delta. The surface of water serves as the stage while spectators sit at the edge of water. The puppeteers stand waist-deep in the water to control the puppets with lots of motion like walking, swimming, rowing a bot… Water puppet is indeed a very traditional art performance featuring different Vietnamese folk tales and daily life alike. Every puppet is a piece of real folk sculpture. It is made of wood, painted with water-proof lacquer. “If you did not watch the water puppet performance in Vietnam, you haven’t been there yet.” I read this somewhere in a guidebook and Internet; thus, I make a point to see it when I am in Hanoi. I see the 6:30pm performance at Thang Long Theatre, right opposite the Hoan Kiem Lake at Old Quarter.
As the normal ticket (VND20,000) has been sold out, I settle with the first class ticket at VND40,000, which offers a very front seat and a VCD on the performance. The performance starts with a traditional musical performance and a solo of Vietnamese song. It then follows by different short stories, including Tet Festival, Buffalo Fighting, Lion Dance, Duck Tender Chasing Fox and many more. Each story line has a unique culture towards Vietnamese daily life on the farm and sea. Modern performance has added on some special effects during the performance which make it more exciting and welcoming. Special effects like fire crackers, sparkles, fox climbing the tree have indeed receive many applause from audiences around the world. The team behind the stage consists of female and male. They have been traveling round the world to showcase water puppet and to promote Vietnamese cultural art and bring back many awards to make pride for the country. Tip: Buy your ticket early for night shows to avoid disappointment. Tour groups normally take up the ticket for evening and night show. There is a morning show at 9:30am on every Sunday.
From journal Contrasting Hanoi
Bayside, New York
April 24, 2005
Historical testimonies demonstrate that water puppet performances happened before the Royal Court at the onset of the 11th century, at which time it was already well structured. It is therefore assumed that prior to that period, this type of entertainment had previously been in widespread use in the villages.
The Thang Long Water Pupper Theater boasts a famous troupe of puppeteers that has been all over the world. The "action" takes place on a water stage, whereby various puppets are introduced to recreate Vietnamese rural life and its dependence on the agricultural cycle. We witness mythical figures, like dragons, expertly dancing and plunging in and out of the murky water; basket boats appear with their load to transport food from one place to another. There are children at play and ducks lined up in a row doing their own dance on the water.
The majority of rice farmers’ rituals are always manifest by the fixation of an awful harvest: thus, the ritual invocation of rain was particularly important. Water would always play a major part: washing of the pagodas with water and ablution of the Buddha statues and scholars, bathing the elders, releasing of fish and other marine animals, swimming competitions, and water puppets…
The actual theater is a very unassuming structure, which we almost missed, as in this particular instance, our taxi driver was not quite certain as to where he was heading. It’s on the right hand side of Dinh Tien Hoang Street, and a long and narrow tower bears the inscription of the theater’s name. You cannot assume that you will get seats for the next performance: as in the old days, seats are assigned and adhered to quite strictly. You may choose from first-class seats for VND40, 000 (about US$2.55) or second-class seats for VND20, 000 (about US$1.25). The first class-section was sold out until the following night, so we purchased advanced tickets.
No one is permitted to enter the upper level of the theater until everyone from the previous show has left. The theater is not that large, so if you have purchased second-class tickets, you can still get a fairly good view of what is going on. They have an introduction in English, French, and Vietnamese; lights are dimmed and the musicians and singers on the side of the stage begin to chant, actually recounting a story. Most of the instruments are percussion, which produce more grandiose and extraordinary sounds – large drums, cymbals, castagnettes, rattles… and let’s not forget the fireworks for the grand finale.
The puppets themselves are quite comical in appearance, and one can purchase from shops in the area those puppets that have been retired in favor of newer models. The protagonist here is Teu, the farmer, who is somewhat of a buffoon.
From journal Chao Ban Vietnam!!
October 22, 2003
The performances focus on images of traditional Vietnamese lifestyles, local legends, and sacred creatures. For example, there is one called Catching Frogs that is quite comical. I felt a tear in my eye at the beauty of Agriculture. Another performance was about the homecoming of a son that had been away from the village.
As you watch the varied performances, you hear Vietnamese classical music. The performers are visible on the side of the stage, and were the subject of many photographs. Vietnamese classical music isn't my favorite form of music, but you do get a soundtrack CD if you buy the most expensive tickets (around 4$).
The other feature of buying a $4 ticket is the opportunity to wait in an air-conditioned room before the performance.
Cameras are permitted for an additional fee. Yes, you can take flash photography. However, I think it is quite rude to use flash because it distracts the rest of the audience and ruins the effect of the show. Rather, I would take some very fast film and steady your camera on the seat in front of you. The camera fee is US$1 or US$5 for a camcorder.
From journal Asia Sampler: Hanoi Rocks
July 1, 2003
From journal Friendly VietNam
April 5, 2002
The stage is a waist deep pool of water that is kept muddy in order to conceal the workings of the puppets. The puppeteers stand behind a split bamboo screen while the puppets take center stage on the end of long poles. These are fully articulated puppets of people, dragons (complete with pyrotechnic breath), lions, unicorns and frogs. They engage in scenes of Vietnamese daily life such as rice harvesting and fishing as well as retelling Vietnamese legends such as the story of Le Loi and the shining sword which is actually set on the Ho Hoan Kiem just outside before building up to the big finale the dance of the four holy animals.
This is all set to traditional Vietnamese music played flutes, drums, gongs, xylophones and dan bau a traditional single-stringed zither. The music sets the pace and the puppets gracefully follow easily overcoming the language barrier as you follow them through their whimsical performances from the slapstick Rearing Ducks And Catching Foxes to the spectacular Dance Of The Phoenix complete with enough fireworks to make New Year's Day look a bust. This is a rare combination of the naive Vietnamese art forms that has toured the world to great acclaim and it is easy to see why.
The puppets themselves are masterful pieces of art carved from the water-proof wood of the fig-tree and painted with vegetable based pigments by local craftsmen. Replicas of these are available from stalls and shops all over the old quarter and make wonderful souvenirs. One such replica sits on my desk as a type this, a tubby little gentleman who rings a bell and waves a fan when operated. The shop-owner who sold it to me had the audacity to compare the puppet's ample gut to my own, but even this insult couldn't take away my love of this unmissable spectacle.
From journal City in the River Bend
by Heather F
Heywood, Victoria, Australia
October 7, 2001
From journal Hanoi Highlights
October 25, 2000
This is a traditional Northern Vietnamese art form that originated in the rice paddies--hence the watery stage.
From journal Honeymoon in Hanoi