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Water Puppetry- an artful journey of Vietnamese farmers

Water puppetry is one of the most indigenous cultural traits of Vietnam. Being closely associated with the community village culture, there’s hardly any other form of art that all Vietnamese ... Read more

Tuan

  • April 16, 2019
  • Travel Guide
  • 163

Water puppetry is one of the most indigenous cultural traits of Vietnam. Being closely associated with the community village culture, there’s hardly any other form of art that all Vietnamese can relate to. Let’s join us for a quest to this prevalent yet mysterious tradition.

 

It all began in the rice field

The wet rice civilization of Northern Vietnam was believed to be the cradle of nurturing this traditional art form. Being born as a communal performance during harvest time for farmers, water puppet shows gradually progressed as an entertaining activity for the royals. That’s an intriguing adventure from the rice field to the citadel stages.

Water puppetry characters
Water puppetry characters

 

The water pavilion 

This special stage requires a chest-deep pool of water. This water pavilion called “thủy đình” (“thủy” means nước, “đình” is a communal house) is where the journey of the puppets carried out. A puppet is carved out of fig wood, then polished and decorated with meticulous details. Most of the puppets look cheerful and symbolic with vivid colors to emphasize their own characters. For example, “Chu Teu” is the most so-called character in the water puppet world. He is very talkative and cheerful  just like any typical northern farmer. Therefore, he sometimes acts as a narrator, sometimes as a commentator to warm up the audience.

Water puppetry typical stage
Water puppetry typical stage

 

Behind “Y Môn”

“Y Môn” means a screen which separates 2 different worlds. One is our daily life, the other one only exists inside the water pavilion to worship the spirit of water puppets. The puppeteers bear an important mission to breathe a new life into every action of the puppets not only by using bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface, but also by their excellent storytelling skills.

Puppeteer behind the scenes
Puppeteer behind the scenes

The stories they told

These Vietnamese folktales capture the essence of agricultural society: ritual to pray for rain, harvesting, fishing, silk weaving, dragon dance, buffalo fight, wrestling, boat racing… A typical performance always comes with old-fashioned music played on authentic instruments like drums, wooden bells, bamboo flutes… In short, this is a time travelling voyage to the old days of the rich Tonkin culture. Through time the farmers-artisans community grew vastly and formed many guilds in all over Vietnam.

Water puppetry Boat Racing
Water puppetry Boat Racing

Where to enjoy this precious intangible asset of Vietnam

There is a variety of choices who crave for this artistic aspect. The most professional shows operate mostly in tourist centers like Hanoi, Saigon, Hoi An, Hue.

Here comes the important parts- suggestions from our experts:

 

Hanoi 

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Situated at the heart of Hanoi and facing the iconic Hoan Kiem lake, this world-famous theater makes it convenient for all wanderers to get a taste the art.

Add: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem

Vietnam National Puppet Theater

Tucked at a quiet area of Hanoi, the largest water puppet theater in Vietnam offer shows on both outdoor and indoor water stages.

Showtime: everyday at 17.00- 18.30

Add: 361 Truong Chinh, Nga Tu So, Thanh Xuan

 

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

After learning about 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam, still in the mood for educating yourself a bit more?

Showtime: everyday at 10.00, 11.30, 14.30, and 16.00 (except Monday)

Add: Nguyen Van Huyen, Cau Giay

 

Bong sen water puppet theater

This is an elegant blend of  French and Vietnam architecture for indulging yourself in this peculiar show.

Showtime: everyday at 14:45; 16:00; 17:15 and 18:30

Add: 16 Le Thai To (79 Hang Trong), Hoan Kiem

 

Water Puppet and Traditional Art Theater, Hue (upcoming in the end of 2019)

This imperial city creates a favorable surrounding for art to thrive. Being settled by Nhu Y river, the future theater will definitely be adding some poetic rhythm to the conventional performances.

 

Hoi An Theater

Like other things in this charming little town, Hoi An Theater is a cozy setup which happens to amplify every details of the show. After a leisure day, what could possibly be a better ending than getting a taste of cultural heritage in the most cheerful way?

Showtime: Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 18.30

Add: 548 Hai Ba Trung, Tan An

 

Saigon

A nostalgic break should be strongly recommended after a day in the hustling vibe of this city, or at anytime during the day.

Museum of Vietnamese History

Showtime: Everyday at 9.00- 10.00- 11.00- 14.00- 15.00- 16.00

Address: 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, in Ho Chi Minh City

 

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Don’t miss a chance to treat yourself a cultural feast to the eyes and the ears in the busiest area of this youthful city

Showtime: Every night at 17h00 – 18h30 – 19h45

Add: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1

Shorter performance: 15 minutes

  

For avid traveler who has all the time in the world 

Got a day spare to discover more about this authentic art form?  Take a trip back to where it all started. Like we’ve said earlier, the water puppet guilds are not that hard to find.

 

Dao Thuc Village, Dong Anh, Hanoi

Just a 20-km ride from Hanoi

Dong Ngu village, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh

25 km away from Hanoi

Hong Phong Water Puppetry, Hai Duong

80km away from Hanoi

Yen Duc Village, Dong Trieu, Quang Ninh

80km away from Hanoi

Private shows on a mini stage at Puppeteer Phan Thanh Liem’s house

Kham Thien street, Hanoi

 

What they offer here is the transform of daytime farmers becoming water puppeteers when the night falls. At the end of the day, you will not only leave with the folktales on stage but also the stories of how these unique guilds have preserved this unique art inherited from their ancestors. Each of them possess their own unique styles and secret techniques which draw a colorful picture of the water puppetry in Vietnam.  Needless to say, it takes more efforts to arrange a show in these villages. Therefore, it’s better to contact our experts for further assistance.

 

Attention, cultural foodies 

Holding the passion of spreading this art form to the world, some restaurant owners in Saigon set up indoor mini stages to offer free shows during the dining time. Although these shows are often short and irregular, this unique combination of Vietnamese cuisine and arts is highly appreciated.

Water puppetry restaurant
Water puppetry restaurant

 

Ngon Restaurant

Add: 195 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien village, District 2, Saigon

Showtime:  Every Saturday from 19.30–20.00

 

Đậu (Tofu) Homemade

Add:  6 Hong Ha, Ward 2, Tan Binh District

Nguyen Van Trang, District 1

45A Hoa Lan , Ward 2, Phu Nhuan District

 

Notices:

 Performances on request are also available if visitors would like private space.

– Most of the shows come without English subtitles, however the puppet gestures are obvious enough to keep the audience enthralled

– The ticket price varies from 2-8USD.

– The cheerfulness puppets’ characters bring can guarantee to get children excited. Don’t hesitate to take kids with you.

– To get the event calendar of all these performances, please feel free to leave us a message.

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