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Vietnam Water Puppets: All About Unique Vietnamese Traditional Art

December 13, 2023 - 3691 views

Water puppetry in Vietnam provides a glimpse into local culture and is a fully formed art adored by the young and the old. Vietnam water puppets have not only existed in North Vietnam so far but have also developed in the country. Tourists can enjoy this type of art in Hanoi, Ha Long, Hue, Hoi An, and Sai Gon. So, if you're in Vietnam, don't miss out on this incredible show.

Vietnam Water Puppets Origin And Evolution 

Vietnam Water Puppets began in the Red River Delta in the tenth century, with the oldest troupes in Nguyen Xa commune, Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province. This unique art form reportedly appeared during the 15th century, when artists who were also farmers gathered to perform and unwind after the harvest. Therefore, the cultural traits of the inhabitants in this area are firmly embedded in water puppetry. 

Many Red River Delta towns still practice the ritual because Vietnam ancients believed ghosts ruled over all elements of their lives, from the kitchen to the rice terraces. That is why the farmers in this area created entertainment and worship to appease these spirits.

Farmers who spend their days in flooded rice fields came up with the idea for water puppetry. They eventually realized that water was an excellent medium for puppetry since it not only masked the puppeteers' rod and string apparatus but also created stimulating effects such as waves and splashes.

Villages competed against each other with their puppet displays as water puppetry became more popular. As a result, puppet societies were hidden and exclusive, with an initiation process including the consumption of rooster blood.

The evolution of water puppets

Water Puppetry originated from the Red River Delta, northern Vietnam


Cultural Context of Vietnam Puppet Show


The water puppet show's rural theme reflects daily life in rural areas and Vietnamese folktales passed down from generation to generation. National history combined with local life creates the unique cultural values that bring to life from the humorous scenes of farming, fishing, festival events such as buffalo fights, and children playing marbles and coin toss. Short skits are often used to tell Vietnamese legends and history. A funny element may be found in many of the skits, especially those that tell stories about everyday life.

Water Puppets In Bo Duong Puppetry Festival

Water Puppets In Bo Duong Puppetry Festival


Scenes in Group

A number of performances can be performed in sequence in the form of sketches or groupings of scenes based on the contents of one main scene. According to the program, a single scene can be performed alone or as part of a set of scenes. For example, we have some popular scene sets below

  • The "Four rural occupations" group: fisherman, woodcutter, plowman, and herdsman
  • The "Five occupations" group: scholar, peasant, worker, trader, and soldier
  • The "Farming" group: plowing, harrowing, hoeing, rice transplanting, and tending

The "Fishing" group: fishing by means of fishing rods, nets, dip nets, and traps

Farming' Group Of Scenes In A Water Puppet Show

Farming' Group Of Scenes In A Water Puppet Show

Individual Scenes 

Single scenes or fragments from Tuong and Cheo plays are frequently used to create stories. Only those excerpts are chosen that can be converted to water puppetry. These are frequently full of actions, but they avoid expressing their innermost thoughts, which are beyond the puppet's ability.

The delivery of the prince and the severing of Khuong Linh Ta's head are two stories that use scenes from Tuong, and Cheo plays (from the Tuong play Son Hau).

  • Tu Thuc's sighting by the fairy (from the Cheo play Tu Thuc)
  • In the Cheo drama Quan Am Thi Kinh, Thi Mau returns her baby
  • The combat at Xich Bich (from the Tuong play The Three Warring States)
  • The eight fairies dance and rowing (from the Cheo play Luu and Nguyen in the Fairyland)

The Scene Of The Procession Of King Le Loi Returning From A Victorious Battle

The Scene Of The Procession Of King Le Loi Returning From A Victorious Battle



A traditional Vietnamese ensemble provides the background music. The lyrics that explain the drama being performed by the water puppets are sung by Cheo (a type of opera with origins in North Vietnam). A pig-tailed bumpkin known as Teu often introduces performances of up to 18 brief scenes supported by a tiny folk orchestra. During the performance, the musicians and the puppets converse; the musicians may shout a word of encouragement or warning to a puppet in need.

After A Puppetry Performance Stage

After A Puppetry Performance Stage

The motions, the performance's pace, and the sense of immense animation were all accompanied by percussion instruments in the Vietnam puppet show. Drums (both large and small), cylindrical drums, bells made of wood and bamboo, gongs, horns, and shells are the primary traditional instruments utilized. In addition to creating their scenarios, fireworks also serve as sound effects for other scenes. Despite some Water Puppets Show scenes containing songs, no original music with rhythm as the primary component has yet to exist. Traditional musical instruments provide the ambiance and set the stage for each piece of art. According to researcher Nguyen Huy Hong, water puppetry incorporates elements of sculpture, architecture, painting, music, theater, and literature.

Traditional Instruments In A Puppetry Show

Traditional Instruments In A Puppetry Show

Vietnamese puppets

The feet of actors in Vietnam water puppet theater have endured cold and wet conditions for more than a thousand years. A chest-deep pool of water is used as the stage for water puppet shows, which are performed there. Long bamboo rods and a string system buried beneath the water's surface are used by the puppeteers, who are seated behind a screen, to manipulate the puppets.

The wooden puppet is usually up to 15 kg in weight. The puppeteers use a big pole to support the puppet underwater and to operate it. The puppets look to be floating over the water. The puppets either come out of the water or enter from either side of the stage. The peasants used to amuse one another with these puppets in the past when the rice fields were flooded.

Puppets statues

Vietnamese Puppets

Water Puppet Show Hanoi - A Must-see

The Hanoi water puppet, like Tuong and Cheo, is a vital part of Vietnam's national theater industry. Water puppetry, related to wet rice farming in the Northern Delta and born of our forefathers' discovery and ingenuity, is a "spiritual cuisine" that reconnects individuals to their roots. That is also why foreign tourists want to see the Hanoi water puppet play when they visit the city.

Many tourists are ecstatic when they grab a ticket to Hanoi's water puppet theater. Colorful puppets moving flexibly on the water, along with unusual sounds, make viewers impossible to take their gaze away. Popular show content includes dragon dances, palanquin processions, buffalo fighting, wrestling, and portions from fairy tales such as Thach Sanh and Tam Cam. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and Lotus Water Puppet Theatre are two prominent Hanoi attractions.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre 

  • Address: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Opening Hours:

    13:45, 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00, 21:15 (Monday - Saturday)

    9:30, 13:45, 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00, 21:15 (Sunday)

  • Price:

Standard seat ticket (from row 9)

$ 4.30

Deluxe seat ticket (row 5 - 8)

$ 6.45

VIP seat ticket (row 1 - 4)

$ 8.60

One of the best water puppet theatres in Hanoi is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, founded in 1969 and situated in the center of the Old Quarter. The plays in the theater are based on historical traditions (Le Loi returns the priceless sword), folklore about God, or the daily activities of Vietnamese farmers. The best part of the Thang Long water puppet show can be when the dragon or other figures suddenly appear from under the water, and the audience starts cheering.

Thang Long Water Puppetry

Thang Long Water Puppetry

The finest places to watch all the acts and examine the puppets are in the front row seats in the center of the stage but keep in mind that you might get wet there. It is advised to purchase tickets well in advance, particularly between October and April. Fifteen minutes before the start of the show, you should be in the theater. Each water puppetry performance at Thang Long water puppet theatre lasts about 45 minutes.


Lotus Water Puppet Theatre

  • Address: 16 Le Thai To Street, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Opening Hours: 17:15 (Monday - Sunday)
  • Price:

Standard ticket

$ 3.44

VIP ticket

$ 4.30

To address the growing need for ethnic art that both domestic and foreign tourists love, Lotus Water Puppet Theater was established in September 2003. The Lotus Water Puppet Theater has two open fronts and is situated in the city's heart. It is a historic structure next to Hoan Kiem Lake constructed in 1918 using French architecture. Artists and musicians with extensive experience who perform with water puppets come from different craft communities nationwide.

The Lotus Water Puppet Company, led by two skilled directors, will present the best aquatic poetry art in the nation. The audience will see the various artistic manifestations of the earth, water, trees, clouds, wind, and fire. Lotus Water Puppet will introduce a new breath by fusing traditional, modern, and contemporary lifestyles since it is a unique blend of art that only exists in Vietnam.

A Scene Of Hanoi Water Puppet Show In Lotus Theatre

A Scene Of Water Puppet Show Hanoi In Lotus Theatre

Water Puppets Show Saigon

Water Puppets Saigon is a unique traditional folk theatrical art form from wet-rice culture. Saigon water puppet theatres have become a traditional art, a special creation of the Vietnamese people from art with folk elements. Choosing to see water puppets in Saigon is convenient when you have Ho Chi Minh City Tours or, more broadly, the Southern Vietnam Tours. You don't have to go to the North to admire this art but just spend 45 - 50 minutes for a play on Vietnam water puppets.

The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

  • Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Located in Ho Chi Minh City Labor Culture Palace, next to Tao Dan Park)
  • Opening Hours: 17:00, 18:30 ( If you go in a big group, you can book in advance to set daytime performance)
  • Price: From $ 3.44 (based on seat position)

District 1 is where you can find Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. Every night, the theater hosts between 500 and 600 guests. Each performance lasts 50 minutes. Vietnamese will be used during the show, but you will be able to comprehend through the puppets' actions. Before the concert, you are also given a pamphlet in English that provides a brief synopsis of each portion or dance performance. The actors perform traditional folklore, legends, and historical narratives from over 800 years of history. 

An artist is performing at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

An artist is performing at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

Vietnam History Museum

  • Address: Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (temporarily closed)
  • Opening Hours: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 (Monday - Saturday)
  • Price: From $ 6.45 (based on seat position)

A small theater called the Southern Art Theatre is located inside the museum. You can purchase tickets for the water puppet show after visiting the stories and artifacts in the historical museum. Although the performance is shorter than the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre's, it provides a good overview of the art form in around 25 minutes. You do not need to worry about not knowing the language because there is not much narrative in the show. You can join with other visitors if there are less than five guests for the show.

Teu A Narrator Of Most Vietnam Water Puppet Shows

Teu - A Narrator Of Most Vietnam Water Puppet Shows

Other Places to see Water Puppets in Vietnam

Halong Water Puppet Show

Yen Duc Village

  • Address: Yen Khanh, Dong Trieu, Quang Ninh
  • Opening Hours: No fixed time
  • Price: [updating]

One of the Red River Delta villages, Yen Duc hamlet, is 60 kilometers from Halong Bay and 100 kilometers from Hanoi. It still maintains its traditional way of life. Farming and rice cultivation activities are central to the lives of the locals. The water puppet show in the tourist town of Yen Duc has unique elements that set it apart from Hoang Gia International Park. The outdoor stage is flanked by rice fields, evergreen orchards, etc. Here, all of the water puppet "artists" are local farmers. There is no set time for performances. All you have to do to have your own is get in touch with the Yen Duc tourist village administration center.

If you are interested, it is highly recommended to book a Halong Bay cruise, some of which include the Halong water puppets show in the itinerary.

The Experience Of Watching Water Puppetry In Yen Duc Village

The Experience Of Watching Water Puppetry In Yen Duc Village

Halong Royal International Park

  • Address: Yen Khanh, Dong Trieu, Quang Ninh
  • Opening Hours: No fixed time
  • Price: [updating]

Royal International Park (Hoang Gia International Park) is located in Quang Ninh's Bai Chay tourist district. Halong Water Puppet performances began in 2001 at Royal International Park. It's Quang Ninh's most popular water puppet theatre due to its convenient location, good amenities (seating, sound, service), and talented orchestra. This water puppet theater can hold 270 people at peak periods, and the shows last 35 minutes.

"The Legend of Halong Bay" is the theater's best. Performances teach visitors about Halong Bay. Other great theatre performances include a dragon, phoenix, lion, and frog fishing.

Moonlight Water Puppet Stage At Sun World Halong

Moonlight Water Puppet Stage At Sun World Halong

Hoi An Water Puppet Show

  • Address: Hoi An Theater, 548 Hai Ba Trung, Hoi An
  • Opening Hours: 8h30 on Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays every week
  • Price: $ 4.30 (Adult) and $ 2.15 (Child)

The Hoi An Theatre, a sizable open-air venue with stadium-style seating, is situated just north of Old Town. It is advised to arrive 15 minutes early, especially during the busy season. When you arrive, you can purchase the ticket at any tourist information center in and around the Old Town. There are no assigned seats with the tickets, unlike the theater in Hanoi. Even though the performances are introduced in English, all of the show's talk is done in Vietnamese. However, you may follow what is happening and enter the artistic realm of Vietnam and Quang culture through movement and sound. About 45 minutes are spent on each water puppet show.

Take a Hoi An tour to see how a Hoi An water puppet show is distinct from art shows in other places of Vietnam. 

Fishing Scene Hoi An Water Puppet Show

Fishing Scene Hoi An Water Puppet Show

Hue Water Puppet Show

  • Address: 08 Le Loi, Hue city, Vietnam (temporarily closed)
  • Opening Hours:

Summer schedule: 15:30, 19:30, 21:00

Winter schedule: 15:30, 18:30, 20:30

  • Price: [updating]

On a Hue city tour, you shouldn't miss out on the performance at Hue Water Puppet Theatre, located in the city's center. With 160 seats, the theater has a permanent stage with a spacious, open environment. Even on vacations, there are three water puppet shows every day, each lasting 50 minutes. Between one and twenty guests are the required minimum. A free shuttle will be available to transport students from schools with more than 100 visitors. 

Bride Procession Scene At Hue Water Puppet Theatre

Bride Procession Scene At Hue Water Puppet Theatre

Fun facts about Water Puppet Show

  • In northern Vietnam's Red River Delta villages, water puppetry has been performed since the 11th century. The custom started when the rice fields became submerged in water, and the locals built ornate wooden puppets supported by long bamboo poles.
  • The fig wood used to create these puppets was lacquered. Puppets are controlled by puppeteers using a rod and strings while performing from behind a screen in a waist-deep pool. As a result, it appears as though the puppets are floating above the water.
  • Performing needs both immense strength and high levels of skill. The puppets can occasionally weigh up to 33 pounds!
  • Vietnamese orchestras typically accompany these performances. The performers sing and play àn bu, a single-stringed instrument only found in Vietnam, as well as drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, gongs, and bamboo flutes.
  • In Vietnamese water puppetry, 'Chu Teu' is the most typical figure. He is a jokester who usually starts the story or makes observations on society and politics.
  • Water puppetry is a folk art form with an estimated 1,000-year history!

Booking the water puppet is simple at the box office of each theater. The ticket might already be sold out when you purchase it. You might have to hold off until the next performance. Making reservations in advance is a good idea so you can contact BestPice Travel for more information.

BestPrice Travel hopes that by using the above Vietnam Water Puppets information, you will be able to locate a theater where you can appreciate this style of art. Let's join our Vietnam Tours & Holiday Packages to admire this not-to-be-missed traditional art show and long-lasting Vietnamese culture.

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