While handheld puppets, sock puppets and finger puppets have been delighting audiences around the world, the Vietnamese have enjoyed their unique water puppetry (called Múa Rối Nước) for many centuries. The literal translation of Múa Rối Nước is “making puppets dance on water”. They certainly do, wooden-lacquered puppets appear to gracefully swim, glide and dive through water in an amazing aquatic show.
The water puppets themselves are spectacular works of art, puppets are made of wood then lacquered to remain watertight and endurable. The puppets may range in height from about 10 to 50 inches, and weigh anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds each. To perform a water puppet show, puppeteers stand behind a screen in waist-deep water stage using bamboo rods, pole or string apparatus concealed underneath the water to control the puppets while still seeming invisible. During the show, colored lights and a foggy mist are spread over the watery stage, adding to the excitement and mystery. The performance is fabulous and entertaining, giving the illusion of the puppets virtually coming to life.
All water puppets performance features traditional Vietnam folk music, sound effects and dialogue, played and spoken by performers on the side of the stage. Though the songs are in Vietnamese language, the gestures of this dynamic puppetry needs no language to be understood.
Vietnamese puppetry traces its roots all the way back to the 11th century, this unique tradition was originated in the Red River Delta in North Vietnam. The performance began as a way to entertain villagers when rice paddy fields were flooded and farmers finished their farming works, puppeteers stand in these waist-deep waters and give the villagers a fun show.
The art form has spread throughout the country, it has retained its original flair and charm. In the past, the popularity of water puppet eventually led to competitions amongst villages, puppet societies became extremely exclusive, with members won’t share how they do the work with their daughters who may lose the tricks to their husbands. To this day, water puppetry themes continue to concentrate on daily rural life such as fishing and planting rice and national folklores.
While you are in Hanoi, there are different ways to enjoy a traditional water puppet show. You can see the show at a water puppet theatre by Hoan Kiem Lake, Incense Travel can also customize a private show the puppet master Phan Thanh Liem’s home or at in Dao Thuc Village.
Located about an hour drive from the city center of Hanoi, the people of Dao Thuc village has been “standing in the village’s pond” in the past 300 years to keep alive the famous water puppet performance of Vietnam. Dao Thuc villagers work hard on their rice paddy fields growing rice all year around, watching the wooden puppets dancing on water has been the main entertainment for many years.
There are also chances to see these shows in other provinces throughout the country, such as Yen Duc Village on the way back from Halong Bay. In particular, Saigon has wonderful shows although booking in advance is suggested. Contact our expert to start planning your luxury Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia tours.