The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater offers entertaining yet insightful perspectives into the cultural richness of Vietnam. Thang Long Water Puppetry originated over thousands of years ago along the Red River Delta. Water puppetry, also known as “Mua roi nuoc” to the Northern Vietnamese, was performed on the rice fields and surfaces of ponds along the River Delta. Farmers first introduced this art form out of boredom when the rice fields were flooded. It was used to entertain themselves and their children during their idle time.
Not long after, the theater was established to celebrate the end of rice harvests, to characterize religious festivals and to entertain the royal court. Water puppetry then started to depict scenes from the everyday life of villagers from farming, fishing and even romance. In recent times, most plays have started to portray ancient and historical ages, legends, myths and fables. The theater has also instilled a cultural exchange around the globe as various art festivals have helped the Vietnamese water puppets reach more countries worldwide. It has then won a number of audiences in various countries such as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland and Australia.
Water puppetry makes use of a rice paddy, a river or a pond as its stage. Marionettes are then moved skillfully across the surface of the water with the aid of underwater strings, rods and poles. A group of talented actors that are highly skilled puppeteers maneuver the puppets flawlessly. For heavier and complex puppets, two or more people are required to maneuver it. The puppets can then be seen dancing, gliding and swimming across the stage along with traditional Vietnamese music. The music that goes along with the Vietnamese art is usually a wonderful instrumental of bamboo flutes, Bronze drums, gongs and xylophones that dictate the mood of the play. The puppets can be anything from dragons, lions, ducks, snakes, moneys, turtles and frogs along with anything from fishermen, knights and beautiful princesses.
The brutal Vietnam War did much damage to this art form but it has proved to stand the test of time as it continues to attract much admiration from Vietnam travelers. The resuscitated art also provides a much needed means to earn for Vietnam’s fledging tourism industry. Today, it has become one of the country’s leading tourist attractions that remain an art that every Vietnamese can be proud of.
The puppet theater is found along Dinh Tien Hoang Street on the north end of the Hoan Kiem Lake. Some of the most fascinating performances include plays on the Dance of the Dragons, Legend of the Restored Sword, Triumphant Return and Dance of the Fairies. The most captivating plays that depict rural life scenarios of Vietnam include Stealing Ducks, Catching Frogs and On a Buffalo with a Flute.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater has become a place that enriches a traditional art form distinct to the cultural identity of Vietnam. This institution provides a cultural experience that certifies and completes any traveler’s trip to the capital city, so make sure to not leave Hanoi without seeing it.