Most shows feature music, dialogue and sound effects as well, spoken and played by performers on the side of the stage – and sung and spoken in Vietnamese. But don’t worry about language barriers as the gestures of this style of dynamic puppetry needs no language to be understood.
Water puppetry traces its roots all the way back to the 11th century and is a tradition unique to North Vietnam, originating in the Red River Delta. And while the art form has spread south to other parts of Vietnam, it has retained its original charm and flair. Water puppetry began as a way to entertain villagers when rice paddy fields would flood (and to stave off spirits, keeping them amused so as not to cause mischief!) The first puppeteers would stand in these waist-deep waters and give the hard-working villagers a fun show. To this day, themes continue to concentrate on daily rural life (such as fishing and planting rice) and time-honored folklore.
Many details of these puppet shows remain shrouded in mystery. Their popularity eventually led to competitions amongst villages and puppet societies became extremely exclusive, with members using code words to keep others from discovering their tricks. The puppets themselves can weigh anywhere from 2 to 30 pounds each and range in height from about 12-40 inches. Colored lights and a foggy mist spread over the watery stage, adding to the excitement and mystery.
If traveling with us to Hanoi, AmaWaterways takes all travelers to a traditional water puppet show in its area of origin. But there are chances to see these shows in other cities throughout the country. In particular, Ho Chi Minh City has wonderful shows although many suggest booking in advance.