Vietnam – Hanoi 2, Water Puppetry

We are still in our first day in Hanoi, still pretty well jet lagged, and we were told that this afternoon we were off to the famous Thang Long Water Puppetry Theatre.  It is well worth following this link to find out a bit more about Water Puppetry in Vietnam.  Very briefly, water puppetry has been fundamental to Vietnamese culture for many, many years.  It has developed from a form of folk art practised in rural areas of the country and in modern times Ho Chi Minh was very keen that it should be adopted as the national art form.  Please read a more detailed account by following the link.

When we arrived at the Theatre, we found that we had prime seats close to the front.  This should have made photography easy, however the light, and the rapid and unpredictable movement of the puppets, still represented a significant challenge.  These pictures are the best I could manage.  Some were taken with flash and some with natural light, which was barely adequate.  The natural light, high ISO shots are a bit noisy.

An important aspect of Water Puppetry is the traditional musical support to the performance.  This is provided by a group of musicians seated close to and a little above the ‘stage’.

The Musicians

The ‘stage’ is a quite large waist deep expanse of water, backed by a rattan screen which hides the puppeteers.  They control the puppets through systems of bamboo poles with strings through them.

As a photographer, I often find that I miss some of what is going on around me as I concentrate on capturing images.  This was certainly true here, as the performance in any case sometimes seemed a bit disjointed, being made up of a series of ‘snippets’ depicting aspects of traditional Vietnamese life.  I think, however, that it is the skill of the puppeteers handling of their puppets that creates the strongest impression.

This first picture is of a pair of dragons squirting water at each other.  I suppose water is easier than fire in this case.

Water Puppets - The Dragons

A flutist on a water buffalo.

Water Puppets - Flutist

A variety of farmers, I think, can be seen in the next two shots.

Water Puppets - Farmers

Water Puppets - Farmers

Some sort of fishing story was being told here.

Water Puppets - The Fisherman

Water Puppets

Water Puppets

This was followed by some sort of ceremonial procession of the puppets, the details of which I’m afraid I missed.  Whatever the story was it must have been a real challenge to the puppeteers not to become entangled with one another.

Water Puppets

A somewhat ‘snooty’ bird then got involved in a bit of avian rivalry with another one.

Water Puppets - The Bird

Water Puppets - Birds

This seems to be some important personage, like an emperor maybe, being transported in his Dragon Boat.

Water Puppets - Dragon Boat

This bunch looked altogether more warlike with their frenetic paddling.

Water Puppets - Boat

This was followed by rather more peaceful presence of a group of young ladies, which I also can’t remember the story for.

Water Puppets

Water Puppets

Water Puppets

There were many other little stories within this performance, that I have not included.

After the performance the puppeteers came out for their curtain call.

The Puppeteers

After the performance we headed back to the hotel for dinner and some well needed sleep.  The next day was going to involve a pretty intensive tour of Hanoi.  Please come back for a look.  It will be in ‘bite sized’ pieces.

If you missed the first post on our tour of Vietnam, it can be found here.


11 thoughts on “Vietnam – Hanoi 2, Water Puppetry

  1. Nice post again Dave. It sometimes pays, to leave your camera on the lowest ISO setting and allow some blur to take effect. You will be suprised by the results, especially when bright colours are involved.


  2. Oriental culture entertainment is usually very elaborate and colorful. It’s not easy to follow the movement and capture the intended action, especially at night. I suggest using video in those cases. You did fine Dave! I imagine that you also wanted to see what was going on the show.
    Very interesting and different from the Western Culture. Good work Dave! 🙂


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