Water puppetry – a unique traditional folk culture of Vietnam

by Lam Pham

Vietnamese water puppetry opens the door to local culture and is an art form loved by young and old. Watch scenes of village life on an ever-changing stage. Or learn about festivals and traditions and get to know quirky characters inspired by Vietnamese personalities. Below Karst Plateau will briefly introduce Vietnam’s wonderful water puppet performances.

1. History of water puppetry in Vietnam

This is a mysterious and historically significant art form

Water puppetry is a folk art form that evolved from serving ordinary people to performing for royalty. During the reign of the Li Dynasty in the 12th century, the country’s best water puppet troupes were chosen to entertain the king and guests, marking a new height for the social status of this art. Centuries later, water puppetry still fascinates audiences and is Vietnam’s cherished intangible cultural heritage.

Every year on the occasion of the annual rice harvest, farmers in the Red River Delta will gather to sing folk dances at village festivals. Water puppetry was added to the repertoire list at these festivals about a thousand years ago. The first performances were held in harvested rice fields, where water could be filled to create a stage filled with water.

2. The background of a water puppet show

2.1 Puppet

The puppet is made of bouncy fig wood and coated with lacquer

Puppets made of wood. It can weigh up to 15kg each. So, water puppetry art requires a lot of physical skills. During the performance, the puppeteers stand in the water and manipulate its movement to amplify the illusion, convey the story, and enhance the drama. The puppet is generally made of bouncing fig wood and covered with lacquer. However, the most important thing that makes a patent puppet is the artisans who make it. With the skillful use of bamboo rods and strings, artisans competently control the puppet’s arm. To become a skilled water puppeteer takes a lot of practice and dedication for decades.

2.2 Music

Singers from North Vietnam who specialize in Cheo opera perform the songs that accompany the water puppet shows

In the background, you can hear the music of the traditional Vietnamese orchestra. Northern singers who specialize in Cheo singing perform songs accompanied by water puppetry. During the performance, puppeteers and musicians communicate with each other. At this point, the musician can say a word of encouragement to the struggling puppet or a warning that the puppet is in danger.

2.3 The stage

The pools are decorated with red flags, parasols and multi-tiered roofs

Although traditionally performed in flooded rice fields, modern water puppets in Vietnam take place in a puddle. The pools are decorated with red flags, parasols, and multi-tiered canopies to mimic altars commonly found in traditional Vietnamese temples. Located on each side of the stage, the band breathes life into the stories with their traditional vocals and instruments.

3. Places to see water puppets in Vietnam

3.1 Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

There are seven or eight performances available every day

The most popular venue in Hanoi to witness water puppet performances is Thang Long Theatre, located near Hoan Kiem Lake. There are seven or eight performances available every day. Each of Thang Long’s puppet shows features skilled artists who have been highly trained and also have a rich imagination.

  • Address: 57B Đinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
  • Ticket price: 100,000 VND – 200,000 VND/ticket

3.2 Vietnam Puppet Theatre

This place has a long history of over 60 years of construction and development

Vietnam Puppet Theatre is Vietnam’s largest puppet art center. This place has a long history of over 60 years of construction and development. At the same time, the Theater is also a gathering place of researchers, visual artists, authors, directors, art decorators, and leading puppet performers in our country.

  •   Address: 361 Truong Chinh, Khuong Trung, Thanh Xuan, Hanoi
  • Ticket price: 80,000 VND/ ticket

3.3 Bong Sen Water Puppet Theater

This is a gathering place for many artisans and artists

Bong Sen Water Puppet is a gathering place for many artisans and artists with extensive performance experience from traditional puppet regions across the country.

  • Address: No. 16 Le Thai To, Hang Drum, Hoan Kiem Hanoi
  • Ticket price: Regular ticket: 80,000 VND, VIP ticket: 100,000 VND

3.4 The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

The actors perform traditional folklore, legends, and historical narratives from over 800 years of history

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. 

  • 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)
  • Price: From $ 3.44 (based on seat position)

3.5 Hoi An Water Puppet Show

About 45 minutes are spent on each water puppet show.


The Hoi An Theatre, a sizable open-air venue with stadium-style seating, is situated just north of Old Town. When you arrive, you can purchase the ticket at any tourist information center in and around the Old Town. 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.

  • Address: Hoi An Theater, 548 Hai Ba Trung, Hoi An
  • Price: $ 4.30 (Adult) and $ 2.15 (Child)

Karst Plateau hopes that by using the Vietnamese Water Puppet information above, you will be able to find a theater where you can enjoy this art style. Here you will admire this traditional art program and long-standing Vietnamese culture.

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