Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vietnamese Water Puppet Show

Like most of Southeast Asia, rice farming is a big part of Vietnamese history. A few hundred years ago, some creative rice farmers invented a new form of entertainment called water puppet shows. You can see the water puppets planting rice in the picture above. The puppets are made out of wood and painted with heavy lacquer. They "dance" on top of the water as the puppeteers manipulate their movements via long poles held just below the water's surface. Originally, these shows were held in the flooded rice paddies, but now they are held inside specially built theaters with waist-high water on the stage.

Given its heritage, it's only natural that the puppet show have a scene for planting rice. You can see a video of water puppets planting rice by clicking here. Of course, the rice farmer's do-everything tool is the water buffalo, which was featured in the show. This serves as further proof that everyone has got a water buffalo.

The puppet show was accompanied by a live orchestra. The instruments were traditional Vietnamese. The most interesting are the đàn gáo, the đàn bầu, and the đàn tam thập lục. The đàn gáo is a two-stringed instrument that is like a violin. The đàn tam thập lục has thirty six strings and is played by striking the strings with short mallets. These are both found throughout Asia and are very unique sounding. My favorite, however, is the đàn bầu.

The đàn bầu is a single string instrument that is found in Vietnam and southern China (although it has a different name in China). The man on the left in the picture above is playing a đàn bầu (the woman on the right is playing the đàn tam thập lục).  Despite having only one string, it can produce all the notes you could ever want, including septimal minor third and septimal whole tones. Perhaps Dr. Jessop can explain what those are the next time you speak with him. You can view a video with the đàn bầu by clicking here. The video part may be a bit choppy, but the audio is good. Be sure to to listen to at least 2 minutes of the video to get a good sample of the breadth of sounds the đàn bầu can produce.

Pyrotechnics were also featured in the puppet show. Here is a horse lighting a firework that he holds in his mouth, just before jumping through the ring of fire.

The grand finale had a goldfish that transformed into a water-spitting dragon. This was Craig's favorite part!

We really enjoyed the water puppet show. Craig liked it so much that we went twice! It was great to experience the unique culture of Vietnam through the music and puppets that we saw in Hanoi.


  1. Very cool! Who knew there was such thing as water puppets?!?! So how long are these shows? And how much do tickets cost? Is it comparable to the ballet here? Or more like a movie?

  2. PS - Yours is fast, and mine is slow! :) Love the link to veggie tales!

  3. Tickets were reasonable. The show was an hour long, which is just about right.