Thang Long Water Puppet Show In Hanoi : A Must-See for All

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 29 June 2024 |

A thousand years ago, when the rice paddies of the Red River Delta flooded, villagers would perform a puppet show.  Today the tradition continues at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in the heart of Hanoi.

The performance recounts simple stories and ancient legends of life in a bygone age.  We had no idea what to expect but we knew that it was highly rated as one of Hanoi’s ‘must-see’ attractions. 

We really enjoyed the show, we’re very glad we went and for just a few euros we’d recommend that anyone visiting Hanoi spends an hour of their time enjoying this little slice of history.

display of ancient mask paintings at the entrance of Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi

What Is The Thang Long Water Puppet Show?

The Thang Long Water Puppet show is a delightful performance of puppets, re-enacting ancient stories.  Unlike normal puppets which are controlled from above, the water puppets are controlled from below, under water.

Puppeteers are hidden behind a traditional Vietnamese pagoda whilst working in a waist-deep pool of water.  Using long rods, they manipulate the wooden puppets, creating an illusion of characters dancing across the water unaided.

What To Expect At The Thang Long Water Puppet Show

Don’t expect a show with huge puppets like The Lion King or performances like Simunye in Zimbabwe.  Do expect to be charmed by the artistry and the live traditional music.

The performance is a delight, it’s fun and it’s suitable for everyone. It offers a glimpse into an ancient artform and is a wonderful, light-hearted cultural experience.

musicians performing live during the water puppet show in Hanoi

Where Is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre?

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre can be found between the heart of the old quarter and the Hoan Kiem Lake.  Our Hotel (the San Grand Hanoi) was ideally located in the old quarter of Hanoi, and an easy two minute walk to the theatre. 

  • Thang Long Theatre :  57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
  • Telephone : +8424 38249494

How Long Is The Water Puppet Show?

The show lasts for 50 minutes.  Allowing 10 minutes to arrive and take your seat, you should plan an hour for your visit.

What Time Is The Water Puppet Show?

There are several shows performed daily; indeed the theatre holds the record for the longest unbroken run of performances in Vietnam. The shows lasts for 50 minutes and usually start in the afternoon at :

  • 16:10
  • 17:20
  • 18:30
  • 20:00

It was very busy when we tried to buy tickets and extra performances were added on some days.

Is There A Best Time To See The Show?

The show is the same regardless of when you visit.  We choose to go earlier as we wanted to eat after the show. 

The great thing about the different show times is that you can book your seat to fit in with your own schedule and timescales.

How Much Are Tickets For The Water puppet Show?

Ticket prices range from around 4€ to 14€. The price varies depending on the seating you choose, the show time and where you purchase your ticket.   

Where Do You Purchase Tickets For The Puppet Show?

We tried to buy direct from the theatre website but failed.  We ended up going to the box office and whilst the tickets are slightly cheaper here than online booking sites, we did have to queue and still didn’t have a great choice of seats. 

With ticket prices so reasonable, I’m not convinced it was worth our effort or time going in person. Below are links for Klook, Get Your Guide and Viator where you can purchase tickets online.

Top Tip : There is a second Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi and if you are unable to secure tickets you may like to try the Lotus Water Puppets.

Whichever method you choose I recommend that you purchase your ticket well in advance.  Our first two choices were fully booked.  We visited Hanoi for eight days, during our tour of Vietnam, so had some flexibility but we almost missed out on our chance to see the show.  

Colleen and Gerry inside the Thang Long theatre waiting for the show to start

History Of Water Puppets In Vietnam

Water Puppetry (Múa rối nước) is a traditional Vietnamese art form, deeply rooted in rural Vietnamese culture.  It originated in the villages of the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam around the 11th Century.

It was started in rice paddies by farmers who would entertain their communities when the fields were flooded.  Music and dance were already a large part of local life and the puppets simply added a new dimension.  The rice paddies themselves were the original stages, with puppeteers standing in waist-deep water; much as they do today.

Within a few hundred years Water Puppetry became a cultural and artistic tradition and was transformed from being simple village entertainment to performances that were fit for the king.

Water puppet shows depict scenes from rural life and include the daily activities of farmers, heroic deeds, legends and mythical creatures like dragons and phoenixes.

expect music, song, puppets, flashes and bright lights as well as the story telling of the puppet show

The Puppeteers Techniques

The stage for water puppetry is a waist-deep pool of water. Puppeteers stand behind a screen and control the puppets using long bamboo rods and strings which are hidden beneath the water’s surface.

The puppets are typically made from wood and lacquered to withstand the water. They are intricately designed and painted, and represent a variety of characters from Vietnamese folklore.

The performances are accompanied by traditional music, played on instruments such as drums, wooden bells, horns, and cymbals. The narrative is often sung by a storyteller which adds a second rich element to the show.

water puppets look like they glide across the water during the show

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Thang Long refers to the ancient name of the city and you can still visit The Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long whilst in Hanoi.

Established in 1969, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre played a crucial role in reviving and preserving the ancient water puppet art form.  Although it wasn’t until the 1990s that the theatre built its dedicated water stage and became a centre for this ancient craft. 

The puppeteers have performed to audiences around the world at international art festivals in Paris, New York, Barcelona, ​​Helsinki, Sydney, Seoul, Bangkok.  In 2013, they were recognised as the only theatre in Asia to perform this art 365 days a year.

view of the stage of the water puppet theatre from the seating

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there access for people with disabilities?

There are stairs in the theatre, both to access the auditorium and to access seating.  However, the theatre is equipped with ramps and offers seating for people with disabilities.

It is important that you liaise directly with the theatre, ahead of time, to ensure your specific needs can be met.  If language is an issue perhaps your hotel or tour operator can assist.

If you’re staying a distance from the theatre you can take a taxi, but do be aware the theatre is within Hanoi’s Walking Street at weekends and taxi will need to drop you close by, rather than at the door.

Are there English translations or explanations during the show?

Yes, the show does include some English narration to help non-Vietnamese speakers follow the stories. There are also booklets available although we didn’t purchase one.

We were able to easily follow the stories and language was never a barrier to our enjoyment.

Can I take photos or videos during the performance?

Flash photography and video recording are prohibited during the performance. 

You are allowed to take photos before and after the show and many people, like myself, took a few quick snaps on their smartphone.

However please ensure that your phone is on silent, Please do not use a flash and please do ensure that your phone is not obstructing anyone’s view behind you.

Is there a dress code?

No but we found the theatre quite warm so I would suggest layers.  Also there are a few steps to negotiate so heels may not be ideal.

 Smart casual is a good guideline.

Tips for buying tickets

  • Do Buy your tickets in advance :  We couldn’t get tickets for any performance on the days we wanted.    
  • Purchase online :   We went to the box office but tickets are inexpensive and I recommend just purchasing online in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Ask Your Hotel concierge : We didn’t think to try this but friends asked their hotel to book tickets. 

Can I buy tickets at the theatre box office

Yes you can.  We did.  There was quite a queue and folks took an age to choose their seats.  The lady behind the box office had little English so when our turn came we were not offered a choice. Thankfully with some pointing and gestures we were able to get closer to the front. 

Overall I’m not sure we gained anything going direct to the box office.  However, if you’re passing the process is straightforward.

Top Tip : Cash only was accepted so make sure you have enough currency

Can you just turn up and get a seat?

I wouldn’t risk arriving without a ticket.  I guess there is always a chance that you could grab a seat but after not finding a ticket for any of the four performances on two different dates, I would recommend advance booking.

Of course, if you are passing the door there is never any harm in asking; there are probably always one or two seats empty.

What is the seating arrangement like?

Seating is comfortable and staggered like a cinema. We were close to the front and had a good view. The theatre was designed specifically for the Water Puppet show and the seating reflects this.

I would imagine most folks could see the puppets and certainly have a good view of the musicians.

Where are the best seats?

We thought in the centre and near the front. As seats are staggered like a cinema I do wonder if the higher you go the better the view you have looking down at the water? 

We were three rows back and we did have very good views, albeit obscured at times by the hat of the guy in front of us.

Top Tip : Never wear your hat inside a theatre.

Is the show suitable for children?

Yes.  There was a family beside us and one of their children was certainly under 5 years old.  He had a fine time.  The puppets are colourful, they do silly things, the stories are engaging and the music is lively. 

Is the show just for children?

No.  Whilst children will love the show, we equally enjoyed the performance.

We appreciated the cultural significance, the skill and artistry of the puppetry, and I loved traditional music.  It was a charming experience.

Is there parking near the theatre?

There is a drop off area near the entrance but at weekends the area around the lake is part of a Walking Street and cars do not have access.  This is a very busy area with buses and taxis arriving and leaving constantly; parking long term would be very limited.

If you’re staying a little further away from the theatre take a taxi.  But be aware of the Walking Street closures and expect the taxi to drop you close by, rather than at the door.

Are refreshments available at the theatre?

There are no refreshments in the theatre, there was a souvenir shop and there are coffee shops, bars and restaurants all around the theatre. 

Is Thang Long Water Puppet Show Worth Seeing?

Yes. The Water puppet show is worth seeing during your visit to Hanoi. It offers a fascinating glimpse into Vietnam’s cultural and artistic tradition and combines history, artistry and entertainment.

It’s not a long performance and can easily fit into most itineraries.  Tickets are inexpensive which also makes the show ideal for folks on a budget or larger groups.  And the theatre is in the heart of the old town making it easy to go exploring afterwards.

We loved our early evening show and have no regrets with our choice.  Book ahead and enjoy the show!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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