One of the absolute must-sees of a trip to Vietnam is a traditional water puppet show. We saw one at the Golden Dragon Theatre at Ho Chi Minh City. The water puppet show dates back to the 11th century and had its beginnings in the delta of the Red River where flooded paddy fields became stages. The stage is set on murky water and the puppeteers are behind a bamboo screen manipulating a complex system of strings and bamboo poles.
There’s a live orchestra of musicians in resplendent traditional costumes playing traditional instruments like a two string violin, cymbal, flutes and drums. The puppets are made of special fig wood (which is light and easy to carve) and coated with waterproof paints.
Dragons belch fire and cavort, men row boats over stormy waters, phoenix fight, and mythical goddesses preen as statuesque women walk with baskets of fruit piled on their heads. There are vignettes of rural life, legends, fishing, folk tales and even historical tales and the children in the front rows laugh with glee as water splashes on to them! The Dance of the Fairies is a legend about the creation of the country.
In the end the five puppeteers come out and take a bow, knee deep in water. Truly fascinating experience!