The art form of water puppetry originated at least 1,000 years ago in the rice fields of north Vietnam. Particularly if you’re traveling with kids, you’d be remiss to leave Hanoi without catching a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. A Vietnamese orchestra accompanies the water puppets, with some modern special effects.
Right next to Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) in the heart of the Old Quarter, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre offers five shows a day complete with dry ice and fireworks. Shows are very popular, so book your water-puppet tickets ahead of time during high season; consider having tickets delivered to your hotel room to beat long lines upon arrival.
A few Hanoi city tours include Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre tickets, sometimes combined with a walking tour or food tour of the Old Quarter, a street-food haven with plenty of historical alleys.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a must for families.
- The puppet performance lasts barely an hour, so neither adults nor children will have time to get bored.
- Unlike some outdoor water-puppet shows, Thang Long is an enclosed theater, which means it’s pleasant even during winter.
- There is a café on-site if you’d like to eat before or after your performance, as well as souvenir shops.
How to Get There
Right in the heart of the Old Quarter, close to Hoan Kiem Lake, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is an easy, pleasant walk from Old Quarter hotels, where most tourists stay. If you’re staying farther afield, buses 8, 9, 14, 31, and 36 run to Hoan Kiem Lake—or simply book tickets as a package with round-trip transfers.
When to Get There
Like most theaters, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is busiest on weekends, so visit during the week for a quieter session. There are five shows per day, from mid-afternoon through late evening, with an additional morning show on Sundays. As with elsewhere in Vietnam, it can be packed over the Tet (Lunar New Year) period.
The History of the Water Puppets
Both China and Southeast Asia have a rich puppeteering tradition, but water puppets are a specifically Vietnamese creation. They originated in the flooded rice paddies of the Red River Delta and have been documented for over 1,000 years—since Hanoi was first established. During summer, outdoor performances feel more atmospheric and closer to the original rice fields.