Reunification Palace Saigon

~K~

There is quite a bit of war tourism in Vietnam: In Ho Chi Minh, the main spots we saw related to this were the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums (including the War Remnants Museums which we have yet to write about), and the Reunification Palace. 

The Reunification Palace was just a few kilometer walk from our AirBNB (into the heart of District 1). The streets there can be a little crazy, but really, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. We set out just after noon and made our way towards the Palace. It is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, in District 1.

Approaching The Palace

You enter the grounds via a small entry building, where you purchase your tickets. The tickets cost 30,000 Dong each (~ $1.50). There was a short line when we visited. From there, you are free to wander the grounds and explore the expansive campus. 

Palace Ticket

We made our way around the outside perimeter first, before venturing inside. The grounds were well kept. A large fountain graced the front and a few tanks (including the one that crashed the gate in 1975) were off to the side. We also found a nice patch of grass to practice some AcroYoga in, which we’ve been slacking on for years now. It felt great to do. Near the back end of the palace are some tennis courts and a few other sports courts.

Tank That Crashed The Gates
MIG That Bombed The Palace
A Large Tree In The Surrounding Garden
A Tree Out Back

From there, we proceeded in towards the palace itself.


Approaching The Side Entrance
Briana On The Back Balcony

The palace was originally built in 1873 and served as the governor’s residence from 1887 to 1945. During World War II, the palace changed hands from colonial France to Japan, and then back to France. In 1954, after years of fighting with the French, the Vietnamese managed to win independence, and became divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The South declared the palace, Independence Palace, and it served as the primary government building. In 1962, a North Vietnamese assassination attempt bombed the entire left wing of the palace, rendering it impossible to restore. So the current ruler of the time, Diem, ordered the whole palace demolished and commissioned a new building. The palace was built in 1963 and inaugurated in 1966. It served as the headquarters for the American campaign during the Vietnam War. On 8 April 1975, a communist spy managed to pilot a F-5 undetected and bombed the palace but caused no significant damage. The Palace fell on April 30, and signaled the end of the war. In November of 1975, negotiations between the North and South brought the two Vietnams together and the palace was renamed the Reunification Palace.

Front Lawn Fountain

The palace is quite opulent, with 5 floors and a roof top, all of which can be visited. A large central staircase could get you up and down, as well as stairs at the end of each wing. Elevators also are placed throughout, but they are quite tiny and can only hold two or three people at most. There are many halls, adorned with gold, ivory, and all manner of luxurious materials. Each hall also served it’s own purpose and function.

Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Palace Theater
Plaque

A residential area was near the top with a nice grotto open to the sky to admire.

Foreign Dignitaries' Quarters Courtyard
Animal Mountings

On the roof was an area originally designed as an area to meditate, but was eventually turned into a dance floor for partying. The entire palace was very open air, and felt quite welcoming.

Bonsai On The Roof
Helicopter Pad on Palace Roof

On the bottom floor, you can check out the industrial kitchen that served the entire palace.

Palace Kitchen
Palace Kitchen Mixer

We managed to spend a good two hours checking out the grounds. If you want, you can take a tour with a guide. But we just elected to walk around by ourselves and read the placards. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, plus it’s located near a bunch of other great sites!

Plaque
Gold Plaque

Blogging For Book – Super Genes

~K~

This is our second entry for Blogging For Books. A neat service where you’re sent a free book if you provide an honest review of it on your blog. You can see our review for The Tunnels here. This time, we’re reviewing Super Genes, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. We both really enjoyed the book and learned a lot that we’ve begun to incorporate into our lifestyles.

It seems all the rage these days is about your genes and how they affect you. But the narrative has been woefully incomplete and stuck in the past. Whereas in the past we’ve been told that our genes are static and the result of a roll of the dice on part of parents, Chopra and Tanzi bring to light the interactivity we share with genome and our abilities to affect them.

The book approaches the subject of genetics and epigenetics (the customizable genes that lay atop our ordinary genes) with a simplicity and clarity that would not be thought possible for a subject so complex and deep. The reader is carefully guided through the history of the discoveries, the mechanics of the genome, and the decisions one can make to take command of what was once believed to be beyond our control.

Diving into the subjects of diabetes, allergies, Alzheimers, inflammation, and more –  Chopra and Tanzi brings genetics to the public in a digestible way that maintains its potency through the use of real-life examples. They also bring to light how much our diet can affect our genes and those of our descendants. All of this, while bringing hope to those who have always struggled with health problems they previously thought were beyond their control.

This book is an excellent and engaging book for anyone who has ever had an interest in why their body behaves the way it does, or the layman who just wants a better understanding of the power of DNA.

House of Terror, Budapest

~K~

The House of Terror Museum in Budapest stands as a stark reminder of – and a monument to – fascist and communist regimes (and their victims) leading up to and following World War II. The museum was opened in 2002 in the building that was used by the Arrow Cross Party, AVH (Hungarian Secret Police), and Nazi Party.

Roof of the House of Terror

Coming to Budapest, we knew that this was a museum that we really wanted to visit. Our AirBNB was located only a couple hundred meters from the museum so we had no trouble finding our way there. It is located at Andrassy ut 60, which is on the primary street that runs down the Pest side of the city towards Hero’s Square.

Advertisement for a movie about the Revolution

We decided to visit on October 23 – Day of the Republic – the 60th anniversary. The initial reasoning for this was that museums are free on national holidays, and we were on a budget. But we would come to realize a certain poignancy to our decision to visit that day. The Day of the Republic commemorates the revolution of 1956, and the overthrow of the Arrow Cross Party on November 10.

As a kid growing up in the US going to public school, my history classes didn’t cover Hungary – or anything but the most generic of world history if it wasn’t directly related to the US – and so this museum really brought to light an important and dark period of history I was completely unaware of.

Our day started early, as we assumed that the museum would get crowded and that we might have to wait a while to get in. And we did. The line wrapped around the side of the building for about a hundred meters or so and slowly meandered it’s way to the front door. On the outside were pictures of victims and martyrs from the Nazi, Arrow Cross Party, and Soviet Communist Occupation. 

Line to House of Terror
Victim Portraits

Walking through the front entrance, we were treated to ominous music that strongly conveyed the cold Soviet demeanor that would be the motif of the museum. It took us a few minutes to get through and drop our coats and cameras (no photography of any kind is permitted) at the storage area- initially, we had assumed it was so busy because of the holiday (and it probably was a little busier), but it turns out that the museum is usually busy – so prepare for that.

Inside, you can find that the museum is made up of 3 floors and a basement. Each floor wraps around a central atrium, at the center of which is an old Soviet T-54 tank in a pool of water.

We began on the top floor and made our way down. Each exhibition takes a significant amount of time to work your way through and is excellently curated. You can find an extensive amount of information in both Hungarian and English, although there were a few sections that could use additional English explanation.

One aspect that we found enjoyable was the numerous video footage and interviews with the people affected. While dark, and not kid-friendly at times, these were very informative and far more captivating than placards on a wall.

Another nice feature was that every room would have a printed information sheet in Hungarian or English for visitors to take. These were very detailed, and sometimes even multiple pages long. The information on them helped reinforce the message of the particular exhibit and allowed for visitors to peruse the exhibit without crowding around a single plaque.

The museum covers the history of Hungary’s revolutions directly following and before World War II. It explores the relationships of the Hungarians with the German Nazis, USSR, and KGB. Its numerous exhibitions cover items such as arrests, gulags, imprisonments, torture, propaganda, murder, and resistance.

In the basement, they have kept the cells that were used to hold and break prisoners to the will of the communist regime. They are dark, cold, and dingy – a miserable place to be.

The experience of the museum is truly somber and sobering. It brings to light the atrocities that can be committed and just how easy it is for people to take these actions. But it also highlights the strength of the Hungarian people to resist. That pride still shows today, and especially around the time of the holiday, is exhibited by the Hungarian flag with a circle cut out of the center. The Hungarian people removed the communist insignia from the center of the flag during the revolution.

Hungarian Flag

The museum does not allow for photography or videography inside, so we’re pretty limited on what we can put up on here from the interior. But out front, there is an exhibition as well. Numerous plaques in English and Hungarian detail various events and individuals who were involved in the resistance. As well, there is a monument made of chains (the “iron curtain”). 

Chains of Communisim
Berlin Wall Piece

Revolution Plaque
Terror House Plaque
Terror House Plaque
Retailiation Plaque

I could say a lot more but regardless, the museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Budapest. It does an excellent job displaying the history of this tumultuous time.

If you want to visit:

Address:  Andrássy út 60, Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed Mondays)

Cost: 2000 HUF (~$7.25)

Keraton Palace Yogyakarta Indonesia

~K~

The Keraton Palace of Yogyakarta sits inside the Kraton – the palace city of the Sultan. The walled city houses 25,000 people, 1,000 of whom are directly employed by the Sultan.

Today, the Kraton remains just as vibrant and bustling as it used to be – as it is a fully functioning city. In fact, it was the location of our AirBNB and made for a wonderful starting point for many of our adventures while in the Yogya city-center.

Keraton Palace Display

Our plans to visit the Keraton Palace did not go the way we had intended though – it was supposed to be the second stop after visiting Taman Sari, but we ran into a random student on the street who got us to go check out the Batik school instead, and that totally threw off our plan. Though this resulted in a much more fun, and unexpected afternoon.

After wandering our way down Malioboro street from the north, we re-entered the Kraton and found ourselves looking at the Keraton Palace. The Keraton is a still functioning palace, and the current Sultan still lives and works there – as such, parts of the palace are off limits to visitors and it shuts down on holidays and Sundays.

But for those interested in visiting, you enter from the north side of the complex, on the right side of the entry gate.

Keraton Palace Entry

Still, the complex can offer some interesting sights to wander around and explore.

Keraton Palace Roosterrs

If you come at the right time (which we didn’t) you can see performances which are included with your ticket. The specifics vary by the day, but generally are between 9 am and noon and include gamelan, puppetry, poetry readings, and classical dances.

Keraton Palace Covered Pavillion

As well, there is a museum on the grounds. As I stated above, it’s poorly curated, so we don’t really have much context on just what everything was, but it was still interesting to look at.

Keraton Palace Museum Weapons
Keraton Palace Museum Drums
Keraton Palace Museum Cars

The palace looked nice, but ultimately we found it sort of boring as it was uninformative to the casual tourist. Still, it’s worth taking a peek – especially if you plan to show up at the right time and day.

Keraton Palace Memorial Bas Relief

If you’re really lucky, you might even get to see the Sultan.

Keraton Palace Inner Courtyard

Nonetheless, with our destination set, we set out for a walk to get to the statue. We began with our customary walk out of the residential road and across the bridge (which was under construction) over the river to the main road.

Local Houses
Stormy Skies in Sri Lanka
River Bridge

Once on the road we proceeded out towards the waterfront road, where we proceeded to walk the entirety of Weligama Bay. During this time, we passed numerous fish mongers, boats, shrines, surfers, and cricket players.

Empty Lot
Local Fishmongers
Outrigger Boat
Small Roadside Shrine

The sky was on the verge of storming nearly the entire duration of our walk, but this had become customary to us. We had arrived in Sri Lanka during the monsoon, and as such it rained most days. But coming from Florida, this really wasn’t a big deal – we’ve heard people complain about monsoon weather, but personally, I think it is actually nice (less tourists, and cooling rains – why complain?).

Stormy Skies
Local Durian Vendor

Just as we rounded the cape of the bay, we turned inwards back towards the main drag of Weligama. Along this road, at this point, though, things were far more relaxed and residential.


Taprobane Island
Briana On A Beach Ropeswing With A Local Friendly Dog
Old man pulling his cow.
Kapthurai Mosque Weligama

We stopped by a small Buddhist shrine, but didn’t feel right entering because we weren’t properly dressed. A few locals outside the shrine urged us to go in and look around, but we still felt a little uncomfortable.

Grounds of the Buddhist Temple

We proceeded to enter at their behest, but were shot dirty looks like by other locals inside the temple. We opted to simply wander the grounds for a few minutes but not intrude on the temple operations themselves. We left shortly after.

Shrine In The Buddhist Temple

Continuing along the road, we came upon numerous homes and buildings of seemingly no consequence. However, they all bore a authenticity that made our wandering all the more enjoyable.

Home in Weligama
Woman walking in front of her house
Victorian Architecture With Brilliant Foliage
Briana walking down the street in Weligama
Buddhist Temple Buddha
Weligama Post Office

A long while later, we finally came to a fork in the road that I was expecting – near the train tracks and knew that we were close to the statue. A quick turn to the left, and proceeding across the tracks brought us to the entrance to the tiny park that held the statue.

Train tracks in Weligama

The statue was carved into a large boulder and stood a few feet above head height. The park was small, but offered a quiet respite from the going-ons about us.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

Known locally as Kusta Raja Gala or Rock of the Leper King, it supposedly depicts an ancient king stricken with Leprosy who was instructed to drink coconut pulp for three months. The “cure” worked and the statue was built to commemorate him.

Rock Of The Leper King Weligama Sri Lanka

We stayed for a few minutes, before proceeding back towards our AirBNB. But of course, we were still a long ways off from home at this point, and still had good walk ahead of us. We took a break watching some cricket players across the road.

Cricket Field

This time though, we proceeded to make our way through the heart of Weligama and the main city center. It was very busy, and aside from the cell phones, evoked the feeling of being in the 60s or 70s.

Weligama Town Center Seasonal Shrine Under Construction
Local Gas Station
Old Man In His Home
City Center of Weligama

The walk took us several hours, and we were quite tired upon arriving back to our AirBNB. But as we’ve found elsewhere, a simple walk in seemingly mundane neighborhoods can be far more noteworthy experiences than the typical tourist fare.

Walking Down The Street

The Belgrade Ballet (Belgrade National Theatre)

~B~

The National Theatre in Belgrade was originally built in 1869 and is a protected cultural monument in Serbia.  Located next to Republic Square, it’s unlikely you’ll visit Belgrade without seeing this grand building, but you should take advantage of what it has to offer inside as well!

THe belgrade serbia opera theater

For around $5-$10/person you can see a ballet, a drama, or even an opera within an extravagant looking theater. Between the quality and price (and therefore value), I’m surprised this isn’t recommended by more people as an activity in Belgrade. Maybe they just don’t know about it! I read somewhere that performances are subsidized to allow more people to enjoy art and culture in Serbia which makes sense because I was wondering how they could pay all the performers and theatre workers based on the admission fees and the capacity of theater. 

Isn't it grand?

After we arrived in Serbia we checked out what was playing and decided on Don Quixote (the ballet) because we both were familiar with the story which we felt would make it easier for us to follow. There are usually several options at any given time, though.

I believe you can purchase your tickets at the theater but we opted to get our’s online (you can get tickets here). You’ll need to create an account on the website and while we had some issues with the site at first, it’s fairly straightforward.

Ballet tickets

Unfortunately, when I asked someone to confirm the time (we used Kyle’s email to reserve the tickets), they did not read it correctly (I guess) which resulted in us arriving several hours early. At least it wasn’t a couple hours late! It was quite a long walk there so we weren’t going to walk back to our place only to return, so we went wandering. At this point I think we had already been to Republic Square and even maybe the fortress multiple times so we felt very free to explore wherever we pleased. It’s a nice area and we enjoyed checking out some lovely streets, a couple churches, and somewhere in there we opted to have dinner.

Manufaktura food

We ate at Manufaktura which was a pretty nice place and between the restaurant and the theater, it felt like a pretty classy date night!

Outside the theaterDate Night

After arriving to the theater and checking out the decor, we were directed by various people to the correct location.

Selfienear the entrance

This was a little slower than it could have been because the ushers/workers would talk to us in Serbian and we’d pretty much just stare blankly, occasionally squinting to attempt to understand something until they realized we didn’t understand. Then they would laugh and start speaking in English. While most people in general did not seem to know a ton of English (if any) in Serbia, most people at touristy (if you can call them that- we hardly saw any tourists there) places (like museums and such) speak English.

The doors in

Anyway, while we pretty much remained in our seats, it seemed that after everyone was seated, the seats were sort of flexible because we saw other people change locations a little bit (like maybe over a few seats or down a row, something along those lines- you wouldn’t suddenly be able to get the $10 seats if you are in a $5 seat because the entrance would be different). Our seats were a bit tilted forward which made it slightly uncomfortable until you realize that in those seats you want to lean forward a bit anyway. They were fairly comfortable but I have read others report that their seats were very comfortable and I imagine they might have been in a different part of the theater.

Beautiful Belgrade TheaterView from our Seats

The performance itself was professional and high-quality and we were quite happy with it. The performance (including the, I believe, 20 minute break) was around 2-3 hours.

Chandelier

We walked home in the rain and it was a very lovely evening.

Me at the Belgrade Ballet

Belgrade Serbia

~K~

At the confluence of the Sava and Danube, rises Belgrade – the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city has been settled, on and off, since the 6th millennium BCE, and has come under the rule of numerous empires such as the Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires.

Where We've Been Belgrade

The city has seen 115 wars, and been razed 44 times. It was even attacked by Attila the Hun in 442. Debatably, Attila is buried beneath the Kalemagdan fort.

Today, the city is a peaceful and charming city, that offers a lot to do, at a very cheap price.

Clue 4- building

The Kalemagdan fort is a centerpiece of the city, rising above the rest of the city where the Sava and Danube meet. It’s a wonderful park, that is free to visit, and can easily keep you and a family occupied for a day or two.

Kalemagden Front Cliff

The city is filled with parks, and is incredibly easy to navigate on foot, or by tram if you so wish. And astonishingly, the locals have done a phenomenal job of training their dogs. They’re everywhere, they’re off-leash, and they cause no problems.

Clue 6- Dog 2

Other icons of the city are the Temple of St. Sava and St. Mark’s Church. As a whole, the city offers a slew of churches and cathedrals to visit.

St Sava

When it comes to enjoying the more cosmopolitan aspects of life, you can head over to St. Mark’s Square. You may catch a rally happening (as we did) or you may instead check out the national theater which has shows frequently. We visited and saw the ballet “Don Quixote” at a wonderful price. As well, numerous shops ranging from clothes, to antiques, to souvenirs in the large shopping complex.

Clue

If you have the time to explore, you’ll find botanical gardens, parks, cemeteries, shops to your liking. Street art adorns the walls of buildings. The people also hold a pride for their heritage – most notably for their highly esteemed citizens such as Nikola Tesla, who you can find on the Serbian Dinar. There are numerous museums to visit and even an old concentration.

Bust of Nikola Tesla

As well, the food is cheap and plentiful, and has a delicious cafe culture.

Clue 8- Cafes
Belgrade bakery popular

It’s easy to grab a Plejkavica, or Serbian hamburger, for what amounts to barely a dollar or two and could feed a family, along almost any street.

The soviet history also brings to the city an imposing, yet oddly charming character. In Belgrade, you’ll be surprised at just how welcoming it can be. We spent five weeks in Belgrade, and enjoyed all our time there.

Clue 12- around town

Carmel-By-The-Sea Day Trip, Point Lobos and Mission Carmel

~K~

Just about an hour and a half south of us here in San Jose lies the world famous Carmel by the sea. While we’ve visited Monterey, which is just a few miles north, we had yet to really take in Carmel.

The picturesque location of mountains meeting the sea shore gives no wonder to why it’s such a popular day trip for many in the Bay Area. We had been back in California for a couple months at this point, and I was really itching to get a good coastal hike. After some research I decided I wanted to go to Point Lobos State National Reserve and Briana planned a couple other stops for our time down there such as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo (better known as Mission Carmel). 

Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Mission

Stairs At Mission Carmel

We arrived at the Mission just after noon on a very clear and somewhat warm Sunday. It was pretty busy, as it is an operating mission, but we managed to get parking easily enough and made our way in to see the site.

The campus is large, and a perfect example of a classic Spanish Mission: adobe plaster, warm colored brick, and ceramic tile roofs. Mission Carmel had a distinct charm and personality to it, one that I find perfectly characterized by it’s crooked window above the entrance to the church.

Fountain At Mission Carmel

The grounds were well landscaped with numerous flowers and fountains. Throughout the compound there were also numerous rooms that we could visit that held various histories and artifacts related to the Mission and surrounding area.

Chapel Entrance At Mission Carmel
Fountain At Mission Carmel

The mission was established June 3, 1770. The mission served primarily to baptize the native Ohlone Indian population. It reached a peak of 927 members in 1794, but had dwindled back down to 381 by 1823.

Graveyard At Mission Carmel

The missions was secularized in 1833 by the Mexican government and slowly fell into ruin and disrepair until the Roman Catholic Church regained authority of the mission in 1863, with extensive restoration beginning in 1931.

Tomb At Mission Carmel

Today the mission serves multiple roles as a museum, working mission, and minor basilica.

Display In Mission Carmel

Carmelite Monastery

We also planned on visiting the Carmelite Monastery on our way to Point Lobos. I had thought this would make for a good starting point to our Point Lobos excursion. I was wrong – but it was still a nice stop.

Carmelite Monastery Monterey

The Monastery is mostly closed off to visitors. While you can visit, you will need to set up an appointment first. With that being said, you can walk around the grounds and enjoy the sea breeze.

Bri in The Carmelite Monastery Garden
Carmelite Monastery Garden

Point Lobos

Having parked at Monastery Beach, which sits across the street from the Carmelite Monastery, we made our way along the beach in search for the trail into Point Lobos. The maps online are very misleading, because it appears that you can enter the park via a trail at the far end of Monastery Beach – you cannot do this. As such, we walked about a mile up the road to main entrance to the park. It also turns out this is the only entrance into the park.

Monastery Beach
Warning Sign for Monastery Beach

Parking costs $10, however, there is no charge for people just walking in as we did. When you enter the park, you are a little bit away from the actual coast. Because of this, we set off for Whaler’s Cove via the Carmelo Meadow Trail.

Forest Trail through Point Lobos

Whaler’s Cove is the largest cove in Point Lobos, and it offers stunning views the seashore. Upon arriving, we were treated to a fresh breeze and picturesque landscapes. We slowly made our way around the top of the cliff sides until we reached a boat launch.

Whaler's Cove Panoramic

Here at the boat launch, we were treated to a great surprise: a Sea Otter with her pup, eating crabs. We sat here and watched for nearly a half hour before proceeding on. It was mesmerizing to watch the wildlife here, and we managed to snap a few other pics of the local sea life.

Sea Otter Eating A Crab
Crab on the Rocks

From here, we proceeded up a trail along the cliff edge and continued on the trim around the coastal trail. Here you can find a small whaling museum to visit. The museum features stuff such as the equipment used by whalers, whale bones, and baleen.

Whaling Display Near Museum
Bri With Whale Bones

Cannery Point offered a great view of the ocean (as did most spots). Artists sometimes will take advantage of the location.

Overlooking Whaler's Cove
Man Painting At Point Lobos

We kept on, passing through Big Dome and Cypress Coves before beginning to head back. While we only saw half the park at this point, we were beginning to get tired and the sun was beginning to go down, and we wanted to get back home before dark (we didn’t).

Cypress Cove Point Lobos

So when we came to a trail junction near Headland Cove, we turned inward back towards the park entrance. The park was very well maintained, so these trails in the interior were well manicured, paved, or had wooden walkways.

Meandering Trail In Point Lobos

The southern half of Point Lobos is considered phenomenal as well, as we plan on eventually making our way back to see the rest of the park. For those interested, you can also go scuba diving here and if you catch the park in the right season you can see whales and seals as well.

Sea Otter In Whaler's Cove Point Lobos

Cats eating

Video: Our Cyprus Housesit Watching 7 Cats

~B~

I first attempted to make an overall Cyprus video, but our “tourist” clips just didn’t blend well with all the cat videos. So this is a video mostly featuring the seven cats we watched in Dhoros. Gotta love cat videos, though!  I will probably make another short video showing some of our activities out, though. Enjoy!

Entrance to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (Hanoi)

~B~

Soon after learning about this traditional art special to Vietnam- I put it on my must-do list for the country. We knew we would have multiple opportunities to catch a water puppet show so we put it off in Ho Ch Minh while we did other activities which could only be found there such as the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and so on. Our first glimpse of a water puppet theater stage occurred there, though, in the Museum of Vietnamese History. There was a room with a stage and seating off to the side of one of the museum rooms where you could catch shows at certain times. This show, while on a smaller “stage” than the show we ended up seeing, is allegedly quite good! We might have gone except that it was starting as we arrived so we didn’t have much time to debate the extra little cost (we were on quite a budget at that time). There were other options in Ho Chi Minh as well, but ultimately we ended up going to the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater after making it to Hanoi.

Water Puppet Theater Entrance

One special thing about seeing the show there is that water puppetry actually originated in north Vietnam (specifically in the Red Delta River area in the north) back in the 11th century. Apparently this was a form of entertainment used by villagers when their rice fields were flooded. They were sometimes used to celebrate the end of the season (and possibly on other special occasions). In the old days, they would build pagodas in the rice fields which could hide the puppeteers who would stand in the (waist to chest deep) water controlling the puppets. The water hid the puppet controls and served as a stage. Back then, they would also often be dealing with cold water which could have leeches and water-borne diseases in order to put on these shows.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater was established in 1969 as a way to preserve tradition and increase tourism. The puppets they use are carved from wood and are controlled with bamboo rods and string. Scenes and skits performed in the show address aspects of daily life for rural farmers like fishing and farming, as well as performances relating to folklore, festivals, and more. Water puppet performers from this theater have toured 40 countries to put on shows as well. If you’d like to get a glimpse of what to expect, you can check out some videos on youtube.

Little Figures

Anyway, this was one of the first things we did our first time in Hanoi. Our last 10 days or so in HCM was spent away from District 1 (location of a lot of the touristy stuff) and was during the period of Tet so we had plenty of time to get work done and were able to go out and sight-see pretty immediately once we got to Hanoi. On our first day out we walked quite a bit but I believe it was the next day we chose to walk to the theater. It’s located near Hoan Kiem Lake and lots of other neat activities in the Old Quarter, but was quite a long walk from our Airbnb at the time.

Road near our Airbnb

When we got to the theater, they were sold out! Be aware that this could happen to you due to its popularity.

Crowded Theater

We did not find tickets available online at the time and it seems it may be fairly common for them to sell out early for the day and sometimes even the next day or two. So- we bought tickets for the next day, got some coffee (for Kyle) and tea (for me) and then wandered around the area proceeding to get quite lost, making our journey back hours longer.

Crowded Hanoi

The next day we were so exhausted we decided to just get a taxi down to the theater for our show time. The funny thing is that all of this could have been avoided because after our 10 days on Cat Ba we ended up staying at a place just around the corner from the theater! That’s how things go I guess! Fortunately, like everything else, transportation is pretty cheap there and our taxi ride only cost us about $2 and we walked the way back (pretty sure we got lost again).

Overall, we really enjoyed the show. I noticed from online reviews that it’s not everyone’s thing- but it was our’s! We weren’t entirely sure what to expect but here are some of the things we liked: 1. It was educational. I felt like I learned a little bit about the history of the area and even a little bit about current life for rural villagers in Vietnam. There were scenes of fishing, festival events, etc. 2. It was entertaining. The show even made me laugh out loud a couple times. 3. It was slightly interactive (like smoke for certain parts and dragons spraying out water- though not really at you per se). 4. The music. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra including a Dan bau, bamboo flutes, drums, and more plays as an accompaniment/accent to the show. There is also some Cheo (a type of opera) singing.

People playing instruments

The only thing that sort of got in the way for us was that we couldn’t understand what the puppets were saying (their “voice actors” spoke in Vietnamese). We didn’t mind because we were in Vietnam, but do feel we might have missed a few things or could have learned more if it was in English or we knew Vietnamese. Still, with many parts the music, tone, and actions of the puppets helped communicate things to us.

Here is the info:
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang – Hanoi – Vietnam
Cost: 100k dong (~$5)
Times: I see varying things online so I would just check in person. Show times are mostly in the afternoon/evening, I believe, though.
Website: www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org
Other info: Shows last for one hour.

Combine it with: Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple, Hoa La Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”), the Temple of Literature, the Museum of Vietnamese history, the Vietnamese women’s museum, the Hanoi Opera House, and more!

In front of HK Lake

And if you can’t make it here there are a few other opportunities (such as these) across Vietnam to see water puppet shows of varying sizes.