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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.

National Mosque of Malaysia

After our day at the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, we decided to make our way towards the National Mosque of Malaysia, or Masjid Negara. The mosque is not far from the bird park and is a relatively short walk down the road. It is a pretty neat, and free activity.

Arrival to the National Mosque of Malaysia

As we walked down the road, we first came upon the Islamic Art Museum. We didn’t have time to visit, because we arrived sometime around 5 PM, but if you are interested you can visit for 14 RM (~$3.33). We have read that it is worth visiting. The mosque is across the street from the museum.

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Visitors Wear Purple

When you come up to the mosque, you must go to the tourist’s entrance. From here, grab purple robes and the women also grab head scarves. You must remove your shoes, and then you may proceed up the steps to the mosque barefoot.

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The National Mosque is sits on 13 acres, containing many gardens and fountains. It was built in 1965 on the site of a church. It was designed of reinforced concrete, to symbolize the newly independent Malaysia. A large umbrella-like structure creates the main roof of the prayer hall, while a 73 meter high minaret rises from a reflection pond.

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White Marble and Modern

The cool white marble tile stretches the expansive compound, while white marble columns gilded with gold stretch up to a a diffused glass ceiling. Intricate geometric designs create open-air walls throughout, where numerous Muslims rest and pray throughout the day. If you look closely, you can even see special solar panel setups for devotees to hook up phones to charge.

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Visitors Have Limits

Walking around the compound and it is surprising at just how many tourists you see, but there are still many more practitioners present. Tourists are allowed to visit, but not during prayer time.

You also cannot enter the main prayer hall, as you must be Muslim. However you can see inside through the doorway and glass windows. The room is an impressive, domed room, lined with extravagant gold and calligraphic displays.

Masjid Negara

Tombs of National Heroes

At the far end, we came upon the tombs of national heroes. These tombs, in concert with the rest of the mosque, were made of finely carved white marble and gilded with gold.

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The mosque as a whole, gives a very peaceful and serene atmosphere to the heat and chaos of Kuala Lumpur. Despite the heat of the day, the tile was cool and a gentle breeze was able to move throughout the entire compound.

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We left the mosque just as they began to close the facility to tourists in preparation for the next prayer. As we left, we checked out the more public front plaza of the mosque.

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A Great Central Location

Across the street, we saw a very interesting building and were curious about it. It turns out is the police station. It was designed in the 1900s by British and Indian architects. The stone building bears the striking arches familiar with Ottoman architecture as well as strong Gothic influences. The building is closed off to the public, but it is certainly worth taking a moment of your time to admire.

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With the sun setting, we decided to make our way back home, our day finished.

~K~

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