Weekend Arts: Water Puppets of Hoi An – not just for kids

Puppet shows are common the world over – and for those of us in the west, whether its the traditional Punch and Judy show, or something more modern like Thunderbirds, they are mostly meant for kids.


Of course the Muppets appeal to both children and adults – and shows like Avenue Q are clearly skewed toward the grownups.

In Vietnam, there is a specific artform known as water-puppets.

These Múa rối nước, or “puppets that dance on water” date back to the 11th century as bored farmers, unable to work when their rice-paddies were flooded, would stage these performances to keep each other entertained.

An impromptu pagoda would be set up, and the puppeteers would stand in waist-deep water behind bamboo screens, operating puppets that weight up to 15 kilos on long wooden beams underwaterand with a series of ropes and pulleys.

These days the plays are performed in more structured facilities – including a brand new setup at Hoi An.

Unlike similar theatres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn city, the Hoi An show features a brief introduction to each segment in both Vietnamese and English – so foreigners have an idea of what’s being represented.

Of course, some are easy to follow in any case – like the boat race segment or the dance of the fairies.

But for others, like the Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese warriors joining to fight the sea-dragon, an explanation came in really handy.

The Hoi An water puppet show costs VND80,000 (about $A5),  lasts around 45 minutes, and runs from 6:30pm Friday and Saturday nights only.

There were probably 200 people at the performance we went to – almost all tourists – and all of us seemed to enjoy the show immensely.

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