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Soaking Up the Culture in Hanoi


In the final blog in this series on the city of Hanoi, Vietnam, a look at three interesting attractions and activities that reflect the local culture.

1. Water Puppet Theatre


There are several water puppet theatres in Hanoi but the two best known are probably the Thang Long and the Lotus.



The world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre has its roots in an art form that dates back to the 11th century. The tradition of water puppet theatre stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water.

Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen.


This tradition is unique to North Vietnam but in recent years has found fame on stages all over the world, so it’s a rare treat to see the puppets perform in their original location at the Thang Long Theatre.

The original theatre group was formed in 1969 and operated under several names until the end of the 20th century. Towards the end of this period the puppetry troupe, as it was then known, performed overseas several times in Australia, the USA, Japan and France among other countries. In 2000 the troupe undertook seven international tours.

In 2001 the troupe was renamed the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and has since gone from strength to strength, reaffirming its position as an internationally renowned entertainment group and an art form.


Performances are accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals.


There are also authentic Vietnamese operatic songs telling the story being acted out by the puppets. Most of the shows recount Vietnamese folk tales and legends with topics including the celebration of the rice harvest depicted in a humorous fashion.


Shows at this modern theatre are performed in a pool of water as the stage for the puppets. The puppets are controlled by no more than eight puppeteers hiding behind a bamboo screen. The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre holds shows five or six times a day, almost every day of the week. Each show lasts for about one hour.

The Lotus Water Puppet Theatre performs at 5.15pm daily with a second performance at 6.30pm on Wednesdays.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, right in the centre of Hanoi. Lotus Water Puppet Theatre is at 16 Le Thai To Street, on the western side of Hoan Kiem Lake.

2. Street Food Tour


A walking tour around the old quarter of Hanoi to sample the street food is a highlight of any visit to this city. It is an opportunity to taste authentic and delicious Vietnamese cuisine as eaten by the locals. However, we also saw an establishment apparently designed to attract Australians.



On the tour you’re taken to hidden alleyways and bustling markets of Hanoi’s colourful old quarter to learn more about Hanoi’s unique fusion of food cultures, with influences from French and Chinese cuisines.




To be clear, a street food tour doesn’t mean you eat only from streetside stalls; much of the food is served in small restaurants which most likely you would never find on your own, and sometimes you eat kerbside. A knowledgeable guide takes you from place to place – about eight in total on the tour we took – and you get to sample some really tasty food. You won’t need dinner afterwards.



There are about six to eight in a group and the tour we took started at 6pm and lasted for about three hours. It finished with a drink and a spectacular night view of Hanoi from a rooftop bar.

3. Bat Trang Ceramics Village


Not central Hanoi but only 13 kilometres away on the other side of Chuong Duong bridge, Bat Trang ceramics village is an amazing place full of surprises. According to official documents, the Bat Trang pottery village was established in the 14th or 15th century, but according to the villagers it’s been around for much longer.

18_BT_Bat Trang Ceramics Village

With the establishment and development of the capital, many businessmen and crafters from different areas came to settle here to work and trade. Accordingly, Bat Trang has gradually changed from a simple, local pottery village to a nationally known ceramics centre, which international visitors are getting to hear about.

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As time went by, the village’s products have developed and become well known for the best quality, style and glaze, both inside and outside of the nation. Many of the products are now customised for aristocratic families, religious needs and export. Burgeoning foreign markets include Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK.


There is a huge range of products available for sale directly to visitors, including ceramic animals, tea sets, bowls and huge vases which sell for about $1,500.



Visitors can learn to make pottery (for a fee) in a traditional method under the instruction of a craftsman. From what I saw, most of them fail in their early attempts.

Bat Trang is just a short taxi ride from central Hanoi and is a most interesting place to spend some time. We were fascinated by the diversity of the place and spent several hours here. Refreshments are available on site.

Back in central Hanoi, there are also countless temples and pagodas to visit including Bach Ma and Ngoc Son temples and Tran Quoc and One Pillar pagodas, the latter featured in the title picture and below.


One of the most iconic temples in Hanoi, One Pillar Pagoda resembles a lotus blossom – a Buddhist symbol of purity. In 1954 the original temple was destroyed by the French as they withdrew from Vietnam, but it was rebuilt the following year. One Pillar Pagoda is at Ong Ich Khiem Street, Ngoc Ha in the Ba Dinh District, west of the old quarter and not far from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.  

Photos © Judy Barford


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