Okay! So it’s Saturday afternoon. To our surprise Quyen sighed and said it would be a boring weekend, and asked us to pick a destination for a half day escape. Just 1 minute later, Dao Thuc Village was targeted, and off we went!
To people loving the art of water puppets, Đào Thục will be a familiar name. It is one of the original places where people perform water puppet shows as a form of entertainment. Water Puppets have been part of the spiritual life of villagers for over 300 years. In this modern internet era, the villagers are still managing to preserve and promote their ancestral heritage.
Setting off from Hanoi, after a 45 minute drive, we reached this beautiful untouched village of Dao Thuc, in the middle of peaceful rice fields, after the harvest.
We immediately fell in love with the quiet atmosphere and fresh air here. Appearing in front of us was a typically landscaped Vietnamese village, a sharp contrast from the busy city of Hanoi. At the entrance of the village stood a large banyan-tree beside a small pond, next to which was a sacred Buddhist Temple. This is typical of most traditional Vietnamese villages.
Thuy Dinh stage
After strolling around for a while we came to a house in the heart of the village, and were welcomed by Mr. Nguyen Van Chuong who was our host, the head of the hamlet, and the Director of the water puppet troupe as well.
Conversation was enjoyed along with a delicious authentic lunch. We were served roast pork, steamed chicken, pickles and salt eggplant, fried tofu in tomato sauce, stir-fried potato, soup of pork-rib and bamboo shoots, stir fried bokchoi with garlic and steamed rice . We were actually quite amazed and expressed our appreciation to Mr. Chuong’s wife for preparing this sumptuous meal for us at such short notice! (We only informed them of our visit 1 hour in advance!).
Mr. Chuong (right) and Mr. Trach (left)
Talking after authentic lunch
To Mr. Chuong, the Water Puppets at Dao Thuc have been through many ups and downs due to historic and economic conditions, yet the love of Water Puppets by the villagers has never relented.
Joining us at the meal were Mr. Nguyen Van Trach, a 57 year old artist who has spent more than half his life performing with water puppets, and Mr. Tran Thanh Nghi, who is now the key person extending the reputation of Dao Thuc Water Puppets.
Being born in a traditional village in the countryside, all of the artists in Dao Thuc are peasants. Even though the financial benefits from performing water puppet shows is not enough to earn a living, they are still dedicated and perpetuate this historic artform. We were told that the Dao Thuc Water Puppet Troupe has performed in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, China, South Korea, Brazil and many other countries for the last two decades, and now the villagers are performing in their own village on a daily basis.
“We are trying to make our Puppet shows more popular, hoping it will attract more international tourists to our village. This not only helps us maintain and develop our heritage, but also offers opportunities for the younger generation of the village to interact with the outside world, thus widening their view and encouraging them to make progress!” said Mr. Chuong excitedly.
Our exciting leader in a water puppet workshop of local people
Water puppets are made of fig wood. This kind of wood is very light, making it easier for performers to control the puppets. Its durability in water is another characteristic making it the ideal material for water puppets.
Bidding goodbye and thanking Mr. Chuong’s family for such an enjoyable and informative lunch we leave to watch a full performance of the puppet show on the pond, which is actually the main stage for the shows. The pond is called Thuy Dinh, which literally means “The Temple Raised from the Water”. Audiences, including tourists and villagers, excitedly gather around the stage to enjoy every move of the puppets, and listen to the songs which illustrate the stories the artists tell.
Dragon water puppet on performing
Local artists say hi to audiences after the show
A water puppet show was not new to us, however watching this show in its natural surroundings at the birthplace of water puppetry was something completely different! The spirited atmosphere, the smells, the light, the shade, the smiling people, together with the “innocent ways” of the local peasants, and the authentic stories told via the puppets made it a unique and very inspiring experience!
Only 45 minutes from Hanoi Center, 30 minutes from Noi Bai International Airport, the village of Dao Thuc with its charm, rich history, and warm hearted people, will no doubt be one of Indochina Pioneer’s new destinations for 2015. There will be a half day tour, and a full day tour on sale from January 2015. We are also working with local families to plan some homestays for those wishing to enlarge this experience.
So if you’re planning a trip to Hanoi, you may want to add Dao Thuc to your list of places to visit!
Indochina Pioneer will make it a time to remember!