For those visiting the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, the amount of things to do can be a bit overwhelming. Food, museums, tours, markets, and other historical sights litter the city, and how one chooses which places to see is a highly personal choice. Bur, for any one who enjoys a good bit of history and culture combined with an entertaining show, the Golden Dragon Theater is a must visit attraction.
The show consisted of numerous 1-2 minute scenes involving both human and animal puppets. The whole show ran about 45 minutes. One scene would be dancing ladies, the next would be people thrashing about trying to catch fish, the next a cat trying to catch a duck, the next people plowing a rice field, and the next dragons dancing. My favorite was a surprisingly romantic love dance between two chickens. One scene even involved some small fireworks!
The puppets were often brightly colored and amazingly detailed. Various body parts moved, but the arms were always the most exaggerated. Three musicians on either side of the stage provided both the music and the voices of the puppets. The music was played on traditional instruments. It was interesting and blended wonderfully with the movements of the puppets. The show had a good energy and the exaggerated movements of the puppets kept it entertaining the whole time. The constant splashing about in the water adds a uniquely Vietnamese aspect to the show as well.
Water puppetry was created a thousand years ago by rice farmers in northern Vietnam. They were performed after harvest, during religious or cultural ceremonies, and during other important events. Originally, pagodas were placed over freshly harvested rice paddies to cover the performers, who stood in waist deep water. The water not only helped hide the performers, but also added numerous elements to the show including better acoustics for the music and light reflection for a more dynamic stage. The puppets were hand carved and given five layers of lacquer to protect them from the water. Knowing that it has been an important part of their cultural history just made it that much better.
It has been a while since a show kept me captivated the whole way through. The puppet theater was both novel and highly entertaining and it kept me entertained like nothing has in a long time. It cost us about $18 USD, and it was worth every penny. If you even find yourself in Vietnam, find a water puppet theater and go see a show. You wont regret it.
The theater is an easy walk from the hostel area, referred to as the hostel ghetto by our Lonely Planet guide. The theater is located on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street near the Reunification palace. The war remnants museum is just up the road from the theater as well. Seeing such a light-hearted show could be a great way to help bring the mood back to positive after the often heart wrenching displays seen at the museum.
If you are coming from or going to any where near the Ben Than Markets you will likely pass through Tao Dan park, which I would highly suggest strolling through on your way to or from the show. The park is amazing manicured with grass fields and artistically designed and well maintained shrubbery and flower beds. There is also a small reproduction of a castle with a small water garden and bridge you can walk over and a couple of fountains, one of which is lit up by varying color lights at night. It is a wonderful place to spend some time either before or after the show.