As for traditional entertainment, a performance of the water-puppets, Vietnam’s charming contribution to the world of marionettes, should be high on everyone’s itinerary. When visiting Hanoi most people devote an hour to the water-puppets (mua roi nuoc) – literally, puppets that dance on the water – a uniquely Vietnamese art form that originated in the Red River Delta.
Traditional performances consist of short scenes depicting rural life or historic events accompanied by mood-setting musical narration. While water-puppets provide a light-hearted introduction to Vietnamese performance art, a presentation of ca tru music is quite the opposite. Consisting of just three musicians, one of whom is a female singer, a ca tru ensemble creates an esoteric and haunting sound that is very moving. Apart from the folk music groups playing at the Temple of Literature and one or two other tourist venues, at present these are the only easily accessible venues regularly showcasing Vietnamese traditional culture in Hanoi.
However, the situation is evolving rapidly, so keep an eye on the English-language press, or ask around. Otherwise, apart from the odd group playing traditional music at some of Hanoi’s main tourist sights, there’s little on offer in the cultural sphere that’s easily accessible just yet. Very occasionally, events are listed in the English-language press, but are more likely to be announced on street banners or outside the venues themselves, so it’s worth asking us if there’s anything interesting happening at the moment of your travel dates. It’s well worth catching a concert or ballet at the Opera House.