Mandalay is one of Myanmar’s most happening cities and it’s a great place to engage in the culture, as well as the beautiful temples and sights. One of the most interesting traditional shows to see is the Mandalay Marionettes puppet show which was the icing on the cake of the visit for me.
Mandalay is also surrounded by wonderful places to go day tripping, including the sights in the neighbouring towns of Sagaing, Ava and Amarapura. Check my guide to from travelling from Mandalay to Mingun by boat.
We came to Mandalay from Bagan, which costs about 15,000 kyats and takes about 4-5 hours by bus which will pick you up from our hotel. We stayed at the Royal Yadanarbon Hotel which was a decent budget option with free bikes and good common areas but small rooms and not a great breakfast. Check the Tripadvisor link below to check reviews and find good deals for hotels in Mandalay:
If you’re travelling around Myanmar, then check out my posts on travelling to Ngapali Beach to Yangon via Pyay, Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake, crossing the border to Mae Sot in Thailand and my travel warning on Mrauk U after I got caught up in civil conflict there.
Here’s everything you need to know about seeing a puppet show in Myanmar:
You can see the puppet dolls for sale across Myanmar, especially in Yangon and Mandalay. There are stalls all over the city but people display them in their homes more than they use them as puppets, which is a shame in a way but makes sense because they are beautiful.
History of puppetry
It is believed that puppetry, in general, has origins in China and India (in the East) as well as Greece and Italy (in the West). There are four different types of puppet used in Southeast Asia, including shadow, glove, rod and string. It is the string puppet that has developed in Myanmar as part of the cultural tradition.
This art form is called yoke thé and started off as being a form of entertainment for royals before becoming available to a wider audience. It declined after colonisation after the Third Anglo-Burmese War and was revived under General Khin Nyunt in the 90s.
Watching a show
While Mandalay is the most famous place to see a puppet show in Myanmar, tourism is keeping the art going, so you can also see shows in Yangon and Inle Lake.
We went to see a show at Mandalay Marionettes which is in the centre of Mandalay on 66th Street, between 26th & 27th Street. There is a nightly performance at 8.30pm and tickets cost 15,000 kyats which is a little more than you would expect but the arts aren’t particularly funded in Myanmar so it’s basically reliant on money from tourists.
The show is in a tiny teak theatre with a traditional orchestra and it begins with a real-life woman dancing to show the correlation between human and puppet movement.
There is an expression that performers are possessed by the Lamaing spirit, the patron of the theatre in Buddhism, who inspires them so there is a religious aspect to it all.
Traditional music and characters
Traditional performances are accompanied by an orchestra known as the hsaing-waing which includes cymbals and percussion plus light-hearted chat. There is also narration and explanation in English.
The traditional puppet characters include princes, princesses, king, queens, monkeys, horses, ministers, magicians and ogres which are all fascinating in their own way with their own personalities and mythology.
The dexterity of the puppet’s movements comes from them having 18 strings for a male and 19 for a female character. The difference between Myanmar marionettes is that they move them in circles, whereas other theatres move in a more perpendicular fashion.
Puppeteers in action
Occasionally the curtain lifts, and you get to see the puppeteers in action – male and female characters are played by the same gender of performer which is nice. The show is an hour in total and you see a broad spectrum of the characters.
I loved watching the Marionettes, especially as it is so important to support culture and keep traditions alive. The storytelling and characters that are brought to life with the deftest of hand moments is such a unique draw for Myanmar as well as Mandalay is a particularly great place to see this artistry in an intimate setting.
Have you been to see a puppet show in Myanmar? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!
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