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Castles, Temples and Sacred Monuments

How can you pick just one reason to visit a destination? It’s each of the distinct, cultural attributes of any new land that really makes traveling such a rich experience. Often, some of the most compelling features of our biking and walking vacations here at VBT are the tours of historic castles, temples and sacred monuments that we come upon in our journeys. These architectural highlights give us just one more reason to visit, adding unique insight into the countries we have come so far to see.

Spain—Mezquita de Cordoba

Mosque of Cordoba

Sometimes a change of tune is a good thing. Perhaps the perfect example of the adage is Cordoba’s Mezquita. Originally constructed in the 7th century, the denomination of the UNESCO World Heritage Site has been adapted several times over by its governing inhabitants. And, yet the combination of Christian and Moorish influence upon the cathedral’s design only adds to its aesthetic appeal. Take a guided tour of Cordoba de Mezquita on our Spain: Under the Andalusian Sky biking vacation.

Puglia—Cattedrale di Monopoli

Monopoli

Attractive from afar, and intoxicating from within, is the fortified town of Monopoli. The port village’s location has drawn many invaders historically, and much of the architecture has been built and rebuilt by its flux of inhabitants. Restored in the 17th century, the Cattedrale di Monopoli is one of the most noteworthy structures in the small town. At almost 200 feet high, the cathedral’s soaring tower is visible from quite a distance. Yet the baroque cathedral offers an even more stunning view at its base. Enjoy a close-up of the historic Catterale di Monopoli on our Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast bicycling vacation.

Portugal—São Jorge Castle

St. George's Castle

Europe’s western-most capital, Lisbon, boasts a collage of architectural styles. For a classic example of Lisbon’s hodgepodge of building styles, peer up at São Jorge Castle from the Baixa neighborhood of the coastal city. Atop Lisbon’s tallest hill, the Moorish castle rests like an ancient crown, capping off an elegant blend of Roman, Celtic, and even French architectural styles. Explore São Jorge Castle on an extension after our Walking Portugal’s Douro River Valley vacation.

Thailand—Wat Rong Khun

White Temple

Just outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand, travelers will find the unorthodox and absolutely striking Buddhist temple, Wat Rong Khun. In a land known for its vibrant natural colors, Wat Rong Khun truly stands out as much for its pristine white appearance, as its incredibly intricate façade. Though the White Temple is just over a decade old, it is certain to remain among one of the world’s sacred masterpieces for centuries to come. Marvel at Wat Rong Khun on our Exploring Northern Thailand biking vacation.

Vietnam—Hien Nhan Gate

Forbidden City

Park your bike and take some time to explore the Purple Forbidden City, the former headquarters of the Nguyen dynasty. Located in Hue, Vietnam, the Imperial City was once surrounded by a moat and a large stone wall, and outsiders could only peer upon its enclosure. Admittedly, it was quite a view. Admire it yourself, and as you enter into the Purple forbidden City, enjoy a moment examining the detail of the massive stone entryway, the Hien Nhan Gate. Visit the Hien Nhan Gate on our Journey through Vietnam biking vacation.

Peru—Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Peru

What can be said about Machu Picchu to relay the wonder and awe of the “Lost City of the Incas”? We can merely echo our predecessors’ sentiments. Since its construction in the 14th and 15th century, the centerpiece of the Sacred Valley has simply amazed visitors from the Spanish conquistadors and Hiram Bingham to the ardent travelers that make their way along the Inca trail each year. Their conclusions? The journey astounds beyond words. Experience it for yourself and visit Machu Picchu on our Peru: Machu Picchu & The Sacred Valley walking tour.

Vietnamese Culture and Water Puppets in Hanoi

Vietnam Bike TourIf you find yourself in Hanoi, looking for a unique cultural experience, you might seek out Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre for a distinctly Vietnamese tradition, Water Puppetry. Though the term tradition may conjure images of age-old customs, and long-established conventions, the Múa rối nước (water dancing puppets) experience is anything but ordinary. Included in VBT’s Vietnam Bike Tour, a water puppet performance is a great way to get a taste of Vietnamese culture as you travel in Hanoi.

The surprises begin almost immediately. As you enter the theater, you’ll note a stark contrast to the layout you’ve become accustomed to at performance halls in Europe and the U.S. Musicians sit to the left of the crowd, at the same level as the audience as they provide a live soundtrack for the performance. Fixing your gaze to the center of the theater, you’ll find a small replica of a traditional Vietnamese Temple. However, the replica is merely a backdrop for the action and rather than peering up at a stage, onlookers are situated to look down at a waist-deep, 12 square foot pool of water. Finally, the music begins and the performance unfolds, as puppets glide, dance, skim, and appear to float along the water. You’ll enjoy ensemble dances, fire spraying dragons, and an assortment of Vietnamese folk songs through the course of the show.

Today’s puppet shows are whimsical and light, and employ a series of well-coordinated modern efforts. Throughout the performance, vocalists will interact with the puppets, singing the dialogue and plot as well as sending the occasional warning to a puppet in need. Puppeteers stand behind a decorated façade and utilize string and bamboo rods to manipulate the puppets from under the water. Despite the advanced techniques, this tradition began almost a thousand years ago in Northern Vietnam’s Red River. Perhaps in rice fields, or flooded plains, it is believed that water puppetry was initially practiced as a combination of entertainment and a means to please the spirit world. For a time, the custom was nearly lost, though recently it has seen a resurgence in the form of modern performance. And it’s latent, widespread appeal has ensured Water Puppetry as a mainstay among residents and travelers in Hanoi.

As you explore verdant rice fields and craggy mountainside valleys on our Vietnam Bike Tour, be sure to take in Hanoi’s famous Múa rối nước. Performances fill up quickly, but with VBT’s included water puppet show you’ll be assured a poolside view of one of Vietnam’s oldest and most unique cultural traditions.

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