A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

Cafe Su Da's and Pho Bo's !

sunny 32 °C

Well this will be our last blog post away from home we'll make sure to do one more when we return so you all know we made it safe and sound!

Brammm beep beep beep honk honk! You must be in Vietnam, there are so many scooters here but what can I say that hasn't already been said about it? Crossing the street can be quite dangerous and you should never second guess yourself once your brave enough to attempt it. Traffic is so unpredictable here... its ordered chaos. Vietnam is home to about 90 million people and 190 million scooters. Jannelle and I have made a game of craziest load on a scooter and our top three consist of: (keep in mind these are 125cc 4 stroke scooters) 3 oxen in a trailer (1000lbs+ ?) a load of 50 2x4x16 ft planks on either side of the scooter, and two guys hauling a scooter on the back of their scooter. After 3 weeks here I'm starting to think the scooter could render a half ton truck useless.

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Crossing the border from Cambodia into Vietnam involved a pretty painless 6 hr bus ride and only a 10 minte wait in line at customs. Jannelle still wasn't feeling 100 % so we were pretty happy that it went quickly. Houses and businesses lined the roads the whole way from the border to Saigon so it felt like we were driving through an endless town. Once we arrived we managed to find a decent hotel for two nights while Jannelle finished recouperating from whatever bug she had caught in Cambodia. On the second morning we awoke to the sound of 100 children screaming and playing just outside our window, turns out next door was a preschool they were so loud we packed our bags as quick as we could and started looking for a new place. We found a really nice hotel downtown whos only downside was the terrible free breakfast (fish and quail egg soup or noodles with mixed 'meat')

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The next day we went to the War Remnants Museum where they had on display (amongst many other things) captured US Military airplanes and artillery. History is usually written by the winners, so it was interesting to have a walk around the museum and get Vietnams perspective on the war. There was quite a few areas in the museum dedicated to the destructive use of agent orange and other chemicals sprayed on the people and this country over the years that the war took place. Even to this day it is estimated that arond 15% of the total surface area of the country is contaminated by UXO's (Unexploded Ordinances). Won or lost, right or wrong, the museum is a reminder of the brutal after effects of war and the price that humanity has to pay.

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We spent the next couple days enjoying Saigon, and drinking iced coffees (Cafe Su Da's) and just enjoying this beautiful city.

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We then took a 6 hour bus North to Mui Ne, which is a sleepy little beach town making a name for itself as a kitesurfing hotspot. Because of Vietnams Communist past and present, everwhere you look you can see the old Soviet Communist hammer and sythe flag beside the red and yellow star flag of Vietnam. Other than that and the odd giant propaganda billboard, your hard pressed to find any real evidence of communism. Theres also a heavy infusion of Russian tourists and their language can be found on most signs in Mui Ne and Nha Trang (our next destination). A few times Jannelle and I were both approached by people mistaking us for Russians and were always given the Russian menu first.

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We rented a scooter in Mui Ne to head to 20kms out of town to a little desert oasis with giant sand dunes. The drive was great we had some amazing coastal views along the way.

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That last picture was of the nightly fish market where you could find monster lobsters and pretty much any kind of fresh fish you could ask for, all cooked fresh on the grill right there on the street. Ellen you would have died and gone to heaven Jannelle says! After a few days in Mui Ne we continued our journey North, next stop Nha Trang. Nha Trang is a small city situated on the coast with a beautiful beach that runs the whole east side length of the city. There was plenty of sunshine, and plenty of Russians. They are easy to spot by their 80's throwback haircuts (mullets). We had a hard time finding a decent place to eat and breakfast now consists of fried rice or Pho (rice noodle soup) after too many failed attempts to order a 'Western' breakfast. Once I ordered a steak and it ended up being a 3/16" slice of sweetened roast beef served with a huge side of disappointment. I'm not saying the food isn't good but were finding it hard to satisfy our western palette. Believe me there are gems waiting to be discovered in every town, and when we find one were there breakfast lunch and dinner!

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Another 6 hour bus ride and we found ourselves in beautiful little Hoi An. Home to every woman's dream, custom made to fit EVERYTHING including dresses, hats, shoes, and suits. $25 and your into a beautiful little number made from any fabric you could think of. They will do any style or cut that you can imagine and have it made for you in 24 hours. So... we bought Jannelle four dresses and a blazer and a few smiles as everything turned out really nice! Hoi An is an ancient little fishing village that has managed to stay in tact for the last few centuries with short buildings, narrow alley ways and huge blooming trees covered in pink purple and white flowers which reminds you of the old towns of Europe. It was our favorite stop in Vietnam by far and we wandered the streets and soaked up some sun by the pool.

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After enjoying a few days rest we boarded the dreaded 26 hour bus ride back to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). It was a long trip but we made it here safe and sound with two days to spare before hopping on our first plane towards home! Were just finishing up some shopping and we have splurged on a fancy hotel with a beautiful view of downtown Ho Ci Minh City for the whopping price of $30! We have a long day of travel ahead of us but we're really looking forward to seeing our family and friends!!

Posted by apolloandathena 30.04.2013 09:10 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Cambodia

sunny 43 °C

Hello family and friends, I hope spring has returned to our corner of the world. We've had a busy couple of weeks in Cambodia. It ended up being almost 24 hours travel time from the 4000 islands too Angkor Wat a.k.a. Siem Reap. We entered our 18th country aboard a mini-van crammed two to a seat for 6 hours. We got ejected from our van at a "restaurant" and told to wait for the bus to come. We had a poke around the small market to the side of the restaurant. They we're serving quail egg fetus and spiders the size of a child's hand, dead and seasoned of course.

After an hour and half a big pink bus finally pulls up. Another 8 hours or so and wa-la it's 4:30 in the morning when we arrive in Siem Reap. Jannelle and I clambered off the bus like zombies moaning and looking for our bags. Bam! We get hammered by the Tuk Tuk mafia. "My friend $10 dollars for ride to town" one man says. "Town very far away" another man chimes. Imagine being awake for only 2 minutes, grabbing your bags then you have to start bartering in the dark. You don't get dropped off anywhere regular on these bus trips. This bus stop was basically a herding pen with gates but no lights. They literally round us up like cows in an auction, you can hear people yelling dollar figures and the hum of negotiating in the black of night. Tuk Tuk's start firing up and revving as the backpackers climb aboard. The three of us decided on the "Bat Mobile" tuk tuk.
Welcome to Cambodia!

Angkor Wat meaning "Temple City" was built in the 12th century and is the largest religious monument in the world. It's was built by the Khmers (Cambodians) and is their greatest symbol appearing on their flag since the 1860's. It's still being used by the Buddhist faith even to this day. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once visited. Angkor Wat is grand and beautiful and old but not that old which is why it doesn't fall into the ancient "Wonders of the World" list. The site of the temple lies about 5 kilometers north of Seim Reap but there are actually many other temples that belong to the Angkor Wat experience. They sell tickets in 3 day or one week packages which should hint at the size of history contained on and around the walls of the temples at various sites. I almost forgot about the "floating village" on Tonle Sap lake.

We found the Cambodian people very friendly and the country seems to be on the move up. They are optimistic and quick to shake your hand. After nearly 2 weeks there we could recommend to put it on the list to visit in SE Asia. The first place we went when we arrived was to the floating village. It consists of hundreds of homes from one room shanty's to run down bungalows. I don't know how to describe this wonder. There was a floating market with floating school and floating crocodile bar, gift shop and restaurant. 1500 people or more call this situation home.
Cambodia is currently in the dry season so the boat we hired had to thread it's way up a very shallow, muddy river. At points it couldn't have been deeper than a foot! It was very busy as well taking tourists back and forth to the lake which the floating villages rest upon. It was a tourist trap but I have never seen anything like it.

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Standing with a stunned look at the border crossing

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The Bat Mobile

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River boat ride!
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Gas station

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The Alligator Pen

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The Boat Association.

It's hard to put into words just how hot it was. I'm talking 45 degrees at high noon hot. Please keep that in the back of your head while reading this post. The Angkor Wat Experience included many temple's throughout an 8x8 square kilometer area. The first day we went to the smaller one's, they were just as impressive as Angkor in ways. Even the small were large and you could have spent days in each of them. The jungle started to reclaim the temples a couple hundred years ago in fact the whole area was a large old forest. It almost felt like B.C. but flat. Giant trees had been growing on walls and through others in some temple's. The roots would consume brick and stone to prop themselves on. It seemed like magic had planted the trees eons ago like some picture from a story book. We had a bit of a late start the first day and the heat had pretty much done us in after 6 hours of walking. Our plan was to go early enough to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat the next day. Up and at em by 5:30, coffee at 6:15 in front of the moat and sunrise at 6:30 ish. It was an amazing site to see, I think we snapped about 100 photos in 10 minutes!

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Angkor Thom...Look at those faces

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Oh there you are...

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No Sun..

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Sun!

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The magic trees of Elderon...

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Cambodia's recent history is well...quite sad. The "Killing Fields" just outside of the capital city, Phnom Penh were depressing at best. Monsters turned the country on its head in a matter of days. Forcing all city-dwellers and anyone with an education into the fields for some character building hard labour. With no training or the skills needed to grow rice the people became victims of a massive famine. Cambodia lost around the same amount of people in a few years that the whole Allies lost in the entire Second World War. The Khmer Rouge committed unspeakable acts in these fields. Many of the guilty were never convicted and the leader of the "Revolution" lived to be 82. I don't feel like saying much more about this topic and I'm not posting many pictures of this trip...

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I have this theory that its bad luck to talk about good luck even if you knock on wood. Jannelle was telling a traveling backpacker friend how she hasn't been sick for the whole trip and what do you know? She caught a bug and a bad one. I took the best care of her I could, running her meals during the day plus iced coffee's. We started her on some antibiotics and its seems to be clearing up finally. It was a rough couple of days and reminds you that healthcare isn't perfect at home but at least we have qualified professionals to help cure us. Maybe I worry too much but getting proper medical attention would be challenging here and I'm glad Jannelle didn't need more than pills.

Back on the road and off to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Stay tuned...

Posted by apolloandathena 12.04.2013 23:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Mekong trip through Laos

Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and 4000 islands

sunny 50 °C

So we left Chiang Mai for a 3 day 2 night trip to Luang Prabang that included accommodations and two meals . The first day we took a 6 hour bus to get to the border town between Thailand and Laos called Chiang Kong. We got dropped off at a dumpy little hotel and quickly met several others that were on the same route as us and we ended up making the most of our situation and had a great night of guitar and Changs :) The next morning we were up early to eat breakfast ( a fried egg prepared the night before and self serve toast ) and head to the border crossing. It took over half the day getting everyone through customs and getting our visas and we finally hopped on the boat to cross over to Laos. There we transferred onto a huge long tail boat that would be our transport all the way down the Mekong river. The first day on the boat was about 8 hours long it was pretty squishy but the views made up for any inconveniences. Our pictures do it absolutely no justice it was stunning! One of my personal favorite parts of the whole trip so far. That night we stayed in Pakbeng a tiny little town in a dumpy little hotel again, I don't think we even opened our bags ,slept in our clothes over top of the covers and kept our bags close by and locked! The next day was the same thing back on the long tail boat to continue our journey down the Mekong, this time it was about 7 hours. After a long 3 days we pulled in to Luang Prabang just as the sun was setting over the river. We could tell we were going to love Laos already!

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We spent the next three days just relaxing in this beautiful little town, it was by far one on the cleanest places we had seen in a long time. We spent alot of time with our new friends we met that first night in Chiang Kong, two guys from Sweden, a guy and a girl from England and two guys from Regina! The timing worked well too because we all ended up moving on the same day to the next place Vang Vieng. Which turned out to be what we thought at the time, the worst bus ride yet! But we didn't know what was still yet to come...

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Vang Vieng is a cool little town full of pubs and restaurants that serve up awesome baguette sandwiches (influence from when it was a french colony) amongst other things and has a real relaxed vibe to it. In both Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang everything closes around midnight and they literally become ghost towns. It was such a nice change from all the hustle and bustle of capital cities and crazy city centers. We stayed there for about 4 days, one day our group of friends rented scooters and checked out the blue lagoon not far from town but too far to walk in this heat! The ride there was interesting would have been more enjoyable if we were on a quad instead, we hit some pretty rough roads even by Saskatchewan standards and crossed some pretty sketchy bridges but we made it and it was worth it!

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We spent a few hours there working on our tans and swinging into the water, pretty surreal! We also seen the biggest bug we have seen yet and he just so happened to be sitting next to this sign haha :)

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Seriously can you believe the size of that thing? Ick. When he finally flew away he flapped his wings like a bird he was huge!!

We spent the next couple days checking out the town and really just doing nothing before planning our next move to the 4000 islands. We lost some of our group this time two to Vietnam and two to a different city in Laos but Amie and Adam the two from England and Jordan and I were headed to what Lonely Planet described as "Travellers Mecca" and the "Jewel of the Mekong" well after a long 21 hour night bus trip that was worse than the previous, several transfers, no AC and no sleep we made it to Don Det, one of the 4000 islands here on the Mekong. Well it only took us about 6 hours to realize this was the most boring place we had been yet. Also I have to make note of the heat - I read in a couple guide books that this was the hottest are of SE Asia during the months of March and April but it was already +40 where we were how could it get any hotter than that? Well it did it was +50 during the day only dropping to about 35 at night it was almost unbearable and was for lack of a better word a total dump. We stayed 2 nights and that was 1 night too long. I have a few pics of us arriving and a few of us leaving and thats about it! It was too hot to take pictures !

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And that concludes our short but sweet visit through Laos! From here we took another horrendous trip across the Cambodian border into Siem Reap a 10 hour trip that somehow turned into a 24 hour trip! But you'll have to wait until the next post for that :)

Posted by apolloandathena 05.04.2013 06:52 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Chiang Mai, Thailand

For all the animal lovers out there !

sunny 34 °C

Hi everyone! Wow we are getting so far behind on blogs we will still be writing them when we get home! Its hard to believe we have less than a month left! :( We are currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia we were only planning on spending a couple days here while we waited for our Vietnamese Visas but I seem to have finally caught some awful kind of food poisoning yesterday morning but I'm feeling a bit better today and hopefully ready to get back on the road tomorrow, it was bound to happen eventually! The fact that neither one of us has gotten sick up until now is pretty remarkable (especially if you could see some of the places we've eaten!).

Anyways, back to Chiang Mai. So we arrived early in the morning after a great night train and quickly found a nice cheap hotel with a pool. We spent a day relaxing and checking out the city which was really charming. We knew exactly what we wanted to do while we were there: check out the Chiang Mai Zoo,Tiger Kingdom and get some Mahout Training. Lucky for us the whole place again is geared towards tourism and we booked all three trips directly with our hotel and away we went! I should warn you I hardly took any pictures of the actual city and tried to save the room we had left on our 2nd memory card for the animals over the next few days. So thats pretty much what this whole blog is - animals. Enjoy Shannon :) Our first day we checked out the Chiang Mai Zoo which is absolutely massive! So big that they have a monorail and buses to take you from area to area but of course was not included in the price of the tickets so us cheapo's hoofed 'er on foot, we spent about 4 or 5 hours there, it was a really nice set up and was taken care of very well. Heres a few of our favorite pics:

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That peacock in the last pic put on quite the show after I got a little too close trying to take a close up of its feathers! oops! That evening we went out for some supper and checked out the market. The next day we were heading to Tiger Kingdom! We got to spend the whole morning with these amazing creatures! Definitely an experience that neither of us will forget. I think I got some really good ones for you to draw Mom! Again we took a ton of pictures so here are just a few of our favorites:

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Here are some pics of the actual city. It was a really nice little town we could have easily stayed for alot longer than we did, but our time is running out and we have to stay on the move! We may or may not have spent the next day relaxing by the pool..it was a while ago already and alot has happened since then but either way our last excursion was a full day of Mahout Training (Elephant Training) just when we thought our time here couldn't get any better!

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We got to spend a whole day learning the commands for the elephants to walk around and pick you up, set you down, we trekked through the jungle bareback and took them down to the river for a bath! It was such an awesome day being that up close an personal with them! The baby they have here is quite playful and liked to charge at Jordan and even though she looks small she still weighs about 350 kgs! Her name was Dodo :) My elephants name was Dee and she was about a year and a half pregnant, it takes elephants two years to be full term and they breastfeed for three! Jordan had Dodo's Mom and she liked to hold up the whole pack when trekking through the jungle to stop and scratch her butt on the trees it was so funny! There was one of the trainers taking photos of us the whole day and we got a CD made up of them, but we wont be able to see them till we get home so it will be a nice surprise for us to check them out! We did get photos when we were learning the commands heres a few :

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That last pic is Jordan's elephant giving him a big wet smooch haha! They are more difficult than you would think to ride and are anything but comfortable! Its strange to feel all the muscles and strength it takes for these massive creatures to move! What an awesome day! We were in love with Chiang Mai! The next day we took off for our next country Laos and our longest trip yet, 3 days 2 nights on infamous Mekong River to Luang Prabang!

Posted by apolloandathena 05.04.2013 06:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ko Phi Phi and Bangkok, Thailand

Awesome beaches and crazy Khao San Road !

sunny 34 °C

Hi everyone! It's been a busy last few weeks and we've been on the go quite a bit but its all been fantastic! We are in Vang Vieng in Laos now and loving it but that's still two blogs away :) We left Sri Lanka and had another long layover in Singapore but by the time we found the right terminal and crossed customs, we had just the right amount of time to grab a nap and some dinner and get back on the plane for Thailand. Trust me if there's any airport you could kill a lot of time in really easily, its the Singapore airport wow is it awesome! Anyways we landed in Thailand on the island of Phuket, its one of the largest Thai islands, we were using Phuket town as a jumping off point for Ko Phi Phi and ended up staying in an overpriced dump for two nights before catching the ferry to Ko Phi Phi, I don't even have any pictures of it, Phuket town was nothing to pull your camera out for, or at least what we had seen of it that short time. But Ko Phi Phi was another story!

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We spent almost a week on this island, which was pretty expensive for Thailand but after our busy week in Sri Lanka we were ready for some more beach time :) Although along with the beaches came so many tourists! Don't get me wrong we ARE tourists I'm aware of that, but in Thailand theres a special breed that are covered in tattoos, have "killer" tans and huge dread-locks ick, that stumble around drunk out of their minds and to me are extremely obnoxious, the whole island must survive off of tourism, there was nothing else to it, full of bars and restaurants and 7elevens, and the same shops with the same t-shirts weve seen a few countries in a row now. We were standing out in this bay where the tide leaves it completely empty at night and you can stand out amongst the rocks and coral look back on all the crazyness of bars on the beach packed full of people and its not our ideal beach but it definitely serves its prupose if you are between the ages of 19-25 or just love to party every single night you couldnt find a better place for it! for We figured out very quickly that we wanted to head north so we made the best of our time there and walked to a few different beaches that were a little quieter during the day and one day we rented a kayak and headed out on our own which was probably the highlight of our trip there! We had it for half a day and found some really great spots that were amazing, did some snorkeling and then planned our overnight bus to Bangkok!

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We took another ferry to Krabi decided against spending the night there and caught the overnight bus that took us straight to Bangkok. We ended up getting there two hours early, and got woken up and kicked off the bus at 4:30 am in what we thought looked like the edge of the city. We had no idea where we were and when you can't find wifi and you can't tell what street your on to find it on your map you have to cut your losses and grab a cab, so we did after bartering the price down over 60% and agreeing on what we thought was reasonable for however long we thought it might take to get us to Khao San Road ( the cheap backpacking area) we hopped in and drove literally around the corner and got dropped off for 50 baht. Getting ripped off like this becomes the norm very quickly if your not careful, buggers. We luckily found a place to check in early and showered and crashed for a few hours. We found that Khao San Road was pretty similar to Malaysias Chinatown area but more more bars and more people, its so busy at night with all the vendors and bars and food carts you can barely get down the street! We spent the next two days around the Siam Square area that is much more modern and had lots of massive shopping malls. One was four malls combined and would put the West Ed to shame ! We caught a movie in the nicest theatre I've ever seen and just toured around all the stores, there was a full amusement park, a Lamborghini car dealership, and any kind of food you could imagine there, plus SO much more! It was cool to see how modern and tech savvy these Asian cities really are it was like walking around in the future. The stair cases were solid LED screens so they would move like water or change to basketballs and footballs bouncing down the steps as you walked down them, very cool!
We took tuk-tuks everywhere and they were super cheap and got you anywhere in a hurry, they looked the same as the ones in Sri Lanka but a little more pimped out :)

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On our last afternoon there we just went wandering around and found a huge food warehouse that was close to the water, we figured it was either all food going out on the boats or food coming in on them getting prepped and then spread around the city. I caught a few pictures of the women working with the food, a hundred bags of ginger stacked like sacks of potatoes behind them one women chopping them and the next shredding it all up into huge baskets, amazing to see the quantities that were there and all that fresh produce mmm :) The same walk we also found a really nice park and got some pics of the canals that go through town. It was a nice break to get out and away from Khao San Road. The next day we took an overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai which was such a good idea! We both got our own decent bed clean sheets and a pillow what more could you ask for ? :)

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Posted by apolloandathena 23.03.2013 22:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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