Southeast Asia forum

Seeking suggestions on getting around and itinerary

  • jdahm17

    Joined Travelfish
    17th July, 2009
    Posts: 5

    Hi all,

    First let me say how great this website is and how useful it has been for planning my trip. So thanks to everyone involved.

    I've seen many other people post their itineraries and get very helpful advice from members, so I'd like to do the same.

    I'm from the US, aged 27, male and this will be my first time in SE Asia, although I've done a bit of traveling (in groups and on my own) in other places throughout the world. I'll be traveling with my girlfriend too.

    I'm currently in Mumbai, India working (total of 2 months) and my gf is in Bali volunteering(5 weeks). We're flying to Bangkok in late August and from then on will be traveling together. We have just over 5 weeks and are planning to go through 4 countries.

    What I'd really like help with is the best ways to get from one place to another and any other suggestions people may have on places to (or NOT) see, day trips, or anything else that may be useful.

    Here is our plan:

    Arrive in Bangkok, Thailand - 8/24 - 8/26 - this allows for one full day of sightseeing which i've been told is all you really need

    Overland travel(?) to Siem Reap, Cambodia - 8/26 - 8/29or30 - 3 days to see Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples (is this enough or too much time?)

    Fly(?) to HCMC (Saigon), Vietnam - 8/30 - 9/1

    Fly(?) to Hue - 9/1 - 9/3
    Bus/Train(?) to Hoi An - 9/3 - 9/5
    Bus/Train(?) to Hanoi + Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - 9/5 - 9/9or10 depending on how much we like the area

    Fly?) to Luang Prabang, Laos - 9/10 - 9/13
    Bus to Vang Vieng, Laos - 9/13 - 9/14
    Bus to Vientiane, Laos - 9/15

    Fly to Chang Mai, Thailand - 9/16 - 9/20
    Train to Sukkothai - 9/21- 9/22

    Somehow (suggestions?) get to Ko Tao and surrounding island, Thailand - 9/23 - 9/29 - to spend the 6 days learning how to scuba and relaxing on the beach!

    Head back (suggestions?) to Bangkok, Thailand - 9/29-9/30

    Again, I'd love to hear suggestions. We want to see a lot but not spend too much time traveling which is always a trade-off. LIke I said we'll each have been in one place in Asia for an extended period of time (Mumbai/Bali) so I think we'll be ready to move around. But I also want to make sure we have time to enjoy the places we're seeing.

    We then fly to Australia and New Zealand so if you have suggestions for websites similar to Travelfish I'd love to hear about them.

    Thanks in advance!

    #1 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 00:29

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  • jdahm17

    Joined Travelfish
    17th July, 2009
    Posts: 5

    I should mention that we are on somewhat of a tight budget, but wo uld be willing to splurge occasionally. We also aren't too old to party occasionally, but are probably more interested in sightseeing, experiences, and relaxing. The idea of scuba diving just came to us and its cheap. Neither of us have scuba dived before and thought it would be fun. If we don't scuba, snorkeling is a must though. So we aren't tied to going to Ko Tao, any of the Thai islands will do. I've read the travelfish sections on islands and weather and still can't decide which is best to go to. It will be late September so I'm thinking the east gulf coast (hence Ko Tao) would be best.

    #2 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 00:44

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    jdahm17

    Where do I start...

    You open your post with
    First let me say how great this website is and how useful it has been for planning my trip
    .

    Uhhh!!!!......Did you not read the oft repeated message...

    The more you try and fit in, the less you will actually see and experience -- LESS IS MORE!

    These are not my words, they belong to Travelfish.

    To my reading of this website, this one central aspect to travel planning is overly repeated.

    Sadly, and all too often, prospective travellers become engrossed with the detail that is SE Asia and plan journey's that are too much travel and too little time experiencing anything.

    You have 5 weeks...

    Your opening line under 'Plan' is:

    Arrive in Bangkok, Thailand - 8/24 - 8/26 - this allows for one full day of sightseeing which i've been told is all you really need.

    I'm gobsmacked!

    I doubt very much whether you would have been so advised on Travelfish. If this sort of information appeals to you (that is, one day for sightseeing in one of the most vibrant and culturally enlightened cities in the world), may I suggest you go back to these people for your advice.

    Assuming you accept this advice wasn't the best...

    You also say you ""want to 'do' 4 countries...".

    Similarly, you suggest the key components for your journey are "probably more interested in sightseeing, experiences, and relaxing".

    [size=14..and you have only 5 weeks!!![/size

    To my way of thinking, these various comments suggest you need to really rethink where you are going, why you are going, and most importantly, what you plan to do other than be a passenger on transport.

    A simple fact about travel planning is that it is all about trading off places to visit with time to experience. For example, you indicate you plan to visit Australia & NZ (I hope not so quickly). Part of the appeal of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the snorkelling. Several contributors to Travelfish suggest the the coastline around SE Asia is not ideal for good snorkelling (as far as what you see etc.). That does not mean it's crap. Rather, there are better places in the region. Given this you could trade off snorkelling in Thailand for snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. So, I repeat, a simple fact about travel planning is that it is all about trading off places to visit with time to experience.

    My personal view is that you choose to visit no more than 2 countries (maybe 3 if you fly in / out Siem Reap). And, that these countries be linked overland.

    That way, you'll have more chance of enjoying yourselves.

    Please also note what I wrote to another (I'll repeat here)...

    One really big negative from rushed travel is that the traveller gets tired, frustrated, irritable, and readily tends to display undesirable behaviour.

    So, if you really want to show each other what undesirable behaviour you can each display, the itinerary you suggest looks like it'll achieve results
    .

    Hope all this helps.

    Cheers

    #3 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 06:44

  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 887
    Total reviews: 14

    Well, I'll try to go a little easier on you than Bruce.

    If you have the means to fly all of the routes that you indicate, then your itinerary is almost doable over 5 weeks. (Note - I say "almost" - I think it's way too much for that amount of time, even with the flying).

    However, if you're on a "tight budget", as you say you are, then you're going to have to do some serious re-thinking or spend practically the whole trip on busses. The flights from Siem Reap to HCMC, Hanoi to LP, and LP to Chiang Mai are all very expensive flights. As far as I know, none of the budget airlines do any of those routes, so I believe you'll be looking at airfares in the $200 or more range. That said, each of those routes are very, very long, and to do all of them overland in 5 weeks would be pretty ridiculous.

    Flying within Thailand and Vietnam is much cheaper b/c you can rely on Air Asia and Jetstar, but for Vietnam you indicate that you'll bus or train it from Hoi An to Ha Noi... That's a full 24 hour trip in itself, plus another couple days just to get from Ha Noi to Ha Long Bay and back. I just don't see you covering all these different regions and enjoying yourself unless you fly every long haul, which given your tight budget doesn't seem reasonable either. If you do go for it, more power to you, but my opinion is that you'd really just be doing it to say you did it.

    My suggestion, similar to Bruce, is to cut out at least 2 or 3 regions, if not an entire country (or two).

    To answer your specific questions -

    "Overland (?) from Bangkok to Siem Reap" - Probably best way is by bus from Ekkamai or Morchit Station...May also be done by train for a little cheaper... Once across the border, you can catch another bus to Siem Reap or arrange a taxi for around $40. Keep in mind the road is not paved, and what looks like a short distance on a map actually takes at least 7 hours. Cambodia visa will cost you around $20 or 1000 baht.

    "fly (?) to HCMC" - I believe this is expensive from Siem Reap. Air Asia offers a flight to HCMC from Bangkok for around US$50/person one way.

    "fly (?) to Hue ; bus/train (?) to Hoi An" - I would recommend flying to Da Nang from HCMC on Jetstar (from where Hoi An is easily reached) for around $30, then doing the 2 hour bus trip to Hue on one of the open tour busses directly from Hoi An.

    "bus/train (?) to Hanoi" - Though bus and train are both doable from Hue or Da Nang, with your time restraints I wouldn't recommend it. Not sure about Hue, but from Da Nang you can fly this route for around $30 on Jetstar.

    "fly (?) to Luang Prabang, Laos" - I've looked into this and it's expensive. Overland will take 2 to 3 days.

    "Bus to Vang Vieng / Vientiane " - Both from LP to Vang Vieng, and from Vang Vieng to Vientiane are each a solid day of travel, but certainly doable by bus.

    "Fly (?) to Chiang Mai" - This is quite expensive. The trip from Vientiane by bus takes about 17 hours and entails switching busses in Udon Thani .

    "Train to Sukhothai" - Not sure about train, but bus is easy from Chiang Mai, especially if you're on your way to Bangkok anyway.

    "Somehow (?) get to Koh Tao" - If you were in Sukhothai, I believe you could fly from Phitsanulouk to Bangkok for cheap on Air Asia (you can defenitely fly there from Chiang Mai or Udon Thani for cheap). From Bangkok, you could fly to Koh Samui (rather expensive) and take a ferry to Koh Tao. Or, you could bus or train it to Chumphon and catch a ferry from there to Koh Tao. The bus/train ride from BKK to Chumphon is around 9 hours I believe.

    Hope that helps a little. My advice is that you can still see a lot without trying to do too much. If I had 5 weeks, I'd pick no more than two countries and no more than 3 regions, maximum.

    Good luck.

    #4 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 08:17

  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 887
    Total reviews: 14

    Also, have you factored in visas?

    Won't need one in Thailand if you'll be there less than 30 days per stay if flying into the country, or 15 days if entering overland.

    Cambodia is around 1000 baht, available at the border.

    You'll have to get Vietnam visas before hand, or arrange for a visa-on-arrival, but only if you're flying into Saigon or Ha Noi airports. The service for that is around $60 or $70 total. The visa will cost different prices depending on where you get it... If you try to pick it up at an embassy before hand in Bangkok or somewhere else, set aside a few days for processing.

    Laos is around $45 depending on your country of origin, and it is available at most border crossings.

    #5 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 08:24

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
    27th December, 2008
    Location Australia
    Posts: 1941
    Total reviews: 6

    jdahm17

    DLuek and I go about answering you differently, but we essentially say the same thing:

    ME

    My personal view is that you choose to visit no more than 2 countries (maybe 3 if you fly in / out Siem Reap). And, that these countries be linked overland.

    DLuek

    If I had 5 weeks, I'd pick no more than two countries and no more than 3 regions, maximum.

    Cheers

    #6 Posted: 19/7/2009 - 08:45

  • jdahm17

    Joined Travelfish
    17th July, 2009
    Posts: 5

    First off, Bruce you need to chill out. Maybe I really want to see all these places and its worth the hassle of traveling. I've had friends who have done similar trips and they absolutely loved their experience. I also mentioned in my post that, "We want to see a lot but not spend too much time traveling which is always a trade-off" so I already realize this. The reason I posted this itinerary was to get help from you guys, and not to be chastised for a seemingly lack of planning (and yes I've spent lots of time planning already).

    HOWEVER, I really do appreciate your advice and have read this website enough to know that you (Bruce) and others repeat the message of "travel less = enjoy more". Thanks also to DLuek for the advice and the much nicer tone. Believe me, I'd already cut out some of the things I wanted to do.

    First a rebuttal to some of your responses.

    1) I already have a 30 day visa for Viet Nam. Cambodian visa is $20 at the border. Laos visa can be gotten at the airport. If this is not correct, please let me know, but last I checked (which was within the last week) it was.

    2) Overland travel from Bangkok to Siem Reap is not as bad as it used to be, although it still takes a full day (can be done in as little as 8 hours).
    I found this information from a link on travel fish: http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland-bkksr.htm

    3) The person who told me about Bangkok lived in Thailand for 6 months. I'm sure there is tons to do and see there, but I have more of a desire to visit other places. Maybe I'll change my mind when I get there and decide to stay longer. I am flexible - again a reason I posted this itinerary.

    4) I've already looked into flights and have found the following prices.

    Siem Reap - HCMC = $160 on Vietnam Air
    HCMC - Hue = $40 on Jetstar
    Hanoi - Vientiane = $150 on Lao air
    Luang Prabang - Chiang Mai = $135 also on Lao air

    So these 4 flights could be done for less than $500 which is certainly within my budget.

    5) Travel times:
    I've based most of my travel times from what I've found on travelfish and have found the following:
    Bangkok-Siem Reap - 8-10 hrs bus
    Siem Reap - HCMC - 1 hr flying
    HCMC - Hue - 1 hr fliying
    Hue - Hoi An - 4 hr bus (2x)
    Hue - Hanoi - 13 hr train / 14 hr bus
    Hanoi - Ha Lang Bay - 3 hr train (2x)
    Hanoi - Vientiane- less than 3 hrs flying
    Vientiane to Vang Viang - 5 hr bus
    VV to Luang Prabang - 4 hr bus
    LP to Chiang Mai - 2 hr flight
    Chiang Mai to Sukkothai - 4 hr train
    Sukkothai to Bangkok - ?? (less than 6 hrs I believe)
    Bangkok - Ko Tao (via Chumphon) - 8 hr bus / 7 hr train + 3 hr boat ride (2x)

    Thats 15 total trips, 4 of which will take all day, the others will take half days IF this information is correct (again this is according to travelfish). I have 38 days total. I think I could live with that much travel, but I HAVE been worried about trying to do too much (which is exactly why I posted on this forum). But remember different people like to travel differently. Again, I've been in Mumbai for 2 months straight and get antsy when I am in one place for too long. I'm also flexible on cutting stuff out in case I really enjoy a place.

    So now my question would be to ask which parts to cut out?
    I've been thinking I could skip HCMC, Vang Viang, and Vientiane. Another idea would be to go to beaches around Bangkok instead of down south.

    Again, I'd appreciate any feedback, especially from people who have recently made a similar type of journey (4 countries in 5.5 weeks - I'm sure its been done before). Thanks again!

    #7 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 03:32

  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 887
    Total reviews: 14

    dahm,

    It seemed at first like you were on top of things, but all the question marks in your innitial post made it seem like you were pretty clueless.

    I just finished a 5 month trip through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, (also have travelled Cambodia and Thailand twice before that), and my experience tells me that most of the bus/train travel times you have here are significantly shorter than it will actually be. I would be utterly amazed if you can get from Bangkok to Siem Reap in 8 hours. When I did that trip a few years ago, the bus ride just from Poi Pet to Siem Reap alone was over 8 hours. Factor in the 5 to 7 or so hours it takes from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, plus the hour or two of getting through the border and waiting for the bus, and my guess is the trip will be at least 12 to 15 hours total... I would recommend springing for the taxi from Poi Pet to Siem Reap instead of the bus to save time. Beyond that, I would add 1 to 4 hours to every bus trip you mention. You can also fly BKK to Sime Reap on Bangkok Air for around $150 I think.

    But hey, if you want to spend half of your time in transport, more power to you. Bruce would probably disagree with me here, but I think there is certainly something to be said for a whirlwind trip like this where you're in a different country each week. One issue is that you mention you would stay longer in a given place if you like it (i.e. northern Vietnam) but I doubt you'll be able to change your air tickets easily and/or cheaply, and you certainly won't get the airfares you mention if you're buying the tickets at the last minute.

    To answer your question of "which parts to cut out"?

    This is just one guy's opinion, but the ones I would absolutely keep are:

    Bangkok, Angkor Wat, Hoi An, Koh Tao, and Luang Prabang (LP and Vang Vieng are the only places I've never been on your list, but I've heard LP is a can't miss).

    The ones I'd consider skipping, starting at the ones I'd skip first, are:

    Vientiane, northern Vietnam (the whole thing), Hue , Chiang Mai, HCMC, Sukhothai, Vang Vieng (again, I've never been to VV so am only basing this on what I've read).

    One thing I would change for certain is I would skip VV and Vientiane, make just the one stop in LP and spend more time there, maybe visit Plain of Jars. I would also book your flights well in advance to make sure you can lock in the fares you found (of course this would take away the aspect of being able to stay somewhere longer if you like it, but with this kind of trip how much freedom to do that can you really hope for?) Finally, I would consider changing things around completely by cutting out northern Vietnam completely. If you do go to northern Vietnam, why take the bus/train, when you can fly it for a tiny bit more $ on Jetstar (if not from Hue than from Da Nang)?


    As long as you're willing to devote nearly half of your total days to travel, I say go for it. To check out some of the logistical insights I had from my last trip, go see my trip reports in the trip report section of the forum.

    Peace,

    DL

    #8 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 05:39

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
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    Location Australia
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    Total reviews: 6

    DL

    You wrote:

    "It seemed at first like you were on top of things, but all the question marks in your initial post made it seem like you were pretty clueless.....

    But hey, if you want to spend half of your time in transport, more power to you. Bruce would probably disagree with me here, but I think there is certainly something to be said for a whirlwind trip like this where you're in a different country each week."


    Your opening sentence is what I thought at the beginning.

    The second sentence contradicts in that to do a 'whirlwind' trip one has to know what they are doing.

    From my own experience, one really big negative from rushed travel is that the traveller gets tired, frustrated, irritable, and readily tends to display undesirable behaviour.

    That is why I suggest it is best to take it slow. To my way of thinking, too far - too fast doesn't allow for enjoyment. Despite all the happy snaps that can be taken, why focus on punishing one-self?

    The simple fact is that if two people (who I assume are an 'item') really want to show each other what undesirable behaviour they can each display, the too far - too fast itinerary will certainly achieve results.

    Cheers

    #9 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 06:00

  • SBE

    Click here to learn more about SBE
    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Global Village
    Posts: 1943
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    At least 2

    DLeuk, they finished paving the road from Poipet to Siem Reap back in May. That stretch shouldn't take more than two hours in a taxi now according to the owner of the TOA site who lives in SR.

    Are you sure you can get a bus from Ekkamai to Aranyaprathet? I thought you had to get one at Morchit, the northern bus terminal?

    Another good site for Cambodia info with good detailed maps is

    http://www.canbypublications.com/cambodia/cambodiahome.htm


    jdahm17, you asked if 3 days was too long in Siem Reap ... Well, people tend to get very templed out by day #3. They recently changed things so you don't HAVE to use the three-day pass on three consecutive days any more which is great for those who aren't too rushed. I'd certainly recommend taking a day off after day #2. Relax by a pool or go see something else; otherwise you may find you just can't "absorb" any more temples!

    Can't help with Vietnam I'm afraid ...I only spend about 6 months a year in SE Asia so I haven't managed to get round to it yet. ;-))

    Laos seems really rushed and you're going to be spending two whole days of your very brief time there in buses. If you're going to splurge on flights then I'd just stay in LP and use the two extra days to do a trek or a boat trip or around LP.

    I'm not wild about Chiang Mai myself ... not in the same league of "must sees" as Angkhor Wat and Luang Prabang... so that's one place I'd cut out.

    According to their route map Bangkok Airways flies from LP to Sukhothai. It's a more expensive airline than Air Asia though, even with the "Discovery Airpass".

    http://www.bangkokair.com/travel_tools/route-map.php

    If you go to Ko Tao I'd advise getting the night sleeper train ...you can lie down and might get more sleep than on a bus. The train usually leaves bang on time (7.30pm I think) but it's always about an hour late getting into Chumpon. This is good because it means you don't have to hang around in the dark as long as you do if you take a night bus. The ferries all leave at 7am so you can be on the beach on Ko Tao before 10am. The only problem with the train is that you need to book sleeper berths a few days in advance...especially if there's a Full Moon Party on Ko Phangan around the time you're going or coming back.

    PS.

    "Several contributors to Travelfish suggest the the coastline around SE Asia is not ideal for good snorkelling (as far as what you see etc.)"

    Bruce darlin, the epicentre of marine biodiversity on this planet happens to be in SE Asia! You don't think the snorkeling around Bunaken, the Banda islands or the Tukang Besi archipelago is any good then??

    Ko Tao doesn't have world class snorkeling for sure, just the more common reef fish and a few black tip sharks. It's OK for pottering around with a mask and snorkel though. Weather is hard to predict but you can always change plans and head over to an island on the Andaman coast if you hear it's pouring on Ko Tao when you get back to BKK.

    #10 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 07:13

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  • DLuek

    TF writer
    Joined Travelfish
    19th June, 2008
    Location Thailand
    Posts: 887
    Total reviews: 14

    SBE,

    The first time I went to Aranyaprathet from BKK I thought it was Ekkamai, but to be honest I can't really remember (Thai friends arranged it all), so no I'm not sure about catching the bus there from Ekkamai - my bad.

    Glad to hear that the road from Poi Pet to Siem Reap is now paved!

    Thanks for the corrections SBE... Herein lies the beauty of Travelfish - for everyone who knows something, someone else always comes along who knows something more.

    Bruce, it was good of you to point out that to accomplish a "whirlwind trip", the traveller really does have to have a good plan, and know the logistics of each leg before leaving.

    See, this is why I usually never respond to the many itinerary suggestion posts on Travelfish - once I start I can't help but to start thinking about it as though it were my own trip! Half a day later, and I'm still writing...

    Peace,

    DL

    #11 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 07:46

  • BruceMoon

    Click here to learn more about BruceMoon
    Joined Travelfish
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    Total reviews: 6

    SBE

    When I suggested "the coastline around SE Asia , I meant that. I didn't mean the islands that are part of the ocean in which Indo lies. Yes, I agree that the 'strip' between Ambon and Biak is THE CENTRE of coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific. And, that many locations beyond this 'strip' are great (some more than others). On this, I'm sure you'd agree that for ppl with time constraints, the snorkelling in the Gulf of Thailand is pretty ordinary.

    DL

    quote...

    See, this is why I usually never respond to the many itinerary suggestion posts on Travelfish - once I start I can't help but to start thinking about it as though it were my own trip! Half a day later, and I'm still writing...

    Yep, I'm fast coming to that conclusion. You try and help some people and they don't like what they should have already realised and they go and bite.

    I think I'll contribute less. Let them go learn the hard way.

    Cheers

    #12 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 08:06

  • SBE

    Click here to learn more about SBE
    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Global Village
    Posts: 1943
    Total reviews: 5
    Places visited:
    At least 2

    Bruce:

    What about the Surins and the Similans... do they fall into the category of "coastline around SE Asia"? I haven't been to the Similans but the Surins are pretty good. I've seen manta rays, and a very large rorqual whale while snorkelling there. Also many bumphead parrot fish and a rather large shark (2-3m) which wasn't a blacktip I don't think! You just have to know where the good spots are. The best spots for coral aren't where the standard tours go but they can be found easily enough if you're a good swimmer and explore a bit on your own. Watch out for longtails and speedboats though as no one expects people to be swimming very far out. ;-)

    DLeuk:
    "the beauty of Travelfish - for everyone who knows something, someone else always comes along who knows something more."

    Couldn't agree more! :-)

    I learn something I didn't know nearly every day on here. Your description of the scenery in N. Vietnam was inspiring enough to make me want to go there now BTW. Just don't know how I'm going to fit everything I want to do in. Apart from anything else, being poor (and a Scot);-) it irks me to pay for a full month visa and to not use it fully!

    #13 Posted: 20/7/2009 - 15:52

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