A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok, Phi Phi, Bangkok......home

rain

Turned out the last leg of travel from Chiang Mai to Phi Phi was probably one of the worst yet, taking 22 hours all in all. We took an overnight bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, which neither of us slept on. We then took an airport bus to the airport to catch a flight to Krabi, where we took a fancy minivan which was supposed to take us to the pier to catch a ferry to the island. However we were instead taken to a travel agent 5 km short of the pier, where we were told we had to buy a ticket for the boat at a seemingly overinflated price. I cracked at that point, and there was a bit of shouting and f'ing and blinding between me and the scary lady at the travel agency, who knew an impressive number of swear words in English. To cut a long story short we managed to get the taxi guy to take us all the way to the pier, where it turned out the price for the ferry was exactly the same, however, I was glad we weren't giving it to the woman. Turns out there are different prices for locals and tourists on the ferries, the locals paying only a third of the price for the same trip, which is a bit of a joke. Anyway, we eventually made it to the island, and spent 6 days on the beach, which was magic. Got great weather the whole time, got a bit burnt, but have ended up sufficiently tanned. We did loads of snorkelling. Saw some really big black tip sharks, which Jenny didn't enjoy too much. We returned to Bangkok a couple of days ago, and have spent our time shopping and lounging by the pool. Other than that, not been up to anything too exciting. Going to the massive weekend market today to buy more stuff before flying back home very early tomorrow morning. Can't believe it's been a year. Not looking forward to the cold back home, stripping the tan off us within seconds no doubt. Jenny's champing at the bit to return home. As for me, I think I'm done with all the long distance buses, and ready to get back to reality, although would find it difficult to turn down a chance to go round again if it presented itself. Been such an amazing trip. Anyway, this'll be the last entry.....until the next trip.

Posted by calumfife 09:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai

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The bus trip from Luang Prabang to the border at Thailand, didn't disappoint, another test of endurance for 12 hours. Firstly there were no allocated seats, so we had to arrive at the bus station an hour before it left. The locals were clearly expert at this, and many of them looked like they might have pitched up 2 or 3 hours before. So when we produced our ticket we were pointed to the bus and told to go find seats. Every seat had someone's bag strategically placed on it apart from the very back row, so we took a window seat each. Then we sat outside and waited until about 15 mins before we were due to depart before everyone piled onto the bus. There was then an hour and a half of chaos and no air-con whilst the bus was loaded to bursting with people, and they strapped various things to the roof.

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Not satisfied that there were enough people on the bus having filled all the seats, a stack of of tiny plastic stools was produced, and lined down the aisle. So, once there were approximately a million people on the bus, and no oxygen left we got going, an hour and a half after we were supposed to. As usual, this was a false start, as we drove round the town to a petrol station for them to fill up the bus.....with the engine running, which I always find a bit concerning. Then for the next 12 hours, through the night, we had to listen to blaring loud Lao music. I felt a bit sorry for the people in the cheap seats in the aisle, as the road was really bumpy and windy, so most of them stood and clung to the ceiling hand rails, as opposed to sliding about on their stools. The bus arrived at our destination, Huay Xai, at 5.30am. Two and a half hours early! Due to the blind conering at 100 miles an hour the whole way there. So we were dumped at the bus station, in the dark, freezing cold. We took a songtheaw - (literally translated as "two rows") which is a van with 2 benches along the sides in the back - to the immigration office. It was closed and didn't open until 8, so we had to sit around in the freezing cold for another 2 hours, which was fun.

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We did eventually get across the Mekong river, that acts as the border, and caught a bus on the other side to Chiang Rai. We were both shattered for the next couple of days.

We didn't get off to a very good start in Chiang Rai, as there didn't seem to be much to do, although there is a market it's mostly residential. When we were wandering about we saw little wooden signs directing to "Chiang Rai Beach", which we thought was odd, as Northern Thailand is landlocked. There is a river though, so we decided to play it by ear and go on a little adventure to find it just by following the signs. There were quite a few signs, then they disappeared. We walked about 2 miles in the blistering heat to the outskirts of town where we found a massive motorway style sign to the beach. By that stage we'd had enough, and decided that it didn't in fact exist and the signs were just there to take the piss out of tourists, so we walked the 2 miles back into town. The main feature of Chiang Rai was the night market. The main square has tables in the middle and is lined round the outside by food hawkers. This was great. Really cheap, good, spicy food for next to nothing, and free entertainment on the stage. There were also quite a few child beggars.

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There were lots of locals selling souvenirs, and a woman doing tarot readings. We passed by her and she was very interested in Jenny. She said she had a "very lucky chin". I just about wet myself, and have been slagging her ever since.

From Chiang Rai we took a bus 4 hours West to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai's got alot more to it than Chiang Rai. It's th 2nd biggest city in Thailand. It's pretty touristy, but there's loads to do and see. Lots and lots of temples. Think we've seen enough temples to last a lifetime. They have some extra gold ones in Northern Thailand.

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We did go and see a variation on the theme on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, at Wat u mong. This is in the forest and quite overgrown. It also had a series of tunnels to wander through, and a lake with giant catfish and turtels to feed, which was a bit different.

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We did a Thai cooking class on our second day. This was excellent. It was just us and an Australian guy. We started off by agreeing what we were going to cook then took a trip to the local market, where we were told all about the various typical Thai ingredients. We also bought the ingredients for our dishes. We then got into the cooking itself.

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It was good fun, really simple, and the end product was almost retaurant standard, even if I do say so myself. We cooked 5 dishes and they were all great. By the end we were all stuffed.

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Really worthwhile, definitely going to try and recreate them back home.

Yesterday we splashed out and went to the Elephant Nature Park about an hour North of Chiang Mai. This was pretty amazing too. There are various companies that offer elephant related activites, trekking, riding, mahout courses etc. but the elephant nature park is dedicated to saving asian elephants from the illegal logging industry, and from Burma. They have a lot of elephants that have been injured or abused over the years. The emphasis of the park is to allow elephants to roam free and socialise as they would in the wild, or as near to it as possible. With as little human interaction as possible.

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It's an incredible place. Being able to get so close to them, and watch them roaming about in their little groups was really impressive. Whilst many of them have lots of problems, they all looked really happy and enjoying what they were doing. All of the mahouts - elephant drivers - have been retrained so they don't use the metal hooks that other operations use to control the animals. They use voice commands and positive reinforcement. None of the elephants are made to carry tourists, as most of the other outfits do. Apparently elephants backs are not designed to bare much weight, and so to ride them is not good for them.

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We got to feed the elephants watermelon. The elephants would line up and stick their trunks out and we would place the fruit in their trunk. We fed the old granny one, 75 with only one tooth.

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Accordingly, she had had her watermelons specially peeled. We then got to go and follow the elephants to the river and help wash them, with buckets and scrubbing brushes. This was really incredible too. We were basically allowed to wander amongst the elephants freely and touch them.

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Quite frightening at times, as they are such enormous, strong animals, and they just wandered where they wanted too. Of course once they had all been cleaned, they got straight out and sprayed dust all over themselves.

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The younger ones all headed straight for a muddy pool and were pushing each other in and sliding about in the mud, having a great time.

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It was so great to watch, and we were literally 10 yards away. We then got shown a pretty distressing movie about traditional methods of training, where they break tohe spirit of the elephants and poke them with sharpened sticks. Not very pleasant to watch. We also got to meet the founder of the sanctuary, a little Thai woman called lek. She answered everyones questions, and gave loads of background about the place. It was really interesting. We then got another opportunity to wash the elephants before we returned to Chiang Mai. All in all a really great experience that I'd recommend to anyone.

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I think Jenny might want to return to live there. You can volunteer and it's a shame that we didn't have a bit longer, as that would have been fun.

Today is another boring day of hanging about for a night bus back to Bangkok, where we are catching a plane to Krabi tomorrow morning. Last real bit of travelling, as we've only got a short time left, we're going to be taking a bus, plane and boat in the next 24 hours, and with any lucky be back on Ko Phi Phi by tomorrow afternoon. I'm sure Jenny's chin will see us through.....

Posted by calumfife 23.01.2008 13:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang

sunny 30 °C
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Vang Vieng was a bit of a tourist ghetto, the town being purpose built for travellers. Accordingly the two main streets were just littered with restaurants and bizarre, but popular, TV bars - bars with TV's pumping out Friends on a continuous loop. A bit tragic. Jenny was quite drawn to them though.

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The place that we were staying was great. A bit out of town, and right on the Nam Song river.

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So for the first couple of days we spent most of our time loungeing about, dipping in the river to cool off, and watching sunsets over the spectacular scenery surrounding the area. Jenny made a couple of little flea bitten friends whilst we were there, and made them a little house, and bought them a tin of tuna every night. The highlight of Vang Vieng was the tubing. It was such good fun. We got driven by tuk tuk about 5 km upstream from Vang Vieng and dropped at the rivers edge with our inflated tractor inner tube.

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Then we spent the rest of the day slowly floating down the river. It turned out to be a bit of a boozefest, as there were lots of bars dotted along the banks, with little kids with sticks trying to lure you in.

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We got lured into quite a few on our way down the river. Most of the bars had rickety homemade wooden towers jutting out over the river with rope swings or zip lines to slide down, so the entertainment was watching drunken idiots jumping off them and bellyflopping into the river. By the thrid bar we had both plucked up enough dutch courage, aided by the free flowing beerlao, to have a go.

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Was great fun, although the next day we both had pretty sore necks from awkward landings. I also have a weeping sore on my foot which I can't account for. It was so much fun though, and we met loads of randoms along the way. Was pretty cold by the end of it, as the sun had set behind the hills. The scenery on the way down the river was incredible aswell, although not particularly peaceful given the frequent shouts and screams of people jumping in. We went out that night and ended up in a bar chatting with one of the guys we met doing the tubing, and a Lao who owned the bar. He was really interesting, but very pissed. He kept filling up a bucket with Lao whisky in front of us and encouraging us to get stuck in. He said he was fond of Western women but was dismayed by why so many were like 'water buffalo'.

From Vang Vieng we took a bus ride 6 hours North along a really windy road through the hills to Luang Prabang, where we are just now. The countryside in Laos is absolutely stunning. The journey through the hills was so spectacular. The mountains jut up thousands of feet vertically and it's all so green. Luang Prabang is a really cute little town at with the Mekong river on one side, and the Nam Khan on the other, on a peninsula.

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It has a little hill in the middle with a temple perched on top. In fact there are I think 30-odd temples in the surrounding areas. It seems like threr's one round every corner.

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They're all dripping in gold leaf, and shiny things, which appeals to my taste. Think I'd quite like to live in one. Hiking up the hill to the temple Jenny was doing quite a bit of moaning about how she hated days like this but she was happy to get the opportunity to free some caged birds at the top - supposedly to bring good fortune.

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I was persuaded to have a go aswell, and felt like we'd done something good, although Jenny I think wanted to buy all of the cages and set all of them free as she didn't have many left. Unfortunately we found four other women selling lots of them at the bottom of the hill too. The view from the top was pretty incredible. Along with all the temples there are the accompanying monks adorned in traditional orange robes.

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Traditionally most Lao men at some point in their lives become a monk. There are lots and lots of them wandering about Luang Prabang, which is quite an unusual sight. Unfortunately they have a habbit of getting up really early in the morning to go and accept alms from the locals. The unfortunate thing for us being that we're staying right behind of the temples, and have been woken by the eerie, slow rhythmic banging at 4 am of the massive drum that they have.

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As if that wasn't enough there's a demented rooster that cries every couple of hours throughout the day and night, irrelevant of whether the sun is up or down. The food in Laos has been pretty good, very similar to Thai, we went for something different last night, in the shape of a Korean BBQ, which was really good. It's a do-it-yourself job with a BBQ in the middle, over a pot of coals, sloping down to the sides which holds a soup round the rim, like an upturned saucer. Was really tasty.

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Today we are making the long trip to the Thai border on an overnight bus, which we're both dreading, and hopefully going to end up in Chang Rai by tomorrow at some point. We'll both be pretty sad to leave Laos, as the country is so beautiful and the people are so friendly. Almost without fail everyone that you pass says Sabai dee - "hello". We're both looking forward to getting some Thai food when we get back over the border though.

Posted by calumfife 16.01.2008 12:46 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

One big piggy going to market


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Saw this when we were being driven back from the moon bear centre in Vietnam. Thought it was dead initially.....

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.......turned out to be very much alive and squirming about.

Posted by calumfife 15.01.2008 21:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, Hanoi, Laos

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From Nha Trang we took a bus North to Hoi An. It was a really pretty little town. Spared the American bombardment, it has really narrow streets and French colonial buildings.

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Was great to be in a smaller town, without the motorbikes. We stayed in an overpriced place on the outskirts of town with a pool, that was useless as it never got above 15 degrees the whole time we were there. There was also a man who liked banging a hammer from 7 am onward, living right next to the hotel. One of the main draws to Hoi An are all the tailors. There are about a million of them. I decided to get a shirt made, and ended up getting 2. You could easily become addicted to getting clothes custom made. Especially at the prices they were charging. Jenny got a couple of pairs of trousers made. One pair that are 'fishermans' trousers, or 'hippy clown's' trousers as I would describe them. When Jenny was describing what she wanted the woman in the shop started dancing about, laughing and singing 'Ali Baba, Ali Baba' over again. I think that says it all. But she likes them, so fair play.

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The other main tourist draw in Hoi An is the Japanese covered bridge, which is quite unusual, but essentially just a bridge with a roof.

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There are also several pagodas at every turn which we went to.

From Hoi An we got another 'sleeper' bus the 17 hours to Hanoi. This was a bit of a sleepless nightmare. The 'beds' on this bus were even smaller than the last one, and I had to wedge my feet into a kind of tin box at the bottom. Was so cramped it felt like being in a coffin. To make matters worse, as we were driving along, one of the windows shattered. Presumably because somebody chucked a rock at it, because whatever the missile was hit the very top window right in front of me. Almost wet myself. We continued a very cold and windy hour or so before pulling over to fix it. This of course took forvever as a crowd gathered to hum and haw and shout instructions at each other. So they sellotaped a massive bit of card on and off we went. Miraculously it stayed in place all the way to Hanoi.

We both really liked Hanoi. It similar to Saigon in that it's so busy and there is so much going on around you, but it's prettier, with a few lakes dotted around, and a lot more trees.
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It's also got remnants of the French era, and it's a maze of narrow streets. On our first day we just wandered around looking at stuff. We went to a little pagoda on an island on the lake which was pretty. The highlight was a stuffed turtle/tortoise thing in a glass case.

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It's the strangest looking creature ever. Think it might have been a botched job on the taxidermists part, as it's so fat and it's bogeyed and got a weird twisted smile on its face. We were staying in the old Quarter of the town, right in the thick of the action which was good. We were also right round the corner from a little street bar that sold bia hoi, the local brew, for 9p a half pint which was extremely good.

On our second day we took a trip to Halong Bay, about 4 hours south of Hanoi. We went for a 2 day overnight cruise, which turned out to be really amazing.

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The boat was a fair size and the cabins were simple, but pretty luxurious by our standards, especially the bathroom. Amazingly they managed to provide a hot, powerful shower, and toilet that didn't block every time you used it - something that many of the places on dry land throughout Asia, seem incapable of.

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Unfortunately the toilet did have a tendancey to burp a lot, producing a revolting smell which was the one downer. The only other complaint was about the weather, which was shit.

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The sun was out for the first hour or so aboard, so me and Jenny ran and stripped off and lay on the top deck, whilst everyone else sat about in their jumpers and trousers looking at us like we were mental. We cruised out of the bay and around the amazing karst limestone mini islands that dot the bay.

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Really really spectacular. We visited two caves on our way. The first one was the magic cave, although I' not exactly why it's called that. It was quite small but we clambered through it and out the other side, scrambling up the mountain a bit.

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The view was pretty incredible. We then went to see the suprising cave. Surprising because it's absolutley massive.

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We walked about 500m into the massive gaping hole in the side of the cliff. There were loads of stalagmites/tites and weird formations that resembled various things. The best one was at the mouth of the cave. It looks like a guy's legs hanging over the edge.

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Jenny got her wildlife fix in the cave in the shape of a penguin shaped bin. Not sure if it is indigenous or migratory?

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The food was great throughout the trip. We spent all of our meals sharing with a couple of Spanish girls, who were pretty good value, although one of them was quite a big girl and certainly made sure she got her full helping, leaving us to fight for what was left, and the other didn't speak much English and was pretty mute. The guide was really informative and made quite a big effort which always helps as well.

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On our second morning we got up at 7am to go kayaking. The Spanish girls weren't up for this particularly. I think the bigger girl would rather have extended breakfast into a brunch, but credit to her she did reluctantly go. It was really hard work,as we had to paddle over quite strong currents before getting to a couple of low caves that we could paddle under. The scenery was really spectacular, and it was really peaceful as well. By the time we were told to head back we were all pretty tired. Jenny and I got a bit competitive with the others and decided that we had to beat them back to the boat, (a la the amazing race) which we of course did, although the next couple of days we paid for it, walking about like penguins with our arms glued to our sides because of the stiffness. All in all the trip was really worth it, and Halong bay has to be up there with the most naturally beautiful places in the world, befitting it's nomination to be one of the 7 natural wonders.

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When we returned to Hanoi we had another day sightseeing in the capital. We went to do the history bit, which Jenny was delighted about. We went to see Uncle Ho - Ho Chi Minh - in his mausoleum in the North of the city. This was quite a creepy experience.

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His body is seeled in a glass case in a really dark room, like Lenin in Russia. He's very well preserved, and looks like he died just yesterday, or he's asleep. I kept thinking that his eyes were going to open. We had to go and see him twice it turned out, as we duffed up the conveyor belt queueing system that is opertated by the army there. They're so fickle about where you can and cannot walk. You have to walk on the pavement and along white lines, and if they catch you straying they point and shout at you. We got pointed at and shouted at quite a bit. I wanted to run all over the grass by the end of it. We then went to the Ho Chi Minh museum, or I went. Jenny sat and clapped a few flea bitten kittens outside while I went round the museam, which was probably for the best as it turned out to be just a series of photos of uncle ho meeting various dignitaries and a bizarre art exhibit. Was interesting though to learn about the man who effectively masterminded the defence of the nation against the most sophisticated army in the world, and went on to unify Vietnam. Pretty amazing character, and so the Vietnamese are rightly proud of him. There were as many Vietnamese as tourists going to view him which tells a story.

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On our last day we did something that Jenny wanted to do, and took a trip to Jill Robinson's Moon Bear Sanctuary, a couple of hours North of the city. She is in the process of building the centre which will house rescued Moon bears. To be honest I wasn't looking forward to this, and had spent the preceeding days teasing Jenny that I'd ask Jill whether she was intending on releasing the bears back on the moon etc. It turned out to be quite interesting, and a lot better than Hanoi zoo, which was pretty grim.

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Jill was real friendly and told us all about the project. The best part was the bears themselves. She's got 6 at the moment, and anopther 80 coming soon. They're really funny animals, especially the cubs. We sat and watched them watching us with they're beady little eyes, and showing off, and running at each other standing on two legs with their front paws in the air like little hairy men. Turned out to be a worthwhile visit that we both enjoyed.

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From Hanoi we cheated a little and caught a flight to Laos. This was a necessity, given the bus option was allegedly going to take 24 hours, and has a very bad press suggesting that that can often stretch to 36 hours. So we opted for the 50 minute flight to Vientiane. We by-passed Vietiane, as it didn't seem to have a lot, if anything, to offer. So we caught a 4 hour bus North to Vang Vieng where we are now. I'm a lot happier, as it has been beautiful blue sky and glorious sunshine since we arrived. Also Beer Lao, the national tipple is going down a treat. We intend to stay here a few days relaxing in the sun (hopefuly). We're going to go tubing down the Nam Sang river tomorrow - which involves floating down the river on a tractor tyre inner tube stopping intermitently at the bars that litter the banks. Sounds great.

Posted by calumfife 11.01.2008 03:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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