Luang Prabang is one of my favourite cities in Asia, and one of the best places to visit in Laos. If you’re going to Laos with kids, (or without kids), Luang Prabang is likely on your radar. It’s a small, friendly place, more like a little riverside town than a big city. And while it’s still distinctly Asian, it has a lovely European vibe. Auto-rickshaws lumber past quaint sidewalk cafés and bakeries. Monks scurry between temples, past well-kept colonial buildings and old-time cars. The streets are quieter than most Asian cities, making it an ideal place to travel as a family. There are so many things to do in Luang Prabang with kids, you’ll never be bored!
If you’d rather watch it than read about it, you can check out or YouTube video about our time in Luang Prabang!
We arrived in Luang Prabang after a crazy 3-day journey. First we went from Vietnam to Laos by bus, and then we took the slow boat down the Nam-Ou river from Muang Khua to Luang Prabang. It was definitely time for a bit of relaxation and I think we deserved it!
We had initially planned to spend a week in Luang Prabang, relaxing and slowly exploring the city. We were going to visit Kuang Si Falls, walk the bamboo bridges, and soak up the relaxing ambiance of the city. There are so many Luang Prabang attractions I figured we could easily stay entertained for a week or more. However, as I was searching for Luang Prabang accommodation I stumbled upon the Tiger Trails Homestay, in a rural village just outside the city. I love these types of accommodation, because they offer the chance to experience a bit of local life without being overly obtrusive. Between extending our journey from Vietnam to include the slow-boat from Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw, and leaving town for 2 nights at the homestay, our time in Luang Prabang was quickly reduced from 7 nights to 4.
A Traveling Family Meet-up
On our first night (before the homestay), we went for pizza dinner with another traveling family, from Portland (Oregon). We met near their hotel and wandered across the bamboo bridge. It was a bit scary, especially knowing it’s only up for 6 months of the year! During rainy season, the river swells so much the bridge becomes dangerous, so they take it down until the river recedes again. It’s incredible that they re-construct two of these bridges every year. Kacela wasn’t too keen on walking across the bridge, and she quickly latched herself onto the other family’s daughter who offered to piggy-back her across.
The evening was incredibly relaxing, and we had such a great time swapping travel stories and talking about home. (I lived in Portland for 4 years for school, so of course I liked them immediately!!) They’d been in town for almost a month, and had some great tips to share. After a surprisingly good pizza dinner, we headed back over the bamboo bridge into town. One of the bakeries puts their pastries on half price from 6-9pm, so we decided to see what they had left for dessert. It also gave us more time to visit!! As we were heading to the bakery, we ran into yet another traveling family. The 5 kids ran up and down the sidewalk, wreaking-havoc but having a wonderful time. They were from 3 different countries, and their ages ranged from 5 to 10, but none of that mattered. Age and accent melted away amidst the shrieks and giggles of their play. We said a sad good-bye to our new friends, and promised to visit them in Portland once we’ve all returned from our year abroad.
Fair Trek Eco Bungalow by Tiger Trails
The Fair Trek Eco Bungalow is a short 1hr drive from town. The road’s in relatively good condition (meaning no one got car sick), and we arrived mid-afternoon. Our package included three meals a day, however upon our arrival at 1:30pm they seemed surprised that we’d want lunch! Once the formalities were sorted, we’d met with our “host” family (who would cook our meals), and were settled into our room, we were finally able to head back up to our host’s house to eat. It was 3pm and we were all starving!! After such a late lunch, we skipped dinner and all headed to bed early. One of the things I love about village stays is that everyone retires shortly after sunset, so I don’t have to feel bad going to bed early!
We were woken the next morning by two boys trying to peek in the hut! It was a bit disconcerting to have an audience all the time, something we haven’t experienced on previous village stays. I have to admit, it detracted from the experience slightly, but we tried not to let it get to us. We made friends with the gentleman who owned the shop just down the path, and the girls enjoyed chasing his baby chicks and ducklings.
It was also nice to be able to just wander around the village. On our second morning, we stood by and observed men splitting bamboo to make baskets and women sitting together knitting and embroidering. Kacela and I watched an older lady making bundles of thatching for a new roof. It was fascinating! I loved all the groups of people, gathered around chatting and visiting while they worked. Children played at their feet, and a few babies clung to their mothers. It looked relaxing and enjoyable. I wanted to sit down and join in. Had we been there longer than 2 days, I probably would’ve got to the point where I sat down and joined the ladies, but felt awkward doing it at the first meeting.
Of all the village stays we’ve been lucky enough to experience, this was the most impersonal. We watched daily life happen, but didn’t get the chance to be a part of it. There was a house where we ate our meals, but we didn’t really have a host. There was no one to help translate or make the connection with the villagers. We ate in the home of our host, but didn’t eat with our host. As much as I like the spirit of the project, and the goal of bringing money into the community, there wasn’t much of a cultural exchange. It did give us a little glimpse into rural life in Laos, but we felt more like spectators than participants.
Back to Luang Prabang
After our village stay, we headed back into town. We had limited time, and a long list of what to do in Luang Prabang. It was the night of the lunar eclipse, although for some reason I thought that if it could be seen at home we wouldn’t be able to see it in Laos. We wandered to the Luang Prabang night market for dinner, had a delicious bowl of soup, and as we were sitting there I saw a few people pointing up to the sky. I quickly did a bit of research and found out that we’d be able to see the entire eclipse before heading to bed! We quickly gobbled up our dinner, and started to head back to the hotel as fast as possible to get my camera and find a good place to watch.
However, along the way we ran into an American couple from our slow boat down the Nam Ou. They had no idea about the eclipse, so we shared our knowledge, swapped a few quick travel stories, and rushed on down the road. One thing that I love about Luang Prabang is it’s size. It has such a small-town feel, and we frequently ran into people we’d previously met on our travels! This gives it a feeling of familiarity, which made us feel more at ease.
After getting my camera, we sat at the junction of the Nam Kong and Mekong Rivers and quietly watched the moon as it disappeared sliver by sliver. It was pretty incredible to witness, and made for a great worldschooling lesson for the girls.
Family Dying Class at Ock Pop Tok
Earlier that day, while we were enjoying a latte and croissant at the French bakery, I looked across the street to Ock Pop Tok. Our Portland friends had told us they offered a variety of classes, so we wandered over to have a look. It turns out they had a family dying class, perfect for the kiddos! I signed us up for the following morning! I think this is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang. It wasn’t cheap, but looked like a lot of fun. We’d be making tie-dyed scarves, so Randy opted out, or so he thought! The lady in the shop convinced him to bring a book and come along to hang out in the café for the morning. It wasn’t long before we’d summoned him into the “craft room” to help us out!
The morning started with a tour of the facility, where we learned about silk production and traditional dying techniques. Everything is completely natural, and done using traditional methods. It’s pretty incredible how many colours can be made from a few simple products found in nature!! We watched some master weavers, and learned about the incredible skill required for the various crafts practiced at the center.
The girls enjoyed the tour but they were anxious to get tie-dying. Finally, we made our way to the craft room and got to work. We used different combinations of wood, rusty metal, and leaves to make the colours for our scarves. Each of us chose a pattern, and we had fun tying the scarves up and dipping them in the colours. Watching the girl’s faces as we unfolded their creations was priceless. They were so proud, and rightfully so!! We each had a beautiful, unique, responsibly produced souvenir to take home.
Luang Prabang Palace Museum
On our second full day in Luang Prabang, the girls wanted to go to the Palace museum. The Disney Princess phenomenon has instilled in them a distinct love for anything that has to do with royalty, and they’ll happily visit anything that has “castle” or “palace” associated with it! We made our way to the Palace just to find out it was closed. I hadn’t done any pre-research and just assumed that if we showed up somewhere in the middle of the day it would be open. Apparently not the Palace museum, it closes for lunch! So, we went to find lunch ourselves and returned a bit later.
After a bit of a debacle around checking the daypack and my purse (the locker room is nowhere near the entrance to the Palace), we made our way into the museum. We started reading the plaques, but it didn’t take long before Randy was making up grand (fake) stories about the items on display. Kacela decided to take over as our tour-guide, and walked us around the museum telling elaborate stories about the rooms and articles within. The girls thoroughly enjoyed our tour, and I learned a little bit reading the plaques between the “information” from our “tour guide”! It was a bit weird, or maybe ironic, to wander through a monument to the greatness of the former monarchy who’d been exiled when the communist government came to power.
ANOTHER Travel Family Meet-up!
Last fall I connected with Erik, of Family Adventure Podcast, when he interviewed me for his show. While we were eating pizza with the Portland family, Randy mentioned that he’d left a job at the bank, and Sukey exclaimed, “I remember listening to your podcast!”. The family travel world really is a small, amazing community!! She told us that they’d met up with Erik and his family in Chiang Mai. I had just spent most of the journey from Ha Giang listening to hours of his downloaded podcast, so I was pretty excited when I found out they were now in Laos.
I got in touch, and we just happened to be crossing paths in Luang Prabang. We met for dinner (at one of Sukey’s recommended restaurants), and had the most amazing evening. These guys are truly inspiring! Randy’s been talking about wanting a boat for a little while, and this pretty much solidified that desire for him. We liked them so much we ended up meeting for dinner two nights in a row in Luang Prabang (and then twice again in Agra, India more than a month later!!). I wish they’d do a Podcast series about themselves. We’ve done some pretty random, off the beaten path travel with our kiddos, but they’ve taken it to the next level.
The Time We Went to A Buffalo Dairy instead of the WaterFalls
Our last day in Laos was supposed to be about getting to Kuang Si Waterfall. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Luang Prabang, and everyone raves about it! I’d also heard about the recently opened Laos Buffalo Dairy, where we could get great buffalo milk ice cream on the way to the falls. The girls were far more interested in the ice cream than the water falls! By the time we got ourselves organized for the day, after lounging around and being lazy all morning, it was starting to get a bit late. We hailed a truck-tuk, piled in the back, and started on the relatively long and bumpy drive out to the falls. Since ice cream was the priority, we decided to stop there on the way TO the falls. It was so wonderful! We opted for the self-guided tour, which also included 2 scoops of ice cream, and started inside.
The owner immediately met us and offered to give us the guided tour! The dairy had only been operational for a few months when we arrived, and she was happy to show us around and tell us all about it. It was really interesting, and it’s incredible what they’ve done! It’s also a fantastic social enterprise. Rather than purchase buffalo, they rent from local farmers, providing income straight back into the community. All the buffalo receive medical attention, vaccinations and a well-rounded diet during their last trimester, which is spent at the dairy. After birth, the calves receive immediate care resulting in a lower mortality rate. The dairy also owns a few Italian bulls, and they breed the buffalo before returning them to the farmers. This serves to increase the genetic pool within the Laos buffalo, helping solve a serious problem. The cross-bred calves will also be bigger and stronger, and the females will produce more milk. It’s a double win!
We enjoyed the ice cream, but more than that, we really enjoyed learning about the dairy and the passion behind this new business in Luang Prabang. Actually, we enjoyed the dairy so much we spent more time than expected and never ended up making it out to the waterfalls!! Instead, we made our way back into town to meet up with the “Family Adventure Podcast family” for dinner (again!). We’ll have to save the waterfalls for the next visit.
A disappointing last morning observing the alms giving
Although we’d taken a slow boat down the Nam Ou between Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw, I still really wanted to do the Mekong River boat between Luang Prabang and Thailand. We were up early on our last morning to observe the monk’s procession before our 8am pick-up for the slow boat. I was incredibly disappointed by the monk’s alms-giving walk. It wasn’t the walk itself, but the insensitive tourists and the ridiculous spectacle it’s become. We were staying in one of the busier areas of town, so that might have had something to do with it. I’ve talked to other people who had lovely experiences watching the morning ritual from afar. Unfortunately, this was not the case for us.
We left the girls sleeping, and ventured out around 6am to find a quiet place across the road to observe from afar. As we sat and waited for sunrise, more and more tourists began to “take their place”. They sat along the road with their bucket of rice, to participate in the alms giving. Some did this in a very respectful manner, while others did not. A group of females apparently couldn’t be bothered to sit down, and gave out their rice standing, which is completely unacceptable! The alms should never be given from a standing position, and a female (especially) should never be higher than the monk when giving alms.
There were people standing right in front of the line snapping pictures, others using excessive flash, and I even heard man complaining that it was dark so his photos wouldn’t turn out very good. It seemed that there was no consideration for the significance behind the procession, it was just a good photo op. I didn’t stay for long. Even though I sat and watched from across the street, as quietly as possible, I realized I was still contributing to the tourist-problem. So, I left. It was a bit of a downer as our last experience in Luang Prabang. Although, sometimes I think it’s nice to leave after an experience like this, to “get away” from it. Not that I want to forget it, but I wanted to box it up, push it to the side, and remember how amazing the rest of our time in Luang Prabang had been!
Where To Stay in Luang Prabang
This small guesthouse offers great value for the price. It’s not right in the center of town, but it’s still well within the tourist hub of the city. Most of the restaurants and main attractions are easily within walking distance. Our room was clean, comfortable and quiet. The only downside was that they didn’t offer breakfast, but there were a number of places right up the street where we could eat. It was full when we returned to Luang Prabang, or I would have happily stayed here again.
Cost: 215,000kip ($36CAD)/night for a triple room
Tiger Trails Fair Trek Hmong Homestay
I was really excited for this homestay. It was a valuable experience, and I’m glad we did it, but it wasn’t as culturally engaging as I had hoped for. We were able to observe village life, but still felt like quite an outsider. The rooms are rustic, but there was electricity and running water (although not enough water pressure to have a shower). The first night, Randy and I slept in the bed downstairs, and the girls slept in the loft upstairs. There were rats that scurried along the top of the walls during the night, and while this didn’t bother us in our beds, it did bother Calais when she woke up and was staring a rat in the face!! She slept through the rest of the night, but had no interest in sleeping up there the second night. I can’t say I blame her!! The four of us crammed into the king bed the second night, so none of us slept very well. Couple that with waking up to children scratching at the door and trying to peek into the windows, and I felt a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t enough to ruin it, but it did detract from the overall experience. I’d still recommend going, although one night is likely enough if you plan to arrive before lunch on the first day. When we ran into a lovely Scottish family who was heading out there we still encouraged them to go, but gave them a bit of a heads up so they were prepared.
Cost: $109.45 CAD/night for 4 people, $12US/adult/day for food, $6US/kid/day for food, $60 US private van to and from.
We spent 4 nights at Villa Somphong when we returned to Luang Prabang. It was a bit above our normal price point, but we had a hard time finding anything reasonable in our budget! The price did include a made-to-order breakfast, so that softened the blow a bit. Our room was big and bright, the water pressure in the bathroom was good, and the wifi was decent. The location, only a block off the main street, is also fantastic. We could be at the restaurants and shops in no time. The staff was also incredibly friendly and helpful. One of the ladies had a son similar aged to our girls, and she brought him by one day after school for them to play.
Cost: $55 US/night for a triple room, made-to-order breakfast included
Where We Ate
Pizza Phan Luang
It was nice to have some non-local food for a change, and this was really good pizza! The location was also pretty lovely. It was a short walk across the bamboo bridge, and the was set up in a back garden with lanterns and light-strings providing the only light. It’s rumoured to be owned by a Canadian as well which made it even more appealing.
Cost: 175,000 kip($29 CAD) for 2 pizza, a beer and glass of wine.
Zurich Bread Factory and Cafe
We grabbed croissants and coffee here a few times, once during the day and twice after 6pm when all the pastries are buy one get one free! It’s certainly not the best croissant I’ve ever had, but it was the best croissant I’d had in a long time!
Cost: 10,000 kip ($1.67 CAD) per croissant (for 2 croissants from 6-9pm)
Red Bull Sports Bar
I was craving a hamburger after I saw the big, juicy burger on the sign outside this restaurant. This is really out of the ordinary for me, but it was close and easy, and we were hungry. Unforunately, the burger wasn’t really worth it, and I wish I would’ve sought out a better burger to fulfill my craving!
Cost: 100,000 kip ($16.67 CAD) for a cheeseburger, beer, water and 2 smoothies
This was right down the street from our first accommodation in Luang Prabang, and we stopped in for a late breakfast before heading out to the homestay. The girls had a too-sweet smoothie and a decent fruit and yogurt bowl (it’s pretty hard to screw that up though!). I had the worst latte I’ve had to date… I think ever. I’m sure there’s been worse, but I’ve removed it from my memory so this one currently wins that prize.
Cost: 115,000 kip ($19 CAD) for breakfast and drinks
The night market in Luang Prabang was a bit of a disappointment. We’re always on the search for a great, local night market, but they’re surprisingly hard to find! We found a phenomenal one in Kashgar, China, and the one in Chiang Rai is pretty good also (although a tiny bit touristy, but still plenty of locals). The night market in Luang Prabang was basically all tourists. It was a bunch of souvenir shops and some food stalls. The food was good though, so I won’t complain too much!!
Cost: 43,000 kip ($7 CAD) for 2 giant bowls of noodle soup
Xieng Thong Noodle Soup
We enjoyed one of the best bowls of noodle soup in Laos here. Sure, it’s no pho, but it was still pretty delicious. I loved the sliced and roasted garlic on top. SO good, and really reasonably priced too. Randy (our Pho fanatic) highly recommends you eat here.
Cost: 32,000 kip ($5.50 CAD) for 2 bowls of soup & a pepsi
Luang Prabang has so much European flair that I couldn’t pass up a charcuterie platter. I hopped online to google the best, and this one came up. All they do is charcuterie. Score!! It always seems that the fewer things on the menu, the better everything’s going to be. This definitely delivered. We enjoyed a delicious cheese and charcuterie platter, drank our wine, and visited with a wonderful Scottish family sitting on the couches beside us. The girls snuggled up with their kids and watched Paw Patrol on their iPad, while eating the croissants we’d just bought for half price from the Zurich Bread bakery! Good food, good wine and good company. It was the perfect evening!
Cost: 385,000 kip ($65 CAD) for a cheese platter, charcuterie platter & carafe of wine
This was one of the Portland famiy’s recommendations, and was my favourite place to eat and had some of the best food in Luang Prabang! It was incredibly delicious, especially the BoBun bowl. It was so good! Perfectly cooked rice noodles with a delicious salty/sweet fish sauce, TONS of fresh greens and herbs, and yummy spring rolls cut up on top. I’m still dreaming about it! I’m sure the rest of the menu is delicious as well, but it’s all about the BoBun. On our second visit, while we sat waiting for friends to join us, we talked an entire table of ladies into all ordering the BoBun!
Cost: 67,000kip for 3 meals ($11 CAD) for 2 Bo Bun and one curry
This was the Portland family’s other recommendation. The food was also really good, and reasonably priced. It was a bit further from the center of town, but close to where the Family Adventure Podcast crew was staying, so it was easy to meet up with them here. The restaurant is tucked away down a tiny alley and it’s hard to find, but this meant it was quiet. Between the 10 of us we sampled a large variety on the menu, and everyone enjoyed what they had. I don’t think you could go wrong, regardless of what you order.
Cost: 97,000 kip ($16 CAD) for 3 meals, 1 beer and 2 soda
This restaurant was well rated on Trip Advisor, and close to the Palace museum. The food was good but not outstanding. We shared a trio of dips that were decent, and had a Buddha Bowl that would’ve been better with more space to mix it all together. The presentation was excellent, but the practicality of eating it was slightly lacking. The upside…I got to enjoy a glass of wine at lunch, while Randy had a beer. Win!
What We Did
These are, in my opinion, the top things to do in Luang Prabang with kids, but it’s not an all-encompassing list!
Family dyeing class at Ock Pop Tok
The girls were super excited for the tie-dyeing class, and it didn’t disappoint. We were picked up from the shop in town, and driven out to the craft village in a bright pink tuk tuk. This was the perfect start for the girls!! Our day started with a tour of the facility, learning about silk worms and the silk making process, and the chance to watch a number of the master craftspeople at work. We learned a lot about the dyeing and weaving process, and had an absolute blast making our own scarves. There was a choice between a t-shirt and a scarf, and we all chose to make a scarf. It was nice to have Randy’s extra set of hands to help with the tying, because the girls couldn’t quite get the knots tight enough. We could’ve done it without him, as our guide was incredibly helpful, but it went much faster with his help! The girls did a great job helping to make the dye and actually dying their fabric. We finished shortly after noon, and ended with a (good) latte and cold drinks in the small café onsite. It’s situated on the banks of the Mekong, and was the perfect place to relax and enjoy a bit of quiet for a few minutes.
Cost: 760,000 kip ($126 CAD) for 1 adult and 2 kids
If you’re looking for a cheaper activity, but still want to do a bit of crafting, check out this crochet and beading class by Nick that lolotogo recommend. Still lots of fun, but a bit easier on the pockets!
Although we don’t do a lot of kid-centric activities when we travel, we also don’t tend to visit a lot of museums. However, this museum was inside the old Palace so it made it to the top of the girl’s must-see list. The palace and temple are situated inside a large complex with beautifully shaded grounds. It’s free to enter the gardens and enjoy the scenery from the outside. The only entrance fee required is to go inside the Palace museum. It’s a small museum, the perfect size for kids, and in my opinion, a very nominal fee. The dining room and a few of the bedrooms are set up as they would have been during the monarchy’s reign, and the girls thought this was fabulous! There’s also large variety of jewels, clothing, and various other items from Laotian history. We spent about 30min inside, and then another hour or so running around the grassy gardens!
Note: you’re not allowed to bring a bag of any kind into the museum, and there’s nowhere to check it at the entrance. After buying your ticket, follow the signs to the bag check, check your bag, and THEN make your way to the palace. It’s necessary to have shoulders and knees covered (men don’t necessarily need pants, but they do need shorts that touch the top of the knee), and to remove your shoes before entering. If you take your shoes off as soon as you get to the top of the stairs, you won’t have to backtrack to pick them up when you exit!
Cost: 30,000 ($5 CAD) per adult, kids free
Laos Buffalo Dairy
I just loved the story behind the Laos Buffalo Dairy. In the search for good cheese in Laos, the owners have really taken an initiative to better the lives of the people in the community, and are building a responsible business for both the environment and locals. The girls loved playing with the bunnies, feeding the pigs, and bottle-feeding the baby buffalo. They’re also building a playground, so the kids could run around while mom & dad enjoyed some buffalo cheese in the gazebo in the garden. It’s the perfect place to stop for a tour and a snack on the way back from the Kuang Si Waterfalls. (I in no way received anything from the Laos Buffalo Dairy, I just love a good company when I find them!)
Cost: 50,000kip ($8.50 CAD) per adult for self-guided tour and 2 scoops of ice cream, kids free.
Big Brother Mouse
Calais really wanted to spend the day at the Big Sister Mouse school just outside Luang Prabang. Unfortunately, our timing didn’t coincide with a week day when the school was running. Instead, we opted for the morning Big Brother Mouse program and spent 2 wonderful hours chatting with some teenage Novices (junior Monks).
THINGS WE SHOULD HAVE DONE
Kuang Si Waterfalls
We were on our way to Kuang Si falls, however we got sidetracked at Laos Buffalo Dairy. This was partly because it was a bit too cold to swim, and partly because we ran out of time! We have friends who visited the falls a few months prior to us, and raved about it. It gets quite busy with locals on the weekends, so if you’re able it’s advisable to go mid-week. The drive out takes about an hour, and a return trip should cost 200,000 kip for the whole truck-tuk. The road is in relatively good condition, however it can get a bit chilly in the back of the truck so bring a sweater! Once you’re there, you can swim in the waterfalls, go on a short hike, or visit the butterfly park or Bear Rescue center. It’s a full day itinerary if you want to fit it all in. And don’t forget to include a stop at Laos Buffalo Dairy on your way back into town!
Nahm Dong Park
This was also a recommendation from @basersabroad, but we weren’t able to fit it into our time. There’s an incredible amount of activities; from the free garden of senses (which sounds like a phenomenal activity for the kiddos) and hiking, to reasonably priced cooking classes and ziplines. You can even camp overnight if you want! Nahm Dong Park is definitely making it on the list for our next visit!!
Proper kid’s playgrounds are few and far between in Asia. The ABC school has a great playground that’s open to the public on evenings and weekends (when school’s not in session). We don’t do a lot of kid-specific attractions when we travel, but we do try to find great playgrounds as much as possible to let them burn off some energy!
We bought a few souvenirs at the TAEC boutique, but didn’t make it to the cultural center. It has some great kid-friendly exhibits about the ethnic minority tribes in Laos. Definitely worth a visit if you have the time, and it supports a good cause!
What We Spent:
We traveled overland 100% in Laos, which kept our costs down substantially. Our average spend per day was $162.83 CAD. (This includes all 10 days we were in Laos, not just Luang Prabang).
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