• THE ESSENTIAL AYUTTHAYA GUIDE

    A magenta tuk tuk carries passengers on the road past the ruined walls in front of Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • THE ESSENTIAL AYUTTHAYA GUIDE

    A magenta tuk tuk carries passengers on the road past the ruined walls in front of Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya, Thailand

THE ESSENTIAL AYUTTHAYA GUIDE

Ayutthaya is a magical place. A city whose history seems to have been largely forgotten by the rest of the world. But this UNESCO World Heritage site is most definitely on a par with the likes of Bagan or Angkor Wat. If you have an interest in history, or appreciation of architecture, then a couple of days in Ayutthaya should absolutely be part of your Thailand travel plans. 

To help you make the most of your time in Ayutthaya, this guide outlines the highlights, plus the ideal time of day to visit each site for the best light. We’ll also cover how to get around, where to eat and sleep, and how to get here. But first, a little history…

Note that while it’s entirely possible to visit Ayutthaya as a day trip from Bangkok, we highly recommend spending at least two full days here. There are many sights to see and the hot, humid weather makes it exhausting to try and do in one day. It’s much better to split your visit over two days, with a break during the hottest part of the day. 

Trees and and small ruined buldings are reflected in the river in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand.

Trees and and small ruined buldings are reflected in the river in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand.

THE HISTORY OF AYUTTHAYA

A mere 300 years ago, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world and a key trading hub between East and West. It had over 1 million inhabitants, with merchants and dignitaries from all over the world calling it home. It was established as the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai, and flourished between the 14th and 18th centuries. Its strategic location on the banks of three rivers connected to the sea protected it from attack by sea-going warships, while enabling trade to prosper. The city’s wealth and importance is evident to this day in the sheer number and size of Buddhist monasteries remaining. 

It all came to an end in April 1767 however, when Burmese armies razed the city to the ground after a 14 month siege. Art treasures, libraries and important historic documents were all destroyed, along with the bulk of the city. All that remained were the stone palaces and monasteries, the defining features of Ayutthaya today.

A buddha and prang at The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

Close up view of the doorway of the central prang at Wat Chaiwattanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A buddha and prang at The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam

The Burmese forces left after just a few months, forced to defend their own capital against Chinese invasion. Chaos ensued. Ayutthaya was never rebuilt in the same location, a new capital established at Thonburi instead, further down river near modern day Bangkok. 

In 1991, part of the Ayutthaya Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an extension under preparation to cover the entire area of the city as it existed in the 18th Century.

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THE BEST OF AYUTTHAYA

Today Ayutthaya is an interesting mix of old and new, characterised by magnificent historical sites scattered around a modern Thai city. The majority of them are found in the Ayutthaya Historical Park, but a few noteworthy others are located outside of this central area. Nothing is too far though, and it’s easy to get around on foot, bike or by tuk tuk. 

There are five wats within the Ayutthaya Historical Park that we recommend you visit, plus two more across the river that are must-sees. From a photography perspective, we struggled to find good information about opening hours, lighting conditions, and the best spots for sunrise and sunset. In the end we took our chances and kicked ourselves a few times, but fortunately for you, we’re here to give you all the info we lacked. Taking into consideration the best light, opening hours and weather, here’s where and when to visit the best of Ayutthaya.

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RECOMMENDED ITINERARIES

DAY 1

(start early morning around 8am)

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Wat Ratchaburana
Early Lunch at Coffee Old City
Rest at Hotel
Wat Mahathat
Dinner at Burinda


DAY 2

(organise bike the day before or walk, start sunrise)

Wat Lokayasutharam

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Ram

Wander Historical Park

Lunch at Mae Pranee Boat Noodles

Rest at Hotel

Wat Chai Watthanaram 

Dinner at Bang Lan Night Market

 


The map below shows the names and locations of our recommended wats, along with places to eat, stay and where to get the bus or train.

BEST AT SUNRISE & EARLY MORNING

Many of Ayutthaya’s historical sites are only open from 8am – 6pm, or thereabouts. This means you won’t be able to capture the best sunrise photos at them, and it’ll already be getting hot by the time the gates open. 

We scouted out a few spots and concluded that the best places for sunrise photos and early exploring are as follows.

Wat Lokayasutharam

There is no entrance fee here or restricted opening hours so you’re free to visit at any time. The most impressive thing to see at this wat is the huge reclining Buddha. At 42 x 8 metres, it’s an imposing sight! The Buddha faces west, so if you position yourself right you can get a shot of the sun rising behind the Buddha. Otherwise, it would be better to visit this spot later in the afternoon when the sun is shining on the Buddha and not glaring at your lens. 

Free Entry
Open All Hours

The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf in Ayutthaya

The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam with a bird perched on its head

The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam with a bird perched on its head

The massive reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A reclining Buddha covered in gold leaf in Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

One of the most impressive and most popular sites to visit in Ayutthaya, this is also known as The Grand Palace.

The cone like white towers of Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Looking through an open window to the central towers of Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The three central cone like towers of Wat Phra Si Sanphet at sunrise in Ayutthaya, Thailand

It doesn’t officially open until 8am, however there is a hidden entrance on the northern side of the wall that is likely to be open. We actually spotted it after seeing some stray dogs run from one side of the wall to the other and followed them through the small tunnel to see for ourselves. We wandered around for a bit in the early morning solitude, our only company the dogs and a passing monk who was using the same sneaky entrance as us. 

8am – 6pm

50 baht

A monk ducks through the 'secret' entrance at Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A monk walks through the towering ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet after sunrise at Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A monk walks through the towering ruins of Wat Phra Si Sanphet after sunrise at Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A monk ducks through the 'secret' entrance at Wat Phra Si Sanphet in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya Historical Park

While the main wats within the Historical Park don’t open until 8am, you can still gain access to the area at any time. There are a number of smaller sites of interest that you can explore at dawn. Otherwise, set up a sunrise shot just beyond the walls of the best known sites such as Wat Mahathat, or Wat Phra Ram seen below.

The sun rising behind Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The sun rising behind Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The sun rising behind Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The sun rising behind Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

BEST IN THE MORNING

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

This impressive complex, a little out of the centre, is best visited in the morning to take advantage of the light. There are a number of things to see, the imposing central stupa surrounded by sitting Buddhas unlike any other in Ayutthaya. A reclining Buddha, adorned in yellow, faces east, hence best viewed in the morning. The central stupa, with two large sitting Buddhas either side, also faces east. You can climb the stairs and walk around the platform halfway up. There are more Buddha statues at the back of the central stupa, on the eastern side facing west. Smaller seated Buddhas form a square all around the central stupa. It’s a unique wat to explore and not to be missed. 

8am – 5pm

20 baht

The central prang of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon glowing in the late afternoon sun in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A row of sunlit stone Buddhas at Wat Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya, Thailand
The central prang of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon glowing in the late afternoon sun in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A huge buddha statue with a yellow sash caught in the late afternoon sun at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The central prang of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon glowing in the late afternoon sun in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A row of sunlit stone Buddhas at Wat Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A huge buddha statue with a yellow sash caught in the late afternoon sun at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya, Thailand

BEST AT SUNSET

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Among the most beautiful and famous sites of Ayutthaya, Wat Chaiwatthanaram is a must see and best enjoyed at sunset.

The sunset is bright orange,yellow and pink in the sky above the magnificent buildings of Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya

The sunset is bright orange,yellow and pink in the sky above the magnificent buildings of Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya

It sits on the banks of the western side of the Chao Praya river, a special setting.

A row of monks sit crosslegged on the wall in front of the river at dusk in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A row of monks sit crosslegged on the wall in front of the river at dusk in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The restoration work here is impressive, and still ongoing on some parts. The Khmer style central prang is reminiscent of the temples of Angkor and a wonderful sight. It’s surrounded by four smaller prangs, some headless seated Buddhas, and various outlying structures. You can walk all around the grounds and enjoy the view from every angle.

The central prang of Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A row of headless Buddha statues at Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The central prang of Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A row of headless Buddha statues at Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

There’s not much shade though, so visiting later in the day is a good idea in order to avoid the intense sun. Hang around for sunset and enjoy the changing colours in the sky and brickwork of the ruins themselves. A security guard will no doubt try to round you up before 6.30pm and direct you towards the exit. Instead, head to the wall running alongside the river.  As the blue hour sets in, flood lights illuminate the temple for a whole new perspective. At 7pm the final whistle will blow to usher you out. 

8am – 6.30pm

50 baht

  • The floodlit prangs of Wat Chaiwatthanaram at dusk in Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • The floodlit prangs of Wat Chaiwatthanaram at dusk in Ayutthaya, Thailand

BEST IN THE MORNING OR AFTERNOON

The following sites all have a bit of shade where you can escape the heat for a while, and ruins that can be viewed from all angles, so regarding the best light, the time of day for your visit isn’t quite as important .

Wat Ratchaburana

The large central prang here is different in style to others around Ayutthaya. Indian architectural influences can be seen, with large carvings and statues adorning each side. You can climb up the steep stairs and inside the prang, offering a great view over the complex and surrounding area. Look out for the bats in the dark room at the back! There’s a mural in the crypt, accessed via a staircase inside the prang, however it was closed for maintenance during our visit.

Detayls of the Indian influenced statues adorning the central prang of Wat Ratchaburana in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A large stone Buddha head sitting on the wall in front of a tree at Wat Ratchaburana in Ayuttahya, Thailand.

Detayls of the Indian influenced statues adorning the central prang of Wat Ratchaburana in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A large stone Buddha head sitting on the wall in front of a tree at Wat Ratchaburana in Ayuttahya, Thailand.

In the grounds, large Buddha heads are dotted around and leafy trees offer a bit of shade. Don’t miss the perfectly framed view of the central prang through the doorway of a ruined building near the entrance. 

8am – 6pm

50 baht

  • The central prang fo Wat Ratchaburana framed through the ruined front gate in Ayutthaya, Thailand
  • The central prang fo Wat Ratchaburana framed through the ruined front gate in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Wat Mahathat

Probably the most photographed and recognised Wat in all of Ayutthaya, thanks to its picturesque Buddha head entwined in the roots of a banyan tree. Centrally located and on everyone’s must-see list, this spot is perpetually busy. Besides the famous Buddha head (which is found in the southeast of the complex, facing north), there are a number of stupas, Buddhas and buildings to explore, all in various states of crumbly disrepair. There are nice shady spots to escape the sun, especially around the banyan tree Buddha head. As you should always be lower than the Buddha as a sign of respect, be sure to kneel when taking photos here. 

8am – 6pm

50 baht

A carved Buddha's head entwined in a banyan tree in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A buddha sits crosslegged among the trees and stone prangs in Wat Mahatat

A buddha with a yellow sash sits crosslegged in front of ruins at Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya

A buddha sits crosslegged among the trees and stone prangs in Wat Mahatat

A carved Buddha's head entwined in a banyan tree in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A buddha with a yellow sash sits crosslegged in front of ruins at Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya

Wat Phra Ram

This peaceful, shady complex doesn’t seem to draw quite the same crowds as others, despite being one of Ayutthaya’s most impressive wats. The tall central prang is splendid, with smaller stupas around. The Khmer style structures are in a good state of repair, and it’s the perfect spot to sit back and relax on the grass, taking in all the surrounding sights and sounds.  

8am – 6pm

50 baht

A person sits below a tall tree in the grounds of Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The central prang of Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The central prang of Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A person sits below a tall tree in the grounds of Wat Phra Ram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Wat Phutthai Sawan

This working temple on the southern bank of the Chao Phraya River houses a modern complex next to the original temple. There’s a bright white central prang, which is something different to see, however perhaps the most impressive sight is the reclining Buddha. It’s nowhere near as big as the one at Wat Lokayasutharam, but it’s attractively housed inside crumbling walls, with stone windows making the perfect frame through which to view it. You can walk inside the old walls, getting close to the Buddha, which faces northwest. We wouldn’t consider this a ‘must-see’, but if you have extra time during your visit then it’s a nice enough spot. 

Historical Section Open 8am – 5.30pm

The head and torso of a reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The head of a reclining Buddha through the window of a crumbling wall in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

The head and torso of a reclining Buddha in Ayutthaya, Thailand

The head of a reclining Buddha through the window of a crumbling wall in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

There are many more historical sites to visit and if you have a particular interest in Ayutthaya’s history and architecture, you could easily spend a week here wandering all over the city. We feel the sites outlined in this guide are the most spectacular places to start your explorations though, and ideal for a 2 day itinerary.

TOP TIP

You must dress respectfully when visiting these sites. That means covering your shoulders and knees, irrespective of gender. Opt for loose, long clothing which will be more comfortable in the heat and humidity.


GETTING AROUND

It’s perfectly possible to explore many of Ayutthaya’s best sights on foot, especially if you base yourself in central accommodation. Cycling is also popular, and there is no shortage of bike rental shops/stalls. If you’re short on time (or just prefer the less sweaty option) then hire a tuk-tuk for the day, or jump in one to reach the temples further afield. Tours are also an option, making life extra easy!

WALK

With the exception of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, Wat Chaiwatthanaram and Wat Phutthai Sawan, everywhere else mentioned in our Best of Ayutthaya section is easily walkable. We explored Ayutthaya on foot over two days, hiring a tuk-tuk to take us to the further away sights beyond the river. Walking will allow you to take it at an easy pace, wandering to and fro along the leafy paths of the Historical Park, maybe even spotting a monitor lizard or two!

Four dark pink water lily flowers rise from among the floating pads in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A monitor lizard crosses the path in the Ayutthaya Historical Park in Thailand

A monitor lizard crosses the path in the Ayutthaya Historical Park in Thailand

Four dark pink water lily flowers rise from among the floating pads in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

CYCLE

Bike rental is cheap and plentiful, costing around 50 baht a day.  Many people opt to cycle around Ayutthaya. We had originally planned to until we realised just how close most places were to walk. We also headed out exploring at the crack of dawn, before the bike rental shops were open, so just kind of never got round to hiring them. 

Most bikes come with a basket on the front and curved handlebars (much more tricky to ride if you ask me!). Your accommodation may hire them out, otherwise we saw numerous rental spots along Naresuan Road and elsewhere.

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TUK TUK

Tuk Tuks are readily available for hire throughout the city, with the option to hire one for a specific journey, or for the day. You can negotiate to a degree with the drivers, however there are standard fares outlined on boards at tuk tuk hubs so don’t expect to pay less than this. The going rate is approx 200 baht/hour per person, so this is definitely a more expensive sightseeing option, but not ridiculously so. 

A magenta tuk tuk carries passengers on the road past the ruined walls in front of Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A bright blue tuk tuk parked below a leafy green tree on the streets of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A bright blue tuk tuk parked below a leafy green tree on the streets of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

We chose to hire a tuk tuk to visit Wat Chaiwatthanaram on our first morning, negotiating a rate of 250 baht from near our accommodation (Stockhome Hostel) to the wat and back again (this included waiting for over an hour). The following day a trip to Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, Wat Phutthai Sawan, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram, then back to the Bang Lan Night Market (around 3 hours total) cost us 700 baht. We paid 100 baht from Ayutthaya Train Station to Stockhome Hostel.

TOURS

There are cycle, boat, train, tuk tuk and coach tour options for visiting Ayutthaya. Most of these are day trips from Bangkok, which we feel are a bit rushed, but if you’re short on time and keen to include Ayutthaya in your Thailand travel plans then they are a great option. You can peruse a range of tours, for all budgets, here

*Unfortunately elephant rides are offered at Ayutthaya Historical Park. Please don’t ride elephants here, or anywhere, as it supports and encourages animal cruelty*

WHERE TO EAT

If you’re spending a couple of days exploring Ayutthaya, it’s good to have some cafes and restaurants up your sleeve to rest at during the hottest part of the day. By night, you’ll no doubt be ready for a feast after all that exploring!

Coffee Old City

This is a great option for escaping the midday heat. Directly opposite Wat Mahathat, this central spot is a cool haven with friendly staff, fast service and great views. They serve good food, including veggie options, and very refreshing drinks. They have air conditioning inside, plus a few tables outside. It gets pretty busy in here, so best to head a little early around 11am to grab a good table. 

Monday  – Saturday

 8am – 5.30pm

A bowl of Pad See Ew on the table in Coffee Old City, Ayutthaya, Thailand

The table and lion sculpture outside Coffee Old City in Ayutthaya, Thailand

A bowl of Pad See Ew on the table in Coffee Old City, Ayutthaya, Thailand

The table and lion sculpture outside Coffee Old City in Ayutthaya, Thailand

ก๋วยเตี๋ยวแม่ปราณีรสเด็ด (Mae Pranee Boat Noodles)

This streetside local eatery, to the right of a Muay Thai boxing gym on Naresuan Road, is jam packed with locals every lunch time. The food here smells divine, alas, we never got the chance to taste it ourselves. But if there’s one thing we all know, a place that busy with locals must be good!

Daily 

8am – 4pm

Burinda

Burinda serves up super delicious Thai classics, with loads of veggie options and great smoothies. It’s cheap and the owner is really friendly, making this a welcoming spot whether you’re dining with others or flying solo. There’s a bunch of tables outside, with big fans to keep it breezy, and indoor tables too. Find it across the road from Wat Ratchaburana. 

Daily
10am – 9pm

A bowl of Pad Thai sitting on a bench in Burinda, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A bowl of Pad Thai sitting on a bench in Burinda, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Bang Lan Night Market

A trip to a night market is always a feast for the senses, and Ayutthaya’s main Bang Lan Night Market is no different. Bustling with food, clothes, toys and all sorts, head to the eastern end for sit-down food stalls, or pick up some takeaway and stroll while you eat. Whatever you decide on, don’t miss the one man show at the oyster omelette stall. Omelette Man is a master of his craft, expertly creating his delicious crispy oyster omelette to a soundtrack of Creedence, Neil Young, Lionel Ritchie & friends. He moves like an erratic dancer, with flicks and flashes here and there, tossing bean sprouts on his divided rounds of egg with exotic flair and panache. Mesmerising to watch and scrumptious to devour.

A close up of oyster omelete being cooked in a large flat metal pan at the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A man showing skill and enthusiasm while cooking oyster omelete in a huge pan outdoors at the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A man showing skill and enthusiasm while cooking oyster omelete in a huge pan outdoors at the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

A close up of oyster omelete being cooked in a large flat metal pan at the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

At the far end the second last stall does excellent hot pot, grilled crusted whole fish and smaller dishes like Tom Yum Goong and stir fry, with plenty of tables to sit out at.

Daily
4pm – 9pm

Two whole fish are turning on a spit over red hot charcoal a the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Two whole fish are turning on a spit over red hot charcoal a the Ban Lan Night Market in Ayutthaya, Thailand

WHERE TO SLEEP

There’s a variety of accommodation options to be had in Ayutthaya, from hostels to boutique pool resorts. There are loads of decent budget to mid-range places within walking distance of Ayutthaya Historical Park, mostly clustered around the streets to the east of Wat Mahathat. A few to check out are Zleepinezz Hostel, De Pumpkiin Hostel or Baan Luang Harn. We stayed at Stockhome Hostel, just a few doors down from De Pumpkin, and although the style was really nice the unwelcoming and unhelpful staff let it down. Baan Thai House is an attractive traditional wooden Thai resort close to the train station, and for something extra luxurious check out iuDia Hotel or Sala Ayutthaya, next door to each other on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, each offering spectacular views.

GETTING THERE

Ayutthaya is connected to Bangkok by road, rail and even river! It’s also a stop on the Bangkok – Chiang Mai railway route, making this an ideal place to stop off on your way to/from Northern Thailand.

TRAIN

Trains to Ayutthaya run regularly out of Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, trundling through scenic countryside for around 1.5 hours. If you’re travelling independently (as opposed to an organised tour) then the train is probably the easiest, cheapest and fastest option. Tickets can be bought on arrival, with prices starting at as little as 15 baht for 3rd class. Tuk Tuks wait at the station in Ayutthaya at all times of day, ready to whisk you to your accommodation or straight to the sights.

BUS

Buses run from Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok, but unless you happen to be staying near here, the train station is more convenient to get to. Minivans also run to and from Ayutthaya from Victory Monument in Bangkok. Find out more and book tickets on Rome2Rio.

BOAT

If you’re keen to cruise around Ayutthaya along the Chao Phraya, booking a tour is the best way. You can search a number of options here.

THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO AYUTTHAYA

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to Ayutthaya and find it useful in planning your own trip. Happy sightseeing, and if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.

The sun is setting behind the trees in the Ayutthaya Historical Park

The sun is setting behind the trees in the Ayutthaya Historical Park

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Incredible architecture, history & culture, a mere 90 minutes from Bangkok! Ayutthaya is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the best places to visit in Thailand. In this detailed guide we cover the best temples to visit, how to get around, where to eat and sleep, plus how best to get there. We\'ve put together the ideal 2 day itinerary for Ayutthaya, telling you exactly where to go from sunrise to sunset, following all the best light.  #Thailand
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