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Planning a Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary can be perplexing. The city is sprawling, sweltering and swarming with motorbikes. Sorting out what to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is complicated enough – but visitors are also tasked with deciding how long to spend in HCMC, what part of the city to stay in and where to find the best Vietnamese food. Put your worries to rest! Our Saigon travel itinerary covers all the details for planning a perfect trip to HCMC, Vietnam.
Your Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary: Where To Start
On our first trip to Vietnam, we bypassed HCMC. Other travelers made the city seem inhospitable and utterly confusing. We simply were not up to the seemingly complicated task of figuring out what to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City. However, it was a decision that we came to regret; we missed out on some of Vietnam’s most iconic sights and legendary local cuisine.
On a return trip to Vietnam, we made visiting HCMC a priority. We carefully considered the details of our Saigon visit – including how long to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, which district to stay in, how best to see the HCMC sights and where to find the best places to eat.
How Many Days In Ho Chi Minh City?
Our biggest decision was determining how many days to spend in Ho Chi Minh City. We were visiting HCMC as part of a larger Vietnam Itinerary and had many other destinations to consider. That said, we knew we couldn’t fit everything we wanted to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City in a day – and we quickly realized even two days in Ho Chi Minh was not enough.
We settled on spending 4 days in Ho Chi Minh City…then extended it one more day. With ample time, we were able to explore the top Saigon attractions, discover lesser-visited HCMC neighborhoods and feast on delicious Vietnamese food. That said, 5 days took up a lot of space in our 2 week Vietnam itinerary – and, in hindsight, three days in HCMC would have been enough to see the main Saigon sights.
3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City
We think 3 days in HCMC is ideal for visitors who want to experience the city highlights – especially for travelers who also want to see other parts of Vietnam. Visitors can squeeze in the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh in 3 days before moving on to other nearby destinations. However, things can often take longer than expected in Vietnam, so a well-planned Ho Chi Minh City 3 Days Itinerary is necessary to ensure the best sights are not missed.
More or Less Time in HCMC
How long to stay in Ho Chi Minh City is ultimately determined by how many days are allotted for your overall Vietnam trip (or SE Asia Itinerary). Other factors to consider are personal interests and budget. While we think three days in Ho Chi Minh is the perfect amount of time, we understand that some travelers may be limited to only 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City, while others may want to take their time. Therefore, at the end of our Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary blog post, we offer suggestions for how to plan for shorter – and longer! – stays in HCMC.
3-Day Ho Chi Minh Itinerary
Our HCMC Itinerary outlines 3 perfect days in Ho Chi Minh City. It is filled to the brim with top Ho Chi Minh City activities and adventures. Organized day-by-day, we include essential city sightseeing and the top places to eat. Additionally, we offer tips on what to do in Ho Chi Minh City at night – from rooftop bars to the infamous Beer Street to Saigon craft beers. At the end of the post, we include important information – like how to get there, where to stay and what to pack.
Save, Pin or Bookmark our Ho Chi Minh City Travel Itinerary for everything you need to plan your HCMC trip!
Before jumping into what to do in Ho Chi Minh for 3 days, it is essential to have a basic understanding of the history of the city. Knowledge of the city timeline is invaluable when it comes to sightseeing.
Origins of the city date to the 11th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that the area was populated by Vietnamese people and the city was named Saigon. During the 19th century, the city (and country) was colonized by the French – and they built a slew of French-inspired structures throughout Saigon.
The year 1945 kicked off a series of wars that extended far beyond Vietnam’s borders. In the First Indochina War, the northern Viet Minh – a nationalist group led by communist Ho Chi Minh – fought for independence from the French; both sides were supported by foreign countries. The nearly 10-year war ended with the Geneva Convention Peace Accords, which essentially split Vietnam into North and South.
The division spurred the Second Indochina War, widely known as the Vietnam War (or the American War to the Vietnamese), which was fought between the communist North and US-supported South (of which Saigon was the capital). The war raged on within the county for almost 20 years, until the North Vietnamese Army took control of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Vietnam was reunited as a single country, officially named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Hanoi became the capital city and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the late leader.
Now that we covered the basic timeline of the city, it’s time to dive into our 3 Day Itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!
DAY 1 in HCMC
After getting checked into your accommodations (more on where to stay at the end of the post!), start your 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City by seeing the top city sights. In the evening, enjoy happy hour drinks with a view, then dine on classic Vietnamese cuisine at a popular street market. End the night by sampling innovative craft beers.
Essential HCMC Sightseeing
First things first: get acquainted with Saigon on a city walk. The top city sights are located in District 1 – and are easy to explore on foot. The Ben Thanh Market, City Hall, Post Office and Independence Palace are just a few of the must-see sights.
Visitors can use our easy-to-follow Self-Guided Saigon Walking Tour to Ho Chi Minh City Attractions. Our Ho Chi Minh Tour Itinerary Walk includes sight details, step-by-step directions and a map, too!
Visitors who would rather join a guide for an introduction to the city sights can book a walk with a Private Tour Guide.
Break for Lunch at Propaganda Bistro
Dine on HCMC cuisine at the upscale and modern Propaganda Bistro. The restaurant features Vietnamese home cooking with a hipster touch. The interior is colorfully decorated with historic propaganda wall art murals. We highly recommend ordering the famous fresh spring rolls and an herbal infused iced tea.
Independence Palace Tour
Spend the afternoon touring the iconic Independence Palace – or Reunification Hall, as it is now often called. A ticket is required to visit the palace (open daily, but closed mid-day from 11am-1pm), but once inside tourists are free to enjoy the museum on their own. Informational audio guides are available, too. Take time to see the well-preserved palace – and don’t miss the rooftop helipad…or the underground command bunker and war rooms.
Saigon Rooftop Drinks
As the sun starts to sink toward the horizon, head up to one of Saigon’s rooftop bars. While there are many to choose from, we think a drink at a classic rooftop bar – like Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar at Hotel Caravelle or the Rooftop Garden at Rex Hotel – is a good choice. Both HCMC rooftop bars are steeped in history and were popular haunts for American journalists during the Vietnam War.
Dinner at Ben Thanh Street Food Market
For a first taste of the famous HCMC street food, feast on the fare at the jovial and lively Ben Thanh Street Food Market. The open-air food hall features dozens of vendors all under one roof. Offering a wide range of classic Vietnamese cuisine, we encourage visitors to try more than one dish!
Sip Saigon Craft Beer
Craft beer in Saigon is absolutely taking off, and it has added a compelling twist to Ho Chi Minh City nightlife. Visitors can savor the unique flavor combinations brew masters have created by utilizing local Vietnamese ingredients. Finish your first night sipping locally brewed craft beers at one of the numerous taprooms in HCMC District 1.
Pro Tips: Use our Saigon Beer Guide and design your own bar-hopping craft beer tour!
DAY 2 in Ho Chi Minh City
On the second day of your Ho Chi Minh City 3-Day Itinerary, learn more about the Vietnam conflicts and their lasting impact on the country. Relax in a city park before exploring the sights of the Backpacker-favorite enclave in the west end of HCMC District 1.
Learn about Vietnam Wars
Start your day at the War Remnants Museum, which details a timeline of the two wars – the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War – that raged in Vietnam for nearly 30 years. Although presented from one side (that of North Vietnam), the museum is both intriguing and harrowing. An entry fee is required to see the exhibits and keep in mind that the ticket window closes mid-day for lunch.
Next, visit the chilling Thich Quang Duc Monument – another place to grapple with the complexity of the Vietnam conflicts. The monument marks the spot where a protesting Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, lit himself on fire and burned to death in 1963. Read the full story here.
From the monument steps, stare in awe at the cacophony mess of motor scooters that buzz down Cach Mang Thang Tam Street. Escape the madness in nearby Tao Dan Park – the HCMC’s best park and an excellent place to reflect on the events that took place in Saigon not so long ago.
Late Lunch at Huynh Hoa Banh Mi
If you can hold off on eating lunch until 2:30pm, join the queue at Huynh Hoa, where they make the absolute best Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh City (but only from mid-afternoon until late night). Stuffed with cold cuts, pate and veggies, the delectable Banh Mi sandwiches are assembled lickety-split (so even when the line is really long, it moves pretty fast!).
Pro Tip: Use our Saigon Food Guide to HCMC’s best restaurants!
HCMC District 1 West End Attractions
The west end of Saigon District 1 is heavily favored by backpackers; it is packed with hotels, restaurants and bars – and is well-known party mecca. However, during the day, there are a few worthwhile sights to check out, too!
Walk west along the fashionable Nguyen Trai shopping street lined with boutiques and name-brand stores to Huyen Si Church. Although not nearly as famous as the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, the old church is worth a quick peek. Next, pop into the Thai Binh Market – a local market that is a true feast for the senses.
While there is still some light left in the day, explore the narrow alleys that lie between Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien Street. Observe how the locals have transformed their homes into cafes, accommodations and shops. Before it gets dark, walk the length of Bui Vien Street, then watch the sunset from The View Rooftop Bar (and take advantage of their great happy hour cocktail specials).
Pro Tip: Find details for these sights and more in our Guide of Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City!
Dinner: Pho Quynh or Bun Cha 145
Choosing where to eat in the HCMC Backpacker area is overwhelming; there is a staggering number of restaurants. Options range from high-priced international fare to cheap eats from street vendors. However, even in the heavily touristic area, we recommend eating like the locals and slurping up noodles from a bowl. Our top picks for Vietnamese noodle dishes are Pho and Bun Cha…and our two favorite HCMC restaurants specializing in these dishes – the popular Bun Cha 145 and local institution Pho Quynh – are in the west end of District 1.
Backpacker Street: Bui Vien after Dark
With a full stomach (and a good base for a night of drinking), enjoy a night of revelry. Drink cheap beer from low plastic stools or dance the night away in a HCMC night club. Whatever you do, keep your wits about you…Bui Vien Street is notorious for petty theft and crime. Not into slugging beers and thumping music? At least take a stroll down the infamous street to observe the madness.
Pro Tip: If you need a late-night snack and are staying closer to the center of District 1, stop by the Banh Mi 37 food stall for a tasty pork patty sandwich.
DAY 3 in HCMC
On the last day of your Ho Chi Minh trip itinerary, delve into lesser-visited neighborhoods then take a boat ride on the Saigon River to see the city from a different vantage point. Before the day is over, soar to the Saigon Skydeck for a final phenomenal city view and then treat yourself to a spectacular Vietnamese home cooked dinner.
HCMC District 1 East End Attractions
Start your final day in Ho Chi Minh City with an Iced Coconut Coffee from Cong Ca Phe at Turtle Lake; it’s not really a lake, but an unadorned 1960s fountain in the middle of a busy roundabout ringed with cafes. Once properly caffeinated, head to the east end of HCMC District 1 to the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda. Famous for its colorful décor and intricate detailing, the Taoist Temple does, in fact, have a pond with turtles in it.
Walk through the less-congested neighborhood to Le Van Tam Park, a popular place for locals to exercise and practice Tai Chi. Next, visit the pastel pink Tan Dinh Church and then navigate your way through the Tan Dinh Market, which is known for selling textiles and traditional ao dai.
Local Lunch at Banh Xeo 46A
For lunch, make your way to the side-street restaurant, Banh Xeo 46A – a place made famous when Anthony Bourdain dined there. The signature dish – Banh Xeo – is a giant sizzling savory pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and scallions. Use your chopsticks to break the pancake into pieces, then roll them into lettuce leaves along with herbs and dip it into the sauce for an amazing and perfectly balanced bite.
Afternoon Adventure: Saigon Waterbus or Chinatown
After your filling lunch, go on a little adventure beyond District 1. For a lazy afternoon, skip down to the riverside and hop on the Saigon Waterbus ferry. Grab a window seat in the air conditioning; ride all the way to the last stop taking in the landscape views…then ride back! Find the details on their website.
Alternatively, for more ambitious sightseeing, spend the afternoon in nearby Chinatown. Located west of the city center, the HCMC Chinatown dates to the late 1700s and features temples, markets and Chinese cuisine.
Pro Tip: Looking for other ways to escape the heat? Spend the afternoon at a pool! Several HCMC hotels offer day passes to non-guests who want to take a swim.
Sunset at Saigon Skydeck
By late afternoon – before the sun sets – soar to the Saigon Skydeck. Take in the 360-degree views of the sprawling city. Then, as the sun goes down, watch as the city lights up. Visitors can also stop by the EON51 Heli Bar for a drink (a really expensive drink) with a view.
A Vietnamese Meal at Den Long Home Cooked
Make your final meal in HCMC a memorable one with dinner at Den Long Home Cooked. Everything about the restaurant is top-notch – from the waitstaff to the food to the ambiance.
Day Trips From Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Our Ho Chi Minh Itinerary details the best way to spend 3 days in the city. However, there are popular Ho Chi Minh day trips that some visitors may want to add to their tour itinerary. To include these Ho Chi Minh City day trips, visitors can extend their stay or rearrange our day-by-day guide of what to do in Ho Chi Minh City with 3 days to fit in your desired day trip.
Cu Chi Tunnels
Regarded as one of the best day trips from Ho Chi Minh City, the Cu Chi Tunnels are located 60km north of the city. The network of underground tunnels was used by the Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War; today, visitors can enter the tunnels to experience what it was like for the soldiers. Tour buses depart from District 1 and include English-speaking tour guides to help explain the history. Find out more!
Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh
A Mekong Delta tour from Ho Chi Minh City is a good way to get out of the city and see more of the rural surroundings. Tour participants can learn about life along the Mekong River and locally made Vietnamese products. The tour includes transportation, an English-speaking guide, a boat cruise, island tour and buffet lunch. Get the details!
COMBO TOUR: Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta
Join a VIP Cu Chi Tunnels AND Mekong Delta Tour in a full day tour to both top sights! Reserve your seat!
Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary Suggestions: How many days in Saigon?
We think our Ho Chi Minh 3-Day Itinerary is the perfect amount of time to spend in HCMC. But what if you are trying to see Ho Chi Minh in a day or only have a weekend in Ho Chi Minh City? Below we provide tips for how to create a Ho Chi Minh One-Day Itinerary – as well as our recommendations for a Saigon Travel Itinerary for 5 days.
One Day in Ho Chi Minh City
A Ho Chi Minh one-day trip will be very limiting – but if 1 day in Ho Chi Minh City is all you have, we recommend making the most of it! By sticking to the District 1 central sights, visitors can actually cover some ground and take in the top city attractions. On a one-day trip in Ho Chi Minh, we suggest using our Self-Guided Walking Tour to see the sights. Then, take time to tour the Presidential Palace and visit the War Remnants Museum. If time allows, we also recommend going up the Bitexco Tower to the Saigon Skydeck.
Ho Chi Minh City Tour 1 Day
Alternatively, visitors could leave the hassle of planning to a pro and join a Ho Chi Minh one-day tour. An efficient sightseeing One-Day Tour in Ho Chi Minh City should include city sights, Chinatown, Independence Palace, War Remnants Museum and more! See what’s included in this tour!
Ho Chi Minh Itinerary 2 Days
With 2 days in Ho Chi Minh City visitors will be able to see and do a lot more! Our best advice for what to do in Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days is to simply follow Days 1 and 2 of our detailed HCMC 3-Day Itinerary as outlined above. Ambitious travelers, however, could try to fit in a few more sights from Day 3 – like the Saigon Skydeck.
Alternatively, travelers could create a jam-packed Ho Chi Minh City 2-Day Itinerary of all the top city sights by taking tours. On Day 1, join a full-day city tour (details here!) and on the second day, take the Combo VIP Tour to Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta.
HCMC Itinerary 4 Days
With 4 days in Ho Chi Minh visitors have ample time see both the sights and the surrounding region! For an ideal 4 Days Itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend using our suggested itinerary for 3 days in HCMC, then on the last day, take the Combo VIP tour to the war tunnels and Mighty Mekong River.
Alternatively, travelers not interested in taking a tour could spend the last day in the city discovering the sights in Chinatown and District 5.
Ho Chi Minh Itinerary 5 Days
With 5 days in Ho Chi Minh City visitors have plenty of time to really see the city. To create a Ho Chi Minh City Itinerary for 5 days, we recommend using our outlined 3-Day Itinerary in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the first three days. On Day 4, take the VIP Combo Tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. Then, on the last day, spend the day in Chinatown.
Ho Chi Minh City Tips
We have a few helpful planning tips for your itinerary to Ho Chi Minh City!
HCMC Hours, Tickets and Prices
One of the frustrations we encountered when planning our Ho Chi Minh Itinerary was conflicting information. Finding accurate opening hours and ticket information is often a challenge. This, obviously, can cause an issue when trying to plan a succinct sightseeing schedule. We often consulted multiple online sources in an attempt to find correct open hours…and often found they were all incorrect. Unfortunately, it is just the way it is in Vietnam…so our best advice is to just go with the flow and allow for a bit of flexibility in your plans.
HCMC Traffic, Scooters and Crossing the Street in Saigon
The legendary traffic and motorbike pandemonium in Saigon is no joke. Cars and scooters jostle for the best position (the cars always win) and every inch of road – and sometimes sidewalks – are utilized in traffic patterns. Visitors to HCMC need to be vigilant when walking the street of Saigon.
The key to successfully crossing the street is to walk confidently and steadily while making eye contact with on coming drivers. Don’t just step into traffic; wait for a break, then look both ways (even on one-way streets!) and keep a consistent pace; drivers will go around you…but only if they can predict your speed. If walking with another person or a group of people, it is best to cross the street side-by-side so that scooter drivers don’t have to weave around multiple people. To better get the hang of it, we recommend watching how locals do it…and cross at the same time they do, even if they aren’t going where you want to go!
Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi?
We would be hard pressed to choose one city over the other – they are both fascinating and dramatically different! If you’re also traveling to Hanoi, be sure to read our best tips on visiting Hanoi, Vietnam, and check out our comprehensive Hanoi Itinerary.
Where To Stay In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
There are literally thousands of places to stay in Saigon. From high-end Ho Chi Minh City resorts to no-frills hostels. We think the best place to stay in Ho Chi Minh is in District 1 (but we recommend avoiding the west end backpacker district). Relatively speaking, hotels in Ho Chi Minh City are very affordable – and visitors of all budgets should be able to find reasonable accommodations.
During our HCMC visit, we stayed in the Boholand Hostel and Cafe, which is on a quiet alley off a main street (and is not to be confused with their nearby sister property, which is simply Boholand Hostel). The small boutique hotel features private rooms with ensuite bathrooms at affordable rates (we paid less than $40 USD per night).
Decorated with a colorful bohemian flair, the hotel offers clean and comfortable rooms and an outdoor community rooftop lounge. A homemade breakfast is included in the room price and features local specialties and traditional Vietnamese coffee. The highlight of staying at Boholand Hostel and Café, however, is the owner, Ms. Ana, who always has time for a chat (her English is incredible!) and is happy to provide recommendations or make tour arrangements for guests. Book it now!
Ho Chi Minh City Hotels
While Boholand Hostel and Café was perfect for our stay, there are a limited rooms and it books up fast – and we understand other travelers may be looking for different accommodations. Although we have not stayed at the following places, they get rave reviews from fellow travelers.
Grand Hotel Saigon
The luxury Grand Hotel is a located in a historic French Colonial building in the center of Saigon. Top features include historic rooms, two restaurants, a spa and an outdoor swimming pool. A buffet breakfast is also included in the price. Check rates and availability!
Golden Central Hotel Saigon
A modern high-rise hotel located next to the Ben Thanh Market, Golden Central Hotel is ideally located within walking distance to many attractions. One of the top perks of the hotel is the rooftop pool. Check rates and availability!
Ho Chi Minh City Hostels
Hostels in HCMC are extremely inexpensive; beds in some places cost less than $5 USD. Hostels that charge a little more offer usually come with better amenities. Happy Saigon Hostel Ho Chi Minh is a highly-rate hostel located in the Backpacker District near Bui Vien Street. The hostel offers mixed-room dorm beds for less than $15 USD and includes breakfast. Read the rave reviews!
Ho Chi Minh Airport Hotel
Visitors transiting through HCMC can find affordable hotels near the airport, where there are familiar international brand hotels, like Ibis Saigon. Check availability!
Getting To HCMC
The city can be reached by plane, train or bus. We like to fly – we are JetSetting Fools, after all! – and most flights to the city arrive to the main airport, Tan Son Nhat International Airport. With flights to top destinations in Asia, Europe and Australia, the Tan Son Nhat HCMC Airport is the biggest in the country. For our visits to HCMC we have flown to/from Siem Reap, Da Lat, Phu Quoc and Da Nang. The Ho Chi Minh City Airport Code is SGN and always start your search for the best flight fares on SkyScanner!
Ho Chi Minh Airport Transfer
The Ho Chi Minh City Airport is located north of the city center. There are taxis at the airport, but visitors can pre-book their ride into the city online to lock in the rate.
Getting Around: How To Travel In Ho Chi Minh City
Our preferred method of getting around any city is with our own two feet! However, in HCMC, sights are spread across the city and the heat can be unbearable. While it is possible to see the central sights on a HCMC walking tour, we recommend using Grab taxis to get to different parts of the city. Rides are inexpensive – usually just a couple of dollars – and using the Grab App eliminates any miscommunication regarding destination (as you enter the information into the app yourself). Download and set up the Grab App prior to your trip!
We think having an internet connection is essential while visiting Vietnam! Not only is it useful for directions while sightseeing, but an internet connection is also required to use the Grab App for taxi transport. We travel with a GlocalMe Mobile WiFi Hotspot, which we love! With the hotspot, we can either use SIM cards or purchase data plans online and we can connect up to ten devices at one time (which makes it perfect for groups or families traveling together).
Visitors who want to purchase a SIM card can purchase an unlimited data SIM card in advance of their trip to HCMC, which can then be picked up either at the airport or delivered to your hotel.
Ho Chi Minh City Weather
The weather in Ho Chi Minh City is almost always hot and humid. On average, high temperatures are in the upper 80s or low 90s Fahrenheit year-round, with overnight lows only falling into the 70s. The rainy season is in the summer, and winter months see little precipitation.
What To Pack For HCMC
City sightseeing is best done in clothing that is loose and breathable. I like to wear summer dresses – and Kris wears T-shirts and shorts. Flip Flops are fine for city exploration. Just remember to bring sunscreen, sunglasses or a wide-brimmed travel hat. And, if traveling during the summer, a travel umbrella or packable raincoat is a necessity!
Ho Chi Minh City is well-known for petty crime. Pickpockets and thieves target tourists, so it is best to keep valuables hidden in zippered pockets or concealed beneath clothes. I carry my favorite day bag, a Timbuk2 Messenger Bag, which has zipped compartments where can stow away my money, devices and camera. When out at night – especially when in Bui Vien – Kris wore a money belt to keep his cash tucked away and I wore a Bra Stash. Visitors may also want to invest in a specifically-designed anti-theft bag – like the ones from Travelon.
Ho Chi Minh City Map
Ho Chi Minh City is a massive metropolis. Sightseeing is a lot more enjoyable for visitors if they understand the layout before their trip. We recommend purchasing a HCMC Map – like this one on Amazon – prior to arriving in Vietnam.
We would never travel without insurance! Not only does travel insurance protect against cancellations, theft and lost luggage, but it also helps when travelers get injured or become ill when abroad. Check rates and coverage for your trip on World Nomads.
We Want To Know: How would you spend 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City? Is there anything you would add – or take out of – our Ho Chi Minh Itinerary? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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