King Rama V overlooks Dusit
Dusit (Thai: ดุสิต) is a leafy, European-style area that is the political centre of Thailand. Its development dates back to the early 1900s, when King Rama V built the Dusit Palace, a complex of palaces and royal residences he created to escape the heat and chaos of the Grand Palace. The seat of power to this day, there are numerous political institutions, international organisations and royal palaces spread throughout.
King Rama V was the first Thai monarch to visit Europe. He was very impressed with what he had seen there, and came up with some drastic ideas to make Bangkok ready for the 20th century. Rattanakosin was a cramped district with many waterways, as opposed to Europe where broad avenues dominated cities like Paris and London. King Rama V decided that most of the original canals in Rattanakosin had to disappear in favour of roads for horse carriages. But this was only the beginning; King Rama V started designing a completely new district from scratch that had to become the "new royal city", a district with grandeur, wide avenues and a leafy, European feel. The result of this process is Dusit.
The best example of this modernization process is the Dusit Palace. It is a massive complex of royal residences and palaces in many different styles, some of them with a European feel. The Italian Renaissance-style Anantasamakhom Throne Hall dominates the stage, and right in front of it in the middle of a wide avenue stands the King Rama V Equastrian Statue, a large statue of the King himself that is beautifully adorned with garlands on Chulalongkorn Day (October 23). King Rama V is still popular among the Thai people and his modernization strategy is credited with having saved Siam from Western colonization.
It is the seat of power to this day with nearly all of Thailand's decision-making institutions within its boundaries. Near the Dusit Palace is the National Assembly, a modern building that is the parliament of the country. South of it lies the Venetian Gothic-style Government House, which is mostly used for state ceremonies, and can only be visited once a year on Children's Day (January 9). The Chitralada Palace, the official residence of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, lies just east of the Dusit Palace.
A good day to catch the stately feel of the district is at December 2, when Dusit hosts the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony. Hundreds of officers of the Royal Guard demonstrate their allegiance to the King by parading around Suan Amporn, which is right next to King Rama V's statue.
Dusit is not particularly easy to reach by public transport. The Chao Phraya Express Boat serves the district, but it is still quite a hike towards the Dusit Palace from the pier. There are plenty of bus lines going through, but we all know what a hassle that is. If you're too lazy to cope with this all, you might just want to go by taxi, which is by far the easiest option. It's close to the library which my be helpful in getting taxi drivers to understand where you want to go.
You can enter Dusit using the Chao Phraya Express Boat service. Thewet pier is technically just over the edge in Rattanakosin, but is an excellent entry point into the southwestern area of Dusit. From there, it is a 20 minutes walk to the Dusit Palace.
Orange flag boats connect Thewet with Tha Chang pier (if you're coming from the Grand Palace) and Phra Athit pier (if you're coming from Khao San Road). From downtown, you can take the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station and transfer onto the express boat. A single trip from Sathorn (Taksin) in Silom to Thewet takes about 40 minutes and costs 13 baht. You can take any express boat, as Thewet is one of the most important stops in Rattanakosin, but the yellow flag line is the fastest one.
There are some other express boat piers in Dusit, but they are far off the interesting sights.
If you're coming from the Old City, ordinary and air-conditioned bus 70 runs directly to the Dusit Palace. Get on it at Sanam Luang if you happen to be around the Grand Palace, or get on at Ratchadamnoen Klang Road if you live around Khao San Road. Get off outside the Royal Elephant National Museum at Uthong Nai Road. To be sure, ask one the locals where to get off, or you might go too far.
From downtown, take the Skytrain to Victory Monument station. There you can take air-conditioned bus 515 that goes straight to the Dusit Palace over Ratchawithi Road. If this is too much hassle, you can take a metred taxi instead.
The Dusit Palace (Thai: พระราชวังดุสิต) , sometimes called New Royal City, Dusit Park, Dusit Garden, or simply "Dusit", is a complex of palaces and royal residences in the south of the Dusit district. The palace was established by King Rama V, the first Thai monarch to visit Europe. He was impressed by the royal parks and residences he had seen there, which were leafy, relaxed, spacious and cool, as opposed to the Grand Palace, which was cramped with buildings for his numerous wives, children and servants. These buildings blocked the air flow inside the Grand Palace, which turned the heat up remarkably. As a substitute, King Rama V started building the Dusit Palace.
The main structure is the Vimanmek Mansion, touted as the world's largest golden teakwood residence and the former home of King Rama V. Get a ticket for 100 baht at the northwestern side of the palace grounds, or enter for free if you still have the Grand Palace entry ticket (remains valid for a week). You can visit all the museums on the palace grounds with one ticket, except the Anantasamakhom Throne Hall and the Royal Elephant National Museum which set back a separate 50 baht. Keep in mind that the same dress codes apply here as in the Grand Palace, so leave shorts and sleeveless shirts in your hotel room. You must store your belongings in a locker before entering each museum. It's free everywhere, except at the Vimanmek Mansion, so if you're on a stringent budget, go to another museum first and leave your belongings there. The palace grounds are open from 09:30 till 16:00, but the last (compulsory) tour of the Vimanmek Mansion starts around 15:15. Some of the smaller museums close at 15:30. Allow a full morning and afternoon if you want to see all the buildings and museums. Also make sure you get a map when buying the ticket, as the palace grounds are large and hard to navigate without a map.
Vimanmek Mansion Museum
Belonging to the Vimanmek Mansion Museum are the residential halls that can be visited using the Vimanmek Mansion entry ticket. In order of visit:
- Vimanmek Mansion (พระที่นั่งวิมานเมฆ), ☎ +66 2 628-6300. Touted as the world's largest golden teak building, this palace was the home of King Rama V in the early 20th century. It was originally a summer retreat on the island of Ko Si Chang, but has been transported to Bangkok in small parts in 1901. A guided tour is compulsory and tells you all about the life of King Rama V, and about his collection of fin de siecle royal memorabilia placed inside the building. As King Rama V tried to modernise Thailand along European lines, you can also see the first Thai indoor bathroom, the first typewriter with Thai characters and some of the first portrait paintings of Thailand.
Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall
- Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall (SUPPORT Museum). Built in the year 1904, this beautiful hall was formerly used for royal meetings and banquets. Its exterior is unique as it is clearly a mix of Victorian and Islamic influences. Home to the largest part of HM Queen Sirikit's SUPPORT Museum, it shows a collection of handicraft masterpieces created by skillful people from the countryside. Some of the items on show are handbags, baskets, pots, jewellery, figurines and silk, all created using traditional techniques. HM Queen Sirikit set up this foundation to preserve and revitalise these traditional Thai handicrafts and techniques, as demand for them has significantly lowered in modern Thai society.
- H.M. King Bhumibol's Photographic Museum No. 2 (HRH Princess Bussaban Bua-Phan Residential Hall). Besides being the current King of Thailand, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is also a photographer. Some of his works are on display in this building, that used to be the residence of HRH Princess Bussaban Bua-Phan, a sister of King Rama V. The collection includes pictures of the King playing music and pictures showing HM Queen Sirikit and other members of the royal family.
- H.M. King Bhumibol's Photographic Museum No. 1 (HRH Princess Arun-Wadi Residential Hall). This two-storey-building was built by King Rama V for his sister HRH Princess Arun-Wadi. The residence has been turned into a photo museum showing pictures taken by the current King of Thailand, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The photos here show projects HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej has supported to improve the conditions of the people living in poorer parts of the country.
- Ancient Clock Museum (HRH Princess Puang Soi Sa-Ang Residential Hall). This is a two-storey brick house that King Rama V built for his sister HRH Princess Puang Soi Sa-Ang. It is close to the other three residential halls that were built for his other sisters. The residence has been turned into a museum displaying old clocks and timepieces. The ground floor has 19th-century antique clocks on display from the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. The rooms upstairs display an art collection, royal gifts and souvenirs of King Rama V.
- Ancient Cloth and Silk Museum (HRH Princess Orathai Thep Kanya Residential Hall). This is the fourth royal residence King Rama V has created for one of his sisters, and it is slightly larger than the other three. It has been the residence of HRH Princess Orathai Thep Kanya. Now there are plenty of rare fabrics and textiles on display here that were used during the reigns of King Rama IV and King Rama V. These textiles are around 150 years old. The SUPPORT Foundation also has modern pieces of textiles on show, which have been woven using traditional methods, but come from the 21st-century.
- Prehistoric Ban Chiang Pottery Museum (Krom Luang Vorased Thasuda Residential Hall). This small brick building was the home of Princess Bootri, a daughter of King Rama III. King Rama V considered her his grandmother, as she raised Princess Phra Thepsirin who is the mother of King Rama V. Now it has prehistoric pottery from the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site on show here. This site in Northern Isaan was discovered in 1966 by Stephan Young, and is considered one of the most important prehistoric sites of Southeast Asia. The artifacts on show are thus from a civilization that has existed between 3600 BC and 200 AD.
- Paraphernalia of High Rank Hall No. 1 (Suan Farang Kangsai Residential Hall). This is the former residence of Phra Raja Jaya Dara Rasmi, the daughter of the Prince of Chiang Mai and a consort of King Rama V. The building was completed in 1909. Now it displays some personal paraphernalia of King Rama V, including oil paintings that are about 100 years old. Other items on show are pottery from all over the world (such as China, Germany and the United Kingdom) and old European oil lamps.
- Royal Ceremonial Photography Museum (Suan Hong Residential Hall). This two-storey wooden building is the first one you encounter if you enter the complex from its northern entrance. It previously was the residence of Queen Savang Vadhana, the grandmother of King Rama V. It now houses photos and models of the royal barges that are used in the beautiful Royal Barge Ceremony. If you want to see the royal barges yourself, you can visit the Royal Barges National Museum in Thonburi.
- Royal Carriage Museum (Royal Carriage Buildings No. 1 and 3). As King Rama V wanted to modernise Thailand along European lines, he filled up many of the traditional canals and turned them into roads, so horse carriages could be used. It was recorded that 2698 horse carriages were used in Bangkok by 1925. These buildings show off 23 royal carriages that have been used since the late 19th-century. The museum has been opened in 1991 on the 60th birthday of HM Queen Sirikit. It is the only museum where taking pictures is allowed.
- Paraphernalia of High Rank Hall No. 2. Another building that houses a large collection of royal paraphernalia. On show is a royal palanquin with four gables and an ornate roof and palanquins that were used for the ladies of the court.
- HM King Bhumibol Collection Museum No. 2 (Suan Bua Residential Hall). The former residence of Princess Saisavali Bhiromya, the royal consort of King Chulalongkorn. On display is a large collection of Buddha statues and photographs from the reign of King Chulalongkorn. Gifts H.M. King Bhumibol received on state visits to other countries can also be seen.
- The Presentation Hall (Suan Bua Plew). This hall features a multimedia slideshow about the history of the Dusit Palace. It also gives an overview of the different residential halls and their exhibits, so you can more easily decide which ones you want to visit. There's also a collection of pictures showing the Vimanmek Mansion beautifully illuminated at night.
- Pottery from Shipwrecks Museum (Tamnak Ho Residential Hall). Tamnak Ho was residence built in 1903 for the wedding of Prince Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, the Prince of Nakhon Sawan and son of King Rama V. It was originally built within the grounds of the Bang Khun Phrom Palace, but when the Bank of Thailand took office there, the building was moved to the Sukhothai Palace in 1985. Another move happened in 1998, when HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej dismantled the building and moved it to the Dusit Palace. Now the hall displays pottery from the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, which were recovered in 1976 from underwater shipwrecks at the bottom of the Gulf of Thailand (at the coast of the provinces of Rayong and Chantaburi). It is believed that these ships were Chinese and Vietnamese trade junks from the 15th to the 18th century.
- HM King Bhumibol Collection Museum No. 1 (Suan Si Rue Du Residential Hall). This hall is a former residence of HM Queen Saovabha and HRH Princess Valaya Alongkorn, who is HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej's aunt. The Princess Mother has also lived here in her childhood times. On display are gifts and art objects HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej received on the 50th anniversary of his ascension to throne in 1996.
- HM King Bhumibol's Oil Paintings Museum (Suan Kularb Residential Hall). This used to be the residence of HRH Prince Asdang Dejavudh, a son of King Rama V and Queen Saovabha. The Prince has lived here until his death in 1924. Now it is a museum that set up a display of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej's oil paintings.
Separate entry fee
Anantasamakhom Throne Hall
- Anantasamakhom Throne Hall (พระที่นั่งอนันตสมาคม), (behind the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall), ☎ +66 2 628-6300(-5119). 09:30-16:00 daily, hols closed. This Renaissance and neo-classical-style building was constructed of Italian marble under the commission of King Rama V in 1906. He had the intention to use it as a royal reception and assembly hall. The construction was completed in the reign of King Rama VI. The dome of the throne hall houses picturesque frescoes of royal activities undertaken during the reigns of King Rama I till King Rama VI. The building serves as a venue for royal and state ceremonies and was used as the National Assembly before it was moved to the current building behind it. Currently it houses beautiful arts and crafts made with traditional Thai techniques. 50 baht.
- Royal Elephant National Museum (Changton National Museum), Uthong Nai Rd (near the National Assembly inside the Dusit Palace compound), ☎ +66 2 282-3336, . 09:30-16:00 daily, hols closed. At the site that used to house the royal stables of the King's white elephants, since 1988 it is a museum about these extremely rare creatures. They are considered holy animals in Thailand, as a white elephant with six tusks appeared in a dream to Buddha's mother when she conceived her child. This museum tells you all about the history of white elephants in Thailand and the criteria an elephant must meet in order to be considered a "royal white" elephant. 5 baht.
Parks and monuments
- Dusit Zoo (สวนสัตว์ดุสิต), 71 Rama V Rd (between the Dusit Palace and the Chitralada Palace), ☎ +66 2 281-2000, . 08:00-18:00 daily. The zoo is an excellent destination for families and children. It is a lush and green zoo with many flowers, trees and ponds. A fun activity is floating on the water with the foot-peddle boats, or riding the small tram, but it costs 60 baht more. There are many playgrounds and picnic areas, as well as some restaurants in case you get hungry. Oh yeah, and they also have animals, such as giraffes, zebras, deer, hippos, elephants and tigers. 100 baht.
- King Rama V Equestrian Statue (พระบรมรูปทรงม้า), Uthong Nai Rd (at the Uthong Nai Road and Si Ayutthaya Road intersection). The entrance to the Dusit Palace is a gigantic motorway with the statue of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) riding a stallion right in the centre. It is the first monument dedicated to a Thai king, completed in 1908 and inaugurated by King Rama V himself. The monument is paid from public donations, as the Thai people were grateful of King Rama V's pursuit of modernizing the country. Each year on December 5, the Trooping of the Colours ceremony is held here. Free.
- Wat Benchamabophit (วัดเบญจมบพิตร, also known as the Marble Temple), Si Ayutthaya Rd (at the Si Ayutthaya Road and Rama V Road intersection), ☎ +66 2 281-2501. 06:00-18:00 daily. The newest of Bangkok's famous temples, this unique wat has been constructed during the reign of King Rama V. It employs European ecclesiastic details, such as stained glass windows, and contains a cloister collection of bronze Buddha images. In the early morning, this is the best place to give food and daily necessities to monks when they gather in front of the temple. 20 baht.
- Wat Intharawihan (วัดอินทรวิหาร), 114 Wisut Kasat Rd (from Khao San Road, walk 1 km north along Samsen Road, then turn right at Samsen Soi 10 after the Wisut Kasat Road junction), ☎ +66 2 628-5552. 08:30-20:00M daily. This temple is known for the so-called Standing Buddha or Big Buddha (Luang Pho To), a 32-metre-tall golden Buddha image. The whole statue is covered with 24,000 golden mosaics from Italy. The topknot of the Buddha image contains a relic of Lord Buddha brought from Sri Lanka. The temple is worth a visit just for the sake of photographing the Buddha. However, it's worth mentioning that this temple is a regular site on the "gem scam" circuit, so ignore anyone approaching you for a "free" tuk-tuk tour or bringing up the topic of purchasing gems. Free.
Museums and galleries
- Bank of Thailand Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์ธนาคารแห่งประเทศไทย), 273 Samsen Rd (inside the Bang Khun Phrom Palace within the same compound as the Bank of Thailand), ☎ +66 2 283-5353, . M-F 09:30-noon, 13:30-16:30, contact the museum at least one week in advance. The museum building is in the Bang Khum Phrom Palace, a former royal residence of HRH Prince Boriphat Sukhumphan, the 33rd son of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn). After 1932, the palace was used as a governmental office for a certain period, until 1945 when it became the headquarters of the Bank of Thailand. The Bank of Thailand Museum was established in 1982, accommodating 14 rooms on two floors. The first floor focuses on the history of Thai currency since the first century, while the second floor focuses on the 60-year old history of the Bank of Thailand. Free.
- Numthong Gallery, Room 109, Bangkok Co-op Housing Bldg, 1129/29 Thoet Damri Rd (slightly north of the Thoet Damri Road and Nakhon Chaisi Road intersection), ☎ +66 2 243-4326, . M-Sa 11:00-18:00. This art gallery shows works of some of the hottest upcoming Thai artists. The interior is whiter than white, so you can completely take in the beauty of the magnificent paintings. Some of the artists connected to the gallery are Niti Wattuya, Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Natee Utarit.
- Press Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์หนังสือพิมพ์ไทย), Nakhon Ratchasima Rd (opposite Suan Dusit Rajabhat University), ☎ +66 2 669-7124(–6). M-F 09:00-17:00. Free.
- Suan Dusit Art Gallery, Nakhon Ratchasima Rd (inside the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University), ☎ +66 2 243-9051(-5).
You might want to visit one of the two daily traditional Thai dance performances at the Dusit Palace. The shows start at 10:00 and 14:00 with free entry.
- Royal Turf Club of Thailand (ราชตฤณมัยสมาคม), 183 Phitsanulok Rd, ☎ +66 2 280-0020(-9). Every two weeks on Sunday 12:30-18:00. This is a venue for horse races under royal patronage. Races are held every two weeks on Sunday. 50-100 baht.
There is not much in the way of shopping in Dusit, but there are a few stores that might interest you.
- Naga House, 315 Ongkharak Soi 13, Sam Sen Soi 28 (if coming from the Thewet pier, walk onto Sam Sen Road in northwards direction; then take a right into Sam Sen Soi 28 (also known as Soi Ongkarak); after a while, take a left into Ongkarak Soi 13 and walk straight on), ☎ +66 2 669-3416. This antiques store is set in a wonderful teak house from the 1920s. There is plenty of furniture on site, including silverware baskets from Northern Thailand, teak tables from China and lacquerware from Myanmar.
- Thewet Market (ตลาดเทเวศร์), Krung Kasem Rd (right in front of Thewet Pier). 08:00-18:00 daily. This pot plant market is along the bank of Phadung Krung Kasem Canal. It has plenty of tropical plants for sale, as well as the seeds so you can grow them yourself. You can buy one if you wish, but first check with authorities whether you are allowed to import them to your country! Even if you're not actually buying anything, it's still nice to stroll around and see the commercial activity take place.
Dusit is not a district for splurge meals, but the river view makes a beautiful setting. The guest houses also serve decent Thai food (see Sleep).
- In Love (formerly Chon-Ngern or Silver Spoon), 2/1 Krung Kasem Rd (Thewet pier), ☎ +66 2 281-9228. 18:00-01:00 daily. This is an elegant restaurant with breathtaking nightly views of the Rama VIII Bridge and the Chao Phraya River. As the name indicates, many Thais go here to impress their loved one, and so should you, as the atmosphere is very romantic. Try the plaa kraphong neung manao, a delicious steamed sea bass with lemon. 400 baht.
- Kaloang Seafood, 2 Si Ayutthaya Rd (in the alley near the National Library, it is right at the Chao Phraya River), ☎ +66 2 281-9228. 10:00-22:00 daily. This off-the-beaten-track restaurant is typical Bangkokian with its simple plastic chairs and unassuming interior. But its delicious seafood is a bargain and you get a nice view over the Chao Phraya River. The local favourite is the seafood platter, which gives you a lot of value for a small price. You might also want to try the yam pla duk foo, a spicy grilled fish salad, or the larb goong, a spicy shrimp salad with banana blossoms. 200 baht.
- Krua Apsorn (ครัวอัปสร), 503-505 Sam Sen Rd (From Thewet pier, turn left at Sam Sen Road, walk past the National Library, pass the small canal and you will find it at the left-hand side), ☎ +66 2 668-8788. M-F 10:30-19:30, Sa 10:30-18:00. A great restaurant that places emphasis on its authentic Thai dishes prepared in a traditional way. While it looks unpretentious at first, it has won the "best restaurant" contest of Bangkok Post in 2006, and has served members of the Thai royal family. The staff watch local soap operas on the TV set and their children run around as if its a kind of kindergarten; but forget the surroundings, it's all about the food and a must try is the mouth-watering crab omelette. 100-250 baht.
Don't expect any nightlife in Dusit — for that, better head off for nearby Khao San Road. If you just want to fresh up with a glass of lemonade, the guest houses in the southwestern part of Dusit suffice.
The wide avenues with heavy traffic in Dusit are by no means compelling places to stay the night. Most budget travellers sleep in nearby Khao San Road, while upper class hotels can be found in Sukhumvit. The adjacent Siam Square has some of both worlds. If you do want to stay in Dusit, and with that try something different, some small guest houses have congregated in the southwestern corner of the district, close to Thewet pier.
- De Moc (Nomads de Moc, Hotel de Moc), 78 Prajatipatai Road, Pra-Nakorn, Bangkok 10200, ☎ +66 6290 5268, . Backpackers dorm available within the Hotel de Moc. Backpackers have full use of the hotel facilities. 500-600baht.
- Shanti Lodge, 37 Si Ayutthaya Soi 16 (Walk towards the river from the Sam Sen Road and Si Ayutthaya Road intersection), ☎ +66-2 281-2497, . checkout: 10:00. Decorated like a tropical "oasis", Shanti Lodge is surrounded by plants and trees and feels like a tranquil environment in the middle of a big metropolis. Its location is ideal, close to the river and to Rattanakosin. Expect somewhat basic rooms. There is a restaurant with standard guesthouse prices. Checkout at 10:00 is pretty early, be aware.(07:30-23:00 daily) and Thai massage available. Wifi is good but not available everywhere, the common area/restaurant is best, many tables have 3-prong grounded (!) plugs which is rare from what I've seen. 400-750 baht, dorms 200 baht per person.
- Sri Ayutthaya Guest House, 23/11 Si Ayutthaya Soi 14 (Thewet pier), ☎ +66 2 282-5942. Easily the best budget hotel in Dusit. The atmosphere is homey as you stay in a simple house made of wood. It feels kind of tranquil; while there are other backpackers around, it really is in a local neighbourhood with Thai families. Rooms are obviously basic, but good, and if you choose an air-conditioned room you also get a good bathroom. Like the other guest houses, there is a restaurant downstairs with Thai, western and vegetarian food. 500-700 baht.
- Suan Dusit Place Hotel, 295 Nakhon Ratchasima Rd (inside the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University complex, at the Nakhon Ratchasima Road and Ratchawithi Road intersection), ☎ +66 2 241-7571, . This is a basic hotel, but it is clean and probably the closest hotel to the Vimanmek Mansion. It mostly caters to local teachers, students and convention attendees who want to stay near the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University. That's why the staff's English is not that good, but at least they try their best. The restaurant serves good Thai meals and is not too expensive. 900 baht.
- Tavee Guesthouse, 83 Si Ayutthaya Soi 14 (walk towards the river from the Sam Sen Road and Si Ayutthaya Road intersection), ☎ +66 2 280-1447. Simple budget hotel with clean and tidy rooms. There's a nice common space with wooden furniture and a restaurant that is open 24 hours a day. No longer has any dormitory. 300-450 baht.
- National Library (หอสมุดแห่งชาติ), Sam Sen Rd, ☎ +66 2 281-5212, . M-F 09:00-19:30, Sa Su 09:00-17:00. Internet access for all visitors is limited to just one hour. You must complete a form and give your passport as a deposit to the library staff. Also, games, chat and USB-devices are officially not allowed. Free.
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