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Vietnam

Three days in Saigon

sunny 38 °C

The first thing you notice about Saigon is the traffic. Walking out of our hotel onto a main road we were confronted with a mammoth amount of motorbikes, weaving in and out of trucks, buses and cars. The air is thick and polluted, people continually beep their horns and everyone wears face masks.

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We were in search of something to eat and walked through the streets looking at restaurants. The shear amount was overwhelming and coupled with the fact that all the restaurant staff were on the streets trying to get you to come inside meant we just kept on walking. The streets are so busy, not only the traffic but the amount of people. Vendors set up and walk up and down the streets selling to tourists, the paths are lined with parked up motorbikes and the shops spill out onto the streets. We walked right out of the tourist district and settled on a café a bit further on where we sat and just watched the traffic. You see all sorts of sights, motorbikes pilled with boxes, pipes, fruit and veg, pretty much anything, they can or cannot fit on a bike. We saw dogs sat on motorbikes, people on foot weaving in and out of the crazy traffic to hand out leaflets and road sweepers that sweep up leaves in the mists of it all, god knows how they don’t get ran over. This was our first day in Saigon, all we did was have a walk around the streets. The city seems a lot bigger than Hanoi, the roads are a lot wider and the buildings taller. As always there is a lot of litter but there are also a lot of people employed to sweep it up.

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After our first impressions the next day we were ready to see some sights. The last month or so we have not really been very interested in sightseeing and have just been enjoying our destinations, living and walking around towns however there were a few things that we wanted to see, Liam in particular. After breakfast we walked to the Reunification Palace. It was extremely hot and we walked from shaded tree to shaded tree to stay out of the scorching sun. After a few hair raising road crossing we had our method sorted, basically just don’t look, walk across the road at a consistent pace and the traffic pre-empts your pace and dodges you. Well we haven’t been ran over so we assume it’s as good a method as any. It was not far and once we got there we realised it was closed until after lunch. Luckily we had not had a productive morning and we only had to wait forty minutes so we decided to get a drink in a café and wait. We went to the nearest restaurant and asked if we could just have a drink. The waitress directed us to the café on the sixth floor. The café was beautiful inside and had really nice views across the city. We ordered our drinks, Liam a beer, Chelsea a homemade lemonade and we sat for a while looking over the city, strangely enough listening to Boyzone.

The palace opened at 1.30pm and cost 30,000 dong each (about £1) to enter. The palace was not really what we expected, it looked more like an office building, with a green at the front and a fountain. Along the road to the palace were old propaganda posters lined up which were interesting and there were a few tanks and a plane to look at.

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Once we approached we were directed to the left by several guards who led us into a room where tourists were sat in rows and a lady at the front talked them through the guided tour, which we apparently had to be part of. We walked up to the second floor and started the tour and managed to slip out in front and ditch the tour. We walked around the palace at our own pace on our own and again were a little shocked by it. It felt empty and uninviting. Several rooms were open for viewing like the meeting rooms, the banquet room and others, a cinema and bedroom. Each room was set out as if it was an office, very minimal, basic furniture and not at all decorative like other palaces we have seen. We walked around the sterile halls peering in the rooms until we got to the roof. On the roof was a helicopter and we sat and had a cold drink. The last bit of the palace was the basement. This was a series of underground eerie hallways with rooms branching off with different office and intelligent rooms for the leaders and army. There was a lot of old intelligence equipment down there as well as some old cars and a gallery of old photos, maps and memorabilia.

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The palace is not a particularly nice sight but it is interesting as a piece of history and to understand Vietnam in the 1970’s.

After our walk around the palace we headed to the War Remnants Museum which is really close by and costs 15000 dong to enter.

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The first exhibit is a courtyard filled with military planes, tanks and arms. Liam loved it and after making sure he took at least one, but in most cases two photos of every item we were allowed to move on.

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The other outside exhibit is a mock-up of the tactics and conditions used on Con Son island. There are tiger cages, small barbed wire coffin cages to keep prisoners inside, a guillotine and cells, as well as photos of war tactics and prisoners. It is extremely grim and disturbing and shows some horrifying sights of what people faced. Inside the museum is one of the best we have been to in Southeast Asia in terms of quality exhibits and information. We are used to faded photos, old exhibits and dusty relics but this was in excellent condition, well maintained and extremely busy. Normally there are just us and a few other tourists when we visit museums but this one was absolutely packed out. There are three floors of exhibits, mainly it is harrowing photos of war tactics, acts of war, the aftermath of war and the devastating effects it had on not only the armies involved and the civilians but also the landscape and economy of Vietnam but there are also some relics. There are cases full of weapons, huge pieces of shrapnel and different bombs. It is an extremely sombre museum and the main focus is on the effects that war has on people and the importance of peace. We spent a while looking around the different rooms and the highlight was an exhibition that was donated to the museum which has collated photos from the war from an impartial view. It shows amazing and devastating photos taken from all sides from the reporters that risked their lives to document the events and there is a tribute to reporters from all different countries.

We spent all day visiting the palace and museum and were tired walking back so we called into a café for a delicious blended iced mocha coffee. In the evening we got our first sight of the streets at night.

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The main road is bright with neon signs and stalls set up selling BBQ skewers. We decided on a Vietnamese restaurant called five oysters and ordered a selection of dishes to share, beef salad, grilled octopus with chilli, fish spring rolls and Banh Xeo, a thin crispy pancake stuffed with seafood and meat, beansrpouts and veg.

Our final day in Saigon was a lot slower paced. We decided to visit Benh Thanh market just for a leisurely wander around. It was only a short walk and a few sketchy road crossings away and were only sold drugs twice on the way. We have noticed in Vietnam that there are a LOT of people selling drugs, especially in Saigon and everywhere we walk we are approached. The market is a huge indoor market and sells all sorts of things. As soon as we entered we were heckled for all sides to buy things, even grabbed. It was beyond off-putting and we instantly did not want to buy anything or even browse. We walked around for approximately six minutes before we decided to leave. It mainly sold tourist souvenirs, clothing, confectionary, and beauty products but there was also a street food section and a fresh produce area. Compared to other markets we have seen in Southeast Asia it was not particularly interesting and not enjoyable to walk around unless you enjoy being heckled at and pleaded with to buy crap.

The rest of the day was spent wandering the busy streets and moving from café to café talking.

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We have booked our bus for tomorrow morning which will take us to Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Saigon a name which evokes the exotic is a city which to us seems to be in a limbo of booming prosperity in a still developing nation. Glittering skyscrapers sit next to crumbling pavements pilled with litter. The cities inhabitants benefit from 21st century commodities which the city itself seems to not yet be able to deal with. We have enjoyed Saigon but have realised that we prefer the countryside and the quiet coasts to the chaotic and polluted cities.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam saigon Comments (2)

Relaxing in Mui Ne and arriving in Saigon

sunny 33 °C

After our long day on the sand dunes we made the best of our last couple of days in Mui Ne and relaxed. Our original plan was to travel to Saigon on Sunday but we were unable to book the bus so decided to stay another night.

Saturday we had a beach day, after a breakfast of smoothies, sandwiches and watermelon on our balconies we packed up our things and walked onto the beach. Our beautiful view of the beach from our room has been hampered somewhat by a huge digger and a dozen massive concrete tubes, we can only assume they are extending the hotel onto the beach but all they are currently doing is making a mess. We navigated the digger and the 10 ft deep holes it has made and walked out of sight further up the beach.

We found a nice place to sit near some trees so we could take shade whenever. We settled in got some sun, and read our books. Most of our time was spent watching the kite surfers though. It is windy on the beach and the sea is choppy, but it is still picturesque (minus the digger) and wind keeps you cool. There are plenty of places offering kitesurfing lessons and even more that seem really good, flying across the water and doing tricks in the air. We sat watching it for ages. It is not something we are particularly interested in but it was entertaining.

We went in the sea for a while but Chels was a bit of a whimp because of the waves and would only go out as far as her knees. Liam tried to coax her out further but she was having none of it. After we had had enough sun, and the sandblasting was getting a bit too frequent, we retreated to a near by bar. We carried on reading our books, watching the surfers, and chatting over a few cold beers, before heading back.

Apart from one night we have been to the same restaurant/bar everyday in Mui Ne. Joes. Basically it is the only place that seems nice. It has a good atmosphere with chilled out live music and the food is not the cheapest but is some of the best western stuff we have had in a while. Saturday and Sunday night were no different, they even do cheap cocktails, whisky and buy one get one Gin and Tonics, so we have treated our selves one couple of occasions.

Sunday was a bit different, Chels had not slept well and had seemed to come down with some kind of cold, we just think we may have had too much sun being out all day for the last two days, we decided to have a day off. We went out for breakfast before coming back to our room and flitting between balcony and inside, watching TV on our laptop and giving Liam a much need haircut, as well as packing and researching our next stop.

Today we got up bright and early to come to Saigon. The bus picked us up at 8am and we got downstairs early to squeeze in breakfast before hand. The bus as cost us 125000 dong each through our hotel. Liam was sure he has read in the guide book that Saigon is three hours from Mui Ne. We fell asleep pretty much straight away on our bus. The rest of the journey was passed reading and day dreaming out of the window. For once though we have got lucky as the bus dropped us off in the centre of city, rather than a bus station 10km away from where we need to by like what usually happens. Even better we were slap bang opposite one of the hotels we had researched. All the accommodation seems to be a bit more pricey here than everywhere else, so we have ended up paying a little more than usual. We had being given a couple of tips from friends but after a SIX hour bus ride, we did not have the energy to walk the streets. We are paying £12 a night, the includes breakfast and the room is nice. For that couple extra pound a night everything is just that bit better than normal. We have a fridge, tv, plenty of storage, a bath that Chels as already laid claim on and the first clock we can remember being in our room.

Once rested up after our journey that took twice as long as we expected, we will go for a little explore and something to eat, we spend three nights here so will have two full days sightseeing before moving on to Cambodia. We also have a few days left on our visa so if we like it here we have the option to linger. We just have to be in Bangkok by the 7th of Sept.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam saigon mui_ne Comments (1)

A day visiting the Mui Ne Sand Dunes by Motorbike.. Amazing!

sunny 38 °C

Today Chelsea was up bright and early sat on our balcony in the morning sunshine watching the horror of our hotel renovation begin. It seems that overnight a beachside paradise can turn into a building sight after all. It's not noisy but the whole of the garden and beach front is now lined with MASSIVE concrete tubes. We think they must be creating some sort of sun deck on the beach. Anyway after about an hour Chelsea woke Liam up and went out for breakfast. She brought back Bahn My sandwiches and passion fruit, mango and banana smoothies and we had breakfast on our balcony, close your eyes and you can still imagine the beautiful peaceful, beachside surroundings it once was.

Today we decided to rent a motorbike and do some sightseeing of Mui Ne. We had read that the sand dunes were best visited in the afternoon when the sun was going down as the light was beautiful but by 12.30 we were just itching to go and couldn't wait any longer. We rented a motorbike for 150000 dong, bought a big bottle of water and headed off.

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We had researched where everything was and decided to go to the furthest away first, the White Sand Dunes. To get there you head down the main road towards the port until you see a church and you turn left. You then turn right at the roundabout and carry on all the way down the coast road until it ends. The coast road is beautiful and a lovely drive. You go through villages, farms and past people on the side of the road selling seafood. One thing we could not believe however when the view opened up was the amount of fishing boats on the sea, there must have been 500 plus, no wonder the seas fish are depleting!

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Anyway it took us a fare while until the road ran out and then we turned right, up a hill. The first red dirt road after the petrol station takes you to the dunes.

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You know you have it right if you see the lake on your left. On the way we called for some fuel and yet again the man tried to con us by not resetting the fare metre when he filled our bike up. Chelsea had noticed it had not started at zero and so we refused to pay for the fuel the man before us had used and only for the fuel we had used.... We know he was trying it on with us as he tried to bargain with us until he realised we were not paying a cent more and we were on our way.

Once we reached the lake we could see the sand dunes in the distance, they were pure white and really big. The road veered around the lake and we came to a car park. It costs 10000 dong (30p) each to enter and 5000 dong to park up the motorbike. Around the lake was really windy and we walked up to the dunes, avoiding all the people trying to sell us rentals of jeeps and quad bikes.

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The dunes are amazing, it is like being in the middle of the desert. Huge white mounds of sand with the wind blowing them into beautiful patterns. It was really windy and Liam was not impressed, after all it combined his two most hated things....... Sand and wind and he suddenly transformed into Carl Pilkonton off An Idiot Abroad stating, "I like sand dunes..... From a distance..... Just to look at..... Not to walk on.... This is hellish".

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Chelsea thought it was fantastic and Liam had to do some serious moaning to get her off.

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We walked right to the top and although we did get sandblasted it is stunningly beautiful..... An we don't need to exfoliate for at least a few weeks.

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There was only a handful of people there and we had the place to ourselves, and only our footprints to look at as we walked up the big sandy hills.

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After we had explored a while we walked back down and went into a little cafe at the bottom to cool off as it has been extremely hot today. We had a cold drink and recuperated before walking back round the lake to the car park. The lake is surrounded by huge pine trees which is really picturesque and it is a change to see pine trees in Asia.

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We then set off back to see the Red Sand Dunes. These are on the road back and you can park your bike at one of the little shops opposite for either 5000 dong or you can buy a drink. As soon as we parked up little kids came running over to rent us pieces of plastic to act as sand sledges. We said no thank you and they just moved on to the next customers. Liam was not feeling up to the dunes as he had ear ache from the wind so he sat under a tree while Chelsea explored.

The red sand dunes are just as beautiful but the sand is more orange than the pure white sand we had just visited.

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At the entrance there is a lot of litter and as you walk around you occasionally find some that had been blow in. The dunes are lovely they seem a lot bigger and have the same wave like wind patterns in them. There were a few clouds overhead, you could see the shaded patterns on the sand and it was nice walking in shaded patches on the hot sand. These are even more like the desert and it is like you have been transported to the Middle East.

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It is surreal that you can feel like you are in the middle of the desert but just a short walk back over the hill and there is the road and the beach. Chelsea was almost the only person there and after a walk around and a run down one of the big sand hills we were ready for our third and final spot, the fairy stream, just in time it seemed as a huge coach party had just pulled up.

This is on the main Tourist strip, when you come to a bridge this is the entrance. You can park at one of the cafes next to it for 5000 dong, they tried to sell it us for 10000 but we knew we were being ripped off so we said no. The fairy stream is basically a shallow stream with a sandy riverbed that you can walk down.

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It is obvious at the entrance that the sand has started to subside and the locals have lined it with sand bags as you can often see a sand bag sticking out of the water and as you go further down there is a pile of rubbish just thrown at the side and partly in the stream that is full of empty sand bags and general crap. We have found that litter and rubbish is a huge problem all over Southeast Asia. Everywhere we have been natural sights, temples and just the general streets are strewn with litter.

As you walk further on the stream it is cleaner and it opens up into a sort of gorge with rock formations at the sides, sort if like a vey miniature Grand Canyon.

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We walked down the stream and enjoyed the soft sand and water on our feet.

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The stream was very busy however and after a while we decided to leave as loads of people were scaling the sides for photos and dropping more litter.

We drove the short way back and Liam was extremely tired and wanted to lay down, we think he may be getting a little ill as he has acquired a cold sore, his ears hurt and he is tired. Chelsea was too hot so she went for a wander down to the sea, a sit on the beach and a paddle before coming back and relaxing on the balcony.

Today has been a really good day, we have seen lots and have enjoyed another side on Mui Ne. The sand dunes are a must for anyone visiting Mui Ne and really are beautiful. Maybe it is because we have never seen such big sand dunes but we absolutely loved them. We would recommend hiring a bike and doing it yourself as you get the whole sandy scene to yourself and the actual drive to and from them is stunning. On the way home we saw at least fifteen jeeps carrying tourists to the dunes and we think it would loose its magic if it was busy. Anyway we have one more day in Mui Ne and intend to spend it relaxing on our balcony and at the beach.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam sand_dunes mui_ne Comments (3)

Beach Time in Mui Ne Vietnam

sunny 35 °C

So Yesterday we were up crazy early for us, 6am as our bus was at 7.15am. We gathered our things half asleep, checked out and went for some much needed coffees. At that time in the morning makeshift street stalls set up selling Bahn My sandwiches and coffee. We sat at one of the tiny chars and table at the end of our street and had a lovely cup of sweet coffee and a bahn My sandwich, a baguette filled with three types of pork, pate and herbs. It brought us round and we waited for our bus to pick us up from our hotel. It arrived at 7.45am and took us to our bus. We had been allocated seats and the bus was really nice, another sleeper bus but with nice leather seats.

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The journey to Nui Ne cost us $7 and took around 6 hours with a stop off half way where we bought some fruit to munch on. it was really comfortable and we both slept for a bit, read and daydreamed out of the window.

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The bus dropped us off at the north end of Mui Ne, a few kilometre off from where we needed to be. We walked a bit further on way from the touts and flagged down a metre taxi which took us to the place we had picked to stay for 35,000 dong. We are staying at Heip Hoi Resort for $13 a night and it is beautiful. It is right on the beach, we can hear the sea from our room and the whole place is spotless and really nice. We settled in and decided to go for some lunch, we walked down the road and went to a place called Joes. We sat on the beach front eating lunch and having a beer. The rest of the day was spent having a wander down the road and sat at beach bars eating tea and having more beers.

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Mui Ne consists of one main road running parallel to the beach. On one side is beachside restaurants and resorts and on the other are more shops, restaurants and hotels. The beach is narrow but very long and has beautiful fine sand. There is hardly anyone laid on the beach and it is windy so is full of people surfing and windsurfing out at sea. It is a lot quieter than Nha Trang but we really like it.

Today we woke up in our beautiful room very happy, opened the doors and windows to our balcony and could hear the sea. We went for some breakfast at our hotel and came back to our room to do some planning. We sat on our balcony and booked our flights to Sri Lanka and India, applied for our Sri Lankan visa and did some research on our Indian one. That took until lunch time. The rest of the day we spent walking on the beach. We walked on the sand, paddling in the sea all afternoon.

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The beach has gorgeous sand and lots of beautiful shells scattered amongst it.

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We walked until the sun was going down and then we sat in a surf bar and watched the surfers and wind surfers catching the waves. Because of the winds the sea is quite rough but it I still shallow quite far out. Walking in the sea breeze was lovely, just what we wanted from Mui ne.

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For tea we went back to Joes. The bar is quite nice and they have live music on every night. We fancied something from home and ordered big cheese burgers.... they were awesome, the best burgers in our eight months away and we sat and talked over beers.

Mui Ne is not really what we expected but we actually really like it. It is very touristy which means it is hard to find nice cheap food but the beach is beautiful and our place is a little home from home. We are planning on sending a few days here, visiting the sand dunes and having some beach time until we go to our final stop in Vietnam, Saigon.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:28 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam mui_ne Comments (3)

Not doing much in Nha Trang

overcast 33 °C

We are happy to report that the last few days we have spent doing nothing much. Yesterday Chelsea was ill, so all morning we stayed in watching Animal Planet.... Yes we know we are sad. Liam went out for supplies and by late afternoon we had cabin fever in our windowless room so decided to go on a walk on the beach.

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The beach is nice, if not a little busy for us. We spotted some friends of friends and had a chat and then had a walk down the beach, paddling in the sea. Nha Trang is a big cove and you can see right to each end. One end is lined with high rise hotels, and behind these are big green mountains. The other side is a cable car leading to an island. It is not particularly picturesque but the beach is clean and the sea is clear and out to sea are small islands. Along the beach are different hotels, watersports, and sunbeds and alongside the beach is a park lined with palms.

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Vendors walk up and down selling all sorts, from books and bracelets to steamed lobsters and fruit. We walked for an hour or so but big stormy clouds started to appear so we retreated back to our room before the rain started.

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Today we were determined to have a relaxing beach day and managed to wake up in our pitch black windowless room before 10am! We walked into town and sat and had a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee and a piece of cake for breakfast..... We are on holiday of course. It was a lovely little place with friendly staff and only a few seats called Cuppa Coffee. We then walked to a Bahn My street sandwich stall and ordered our lunch, went to the shop and got some water and biscuits and headed for the beach. We rented two sunbeds for the day costing 40000 dong each and obviously ate our lunch straight away.

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Our day was spent laying on the beach, playing in the sea and reading. It was overcast but the sun was still strong though the clouds and Liam has become a bit pink.... He thought he was laying in the shade but he obviously wasn't. Liam had a trip to the shop for some cold beers and we ate our cookies and drank our beer in the sunshine. The beach is busy but it doesn't seem crowded. There are lots of vendors who approach you to sell their goods, crabs, fruit, giant crisp things, lobsters, jewellery, books, desserts, and more. We had a lovley day just doing nothing by the sea and Liam had to coax Chelsea as she didn't want to leave.

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We had an equally nice evening and met up with some friends of friends, Claire and Stew who are traveling the opposite way up Vietnam with there little girl, PollyAnna. We had a nice evening talking, drinking, eating and giggling at Pollyanna. Tomorrow we are moving on to Mui Ne, a beach resort further south so we will hopefully get some more relaxing beach days and visit the sand dunes which look interesting.

Posted by Chelsandliam 08:15 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam nha_trang Comments (3)

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