Perhentian (pronounced Perhen-TEE-AHN, not Perhen-SHEN) means "place to stop" in Malay, and the islands got their name as a staging point used by traders traveling from Malaysia to Bangkok.
The two main islands are Perhentian Besar ("Big Perhentian") and Perhentian Kecil ("Small Perhentian"). Kecil attracts more travellers as it has cheaper accommodation, while Besar is a little more expensive and caters more to families and those who want to avoid the backpacker party scene.
The small, uninhabited islands of Susu Dara, Seringgi and Rawa lie off Kecil. All the islands belong to a protected marine park, which means that fishing, collecting coral and littering are strictly prohibited.
This being the case, the islands are currently suffering which is soon to result in an environmental catastrophe due to the non-removal of waste, such as bottles, bags and much more.
Garbage barges in the coves/bays are generally being collected by the marine park. However, when they are not, the garbage falls off the barge, washing up on the shores of the beautiful beaches. When you arrive at the jetty in Kuala Besut, you are made to pay a marine park fee, which is used to pay for services such as this.
Due to the eastern monsoon, the season in the Perhentians (and all other east coast islands) is effectively limited to the period between the beginning of March until late October. Outside this period the seas can be very rough with currents that make swimming dangerous and most (though not all) accommodation options are closed. Do not believe the travel-agents when they claim the accommodations are open. Even if they will provide a room, restaurants and all shops (i.e. no place to get water, food, sunscreen etc.) are closed in off-season. If the restaurant is open, food choices will be very limited and over-priced.
When going during off-season be aware that there will be literally no one there but you and maybe a handful of locals.
Access to the Perhentian Islands is by ferry from Kuala Besut, which is usually reached from either Kota Bharu or Kuala Terengganu. See the Kuala Besut article for more information.
Ferries have previously run from a jetty at Tok Bali, and for a short while direct from Kota Bharu, but both have now been discontinued. There are no ferries to neighbouring islands, but reasonably priced direct transfers to Redang are possible if a day-trip or dive boat has free seats - enquire with travel and dive shops.
From the main ferry terminal at Kuala Besut there are effectively three options:
Speed boats - usually small fibreglass boats with two or three outboards which take 30-45 minutes, charge RM70/person for to and fro and RM40/person for one way, and depart according to demand (4-5 times a day). Some are enclosed, some have a fabric roof, some are completely open. If the sea is choppy expect a bumpy ride and in the case of the latter two types expect to get very wet. There is no safe space for electronics, you might want to wrap anything that will not survive being wet in plastic beforehand. If you don't want back problems do not sit in the front part of the boat — large swells combined with the driver going as fast as possible will throw you up in the air and smash you down hard.
Air-condition ferry services= 45 seaters ferry with air-condition wchich take 35-45 minutes, charge RM70/ person return and RM40/person for one way. Depart according demand. Comfortable seat and less bumpy. (no more back problem...) Reservation call +60179608716
Slow boats - usually wooden fishing boats with some seats on the deck which take 2-3 times as long as the speedboats, only available if you book in advance at around RM300/boat/way. Maximum 12 pax per boat.
All ferries take their passengers directly to their destination, wherever it may be on the islands. Passengers may be charged an extra RM2 to get a small boat from the ferry to the beach at Long Beach. Elsewhere, jetties are springing up and enable people to get off the ferry without the need for an additional small boat ride to shore and without getting their feet wet.
All travellers to the islands must pay a marine park conservation charge of RM5, valid for the length of their stay.
Aside from walking, the only means of transport are water taxis. Prices are negotiable but figure on RM 12 for most hops from one beach to another, and a little more when crossing from one island to another.
There are many walking tracks that connect the beaches as an alternative to water taxis. Long Beach to Coral Bay is about ten minutes and a very easy walk, also Long Beach to D'Lagoon is possible but the track becomes a little more uneasy towards the second part so best to get some directions first. Another route from D'Lagoon is to Adam and Eve beach, be careful when swimming here as there are sometimes thieves waiting in the forest, though they are only interested in cameras and money.
Many places on the island are referred to with both their Malay and English names. To make life a little more confusing, the words "beach" (pantai) and "bay" (teluk) are often used near-interchangeably as well, and a few English place names are not literal translations.
There are no monuments, museums, viewpoints or other aboveground sights whatsoever on the islands, however the beaches are a sight in themselves. White sandy beaches with clear water and flanked by rolling jungle covered hills make the views from the beach spectacular. Coral Bay on the small island is the only beach that provides a sunset but construction of a new jetty has spoiled most of the view.
Activities on the Perhentians are basically limited to scuba diving, snorkeling, sea-kayaking and sunbathing. Those with excess energy may attempt the jungle trails crisscrossing both islands.
The Perhentians offer excellent diving and draw divers from far and wide. In addition to coral and fish, the Perhentians are home to sea turtles and many species of shark -- none of them dangerous unless provoked though. Visibility is often in the 20 meter range (although it will temporarily go down after storms, as well as during the end-of-year monsoon seasons) and no wet suit is required, although you may wish to use a dive skin for protection from coral and the occasional jellyfish. Popular dive sites include the Pinnacle (aka Tokong Laut, "Temple of the Sea"), a pinnacle jutting out from the sea bed, and the Sugar Wreck, an easily accessible 3500-ton sugar hauler. The (more expensive) single-day trip to Redang Island, where the water visibility is considerably better, offers diving a notch above the local options, well worth every dime - but be prepared for a rough ride in a small speedboat.
Competition for divers is fierce and consequently diving is quite cheap, averaging out to RM60-80 per dive depending on how many dives you do and whether you bring your own gear. All dive shops also arrange introductory dives (no training required) and PADI training.
There are 7 dive centers on Kecil's Long Beach (from North to South): Sunlight Divers, Quiver Dive Team, Turtle Bay Divers, Seadragon Divers, Matahari (formerly Coral Sky) Divers, Spice Divers and Coral Bei Bay Dive Center.
Coral Bei Bay Dive Center (tel. +60 1 391 825 24),(email : email@example.com) (French English Spanish Swedish... and Malay). In the middle of Coral Bay beach. Home away from Home. Very friendly team.
Sunlight Divers, (tel. 012 307 1952), . A dive centre which has earned its reputation from having friendly,professional members of staff, well maintained equipment and its frequent eco work. One of the smaller shops on the beach. Has shops on Long Beach and Coral Bay, Kecil.
Turtle Bay Divers, (tel. 019 333 6647), (English, French and Malay). Another respectable, long-running outfit which has a nice chilled-out shop on Perhentian Kecil's Long Beach. Currently offering very affordable prices for courses and fun dives. The staff are very enthusiastic, friendly and always up for a chat! Stop in to find out more about the island and diving.
On the big island (Besar) are a number of dive centres, placed on different beaches.
Flora Bay Divers, (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), , . The only PADI 5 Star Gold Palm Instructor Development Centre on Perhentian. Offers courses from Open Water Diver right up to Master Instructor on top of diving & snorkelling trips. IDCs are run by highly rated PADI Course Director Azman Sulaiman.
Perhentian Island Divers, (email: email@example.com), is a small but friendly dive centre situated on the same beach as Perhentian Island Resort. It has modern equipment and excellent service. Dive courses and boat diving are always on offer, and the beach diving is great as well. Huge sea turtles can be seen right off the beach. Regular fire shows in the evening are also a highlight.
Turtle Bay Divers, (tel. 019 333 6647), (English, French and Malay). Another respectable, long-running outfit which has a relaxing shop on Perhentian Besar next to Mamma's Chalet. Currently offering very affordable prices for courses and fun dives. The staff are very enthusiastic, friendly and always up for a chat! Please stop in to find out more about the island and diving. Great for family trips!
'Watercolours, (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), is a small-mid sized centre that can get quite busy. They offer diving in small groups (maximum 4 divers) and excellent information on the marine life. As well as the usual courses and fun diving, they also offer Reef Check Eco-courses and the chance to participate in reef and beach cleans. They also give free presentations on the marine environment and conservation issues.
All resorts and a few restaurants rent out snorkeling gear (typically RM10 a day for mask, snorkel and fins) and arrange snorkeling tours around the islands. Popular snorkeling spots on Besar include Teluk Pauh (to the left of the beach in front of the PI Resort), Shark Point and Tanjung Basi. The best place to see sharks (black tip) is in front of an extremely small "beach", only accessible by boat, between Shark Point and the Teluk Dalam large beach, or the rocks off the Coral View and PI Resort. They are usually seen cruising the bottom of the reef but be careful in low tide, otherwise you could end up swimming right along side them (mostly babies though). For turtles, best place is the middle of the beach in front of Perhentian Island Resort, where the sandy bottom is covered with algae.
On Pulau Besar, if you are planning to do snorkeling just in front of your chalet, then stay on the northern and east side of the island where the water is clearer then the south side. Of course, the chalet and food is more expensive.
The best spot for family snorkeling would be the south-west of the island. The water is shallow and it is not fronting any chalet so the corals are more abundant and colorful. Between Pulau Besar and Redang, the corals are much better in Pulau Besar.
The islands are crisscrossed by small paths connecting one beach to another, but be prepared to sweat and swat off bugs if you tackle any of these. There is a good chance to see big monitor lizards and large spiders between Long Beach and Coral Bay, and if you are walking off the main trails, you are likely to spot some wild monkeys if you are lucky. There is a wide trail (30 mins) between Watercolours Paradise and Arwana on Besar, you can see large termite trails, monitor lizards, big fruit bats and sometimes monkeys.
There is a rough walking trail from Coral Bay to Mira Beach (1 hour) and on to Impiani beach (20 mins) and to the main fishing village on Kecil (15 mins). This is a great trail to see monitor lizards.
Many of the smaller resorts only offer meals as part of an all-inclusive package. These are usually buffet-style with a variety of Western and Malaysian dishes. Larger beaches, such as Pasir Panjang, offer a larger variety of eating options. Since everything (except seafood) has to be imported, expect to pay at least 2 to 3 times more than on the mainland.
Panorama Restaurant, on the southern side of Pasir Panjang, wlk straight turn left then right then left, One of Kecil's more attractive eating options, Panorama offers a larger range than usual of Western and Asian fare at decent prices. No alcohol, but you can bring your own. Seems to serve portions that are generally bigger than the other restaurants (i.e. you might actually be full and not have to order a second dish). Screen a movie at 8pm, however often too noisy to hear unless you have a prime seat.
Matahari Restaurant, behind the Matahari dive shop and chalets on Long Beach, Cheaper than Panorama, but the meals are smaller and the place is not as swanky. Still a nice joint to have a meal and the staff are friendly. Also screen a movie at 8pm, and you will have a better chance of hearing it here.
Lily's, Long Beach, Nice, cheap and clean place to eat. The restaurant offers good tasty food; the beefburger, fish & chips, claypot dishes and shakes are recommended. It has a scenic view of the beach, nice place to just relax and enjoy the breeze. At night they offer seafood BBQ with squid, tuna and prawns. BBQ fish set for 15RM.
Arwana Resort , East end of the South beach, jump off airplane in tt corner, The resort has two restaurants, one serving ala carte, the other as a deli buffet. Prices are quite high, but if you have breakfast/lunch/dinner coupons, the food is great. There is usually a BBQ at dinner times serving fish, squid, chicken, and beef. The place is very clean too.
Florabay Restaurant, In the middle of Flora bay resort, The restaurant offers good food at good prices. RM8 for a dish of chicken fried rice, and RM11 for fried prawns with mashed potatoes.
Watercolours Restaurant, next to the dive shop of the same name on Besar's main western beach, Affiliated with the Paradise Resort, this simple but attractive restaurant is packed every night with people feasting on fresh seafood and other items on the menu. Needless to say, the quality of the food is very good. Prices have gone up lately but RM25 for 3 BBQ rock lobsters or RM20 for fresh barramundi in banana leaf, served with a small baked potato and salad, are still a steal by Perhentian standards. Vegetarian food is available upon request.
Mama's Restaurant, beside Mama's Resort (oddly enough), This is the only other largish restaurant near the north end of Perhentian Besar. Their menu is closer to typical
Teluk KK, at the southwestern tip of the island near Teluk Keke, This little place is frequented mostly by locals and serves basic food - don't expect super tasty dishes.
On the way to Teluk Keke is a wonderful restaurant that is part of Abdul's Chalet. Cheaper than Mama's and Watercolours, Abdul's has a great deal for their nightly BBQ seafood, 15RM-25RM for your choice of BBQ and plenty of side dishes (you can get as much as you want). Their garlic bread is simple and amazing. Bring a flashlight or a digital camera with a large backscreen because it will be dark by the time you walk back.
Pasir Panjang on Kecil (Long Beach) is the only place in the islands with any semblance of a nightlife, although Besar's first bar has recently opened up. Alcohol is expensive at RM8 and up for a can of beer, and Muslim-owned restaurants can't sell you any. There is some under-the-counter booze floating around though, and bringing your own is also permitted in most otherwise dry restaurants.
Lily's on Long Beach is a great place to chill out and drink an expensive beer (or a relatively cheap bottle of Thai Song and coke)
There is very little luxury accommodation on the islands. with the top of the line being air-conditioned chalets (RM100-200) and the bottom being a bunk in a longhouse (RM10 and up). Discounts are usually negotiable in the off season (although most resorts are closed), for weekdays, for longer stays, if you show up late and they have room... but the better places can get snapped up fast, especially on weekends and holidays, so book in advance (easily arranged in Kuala Besut) or arrive early. Mosquitoes can be a problem after rain, so bring your own mosquito net if staying in low-end (non-aircon) accommodation.
The most popular backpacker destination is Pasir Panjang (Long Beach) on the eastern coast of Kecil, where a bed in a longhouse can go for as little as RM20. More private "chalets" with fan, electricity and bathroom start at RM50. From north to south:
Moonlight Chalets, Long Beach, Various types of accommodation including : dorm beds, small wooden chalets(very very simple) with fan and mosquito net to aircon rooms with beautiful views of the sea from the verandah. Food is OK. Wonderful receptionist, Dee Dee who seems to remember everyone's name..
Bubu Long Beach Resort , 03 7805 4380, This is the first ferroconcrete hotel on the islands, offering air-con, hot water and other creature comforts. Great views from the balcony. Excellent restaurant, but pricey compared the the rest of the beach. The resort has its own generator and has 24hr electricity.
Symphoni village, 60139755935, middle of Long Beach, Offers pretty much beach front chalets (quite a few would see the beach if it weren't for a canopy they built) and larger rooms for very cheap. An A-frame chalet goes for RM35 with a bathroom thats shared by perhaps 10 other chalets, and is not very clean. It has one bulb and one fan which can be uses 7pm to 7am. Mosquito nets are usually provided. My room had a couple of spotted geckos which had laid a bunch of eggs on the roof. Larger rooms are available with attached bathrooms starting from RM50. Security is an issue - bring your own padlock as thefts from this site are commonplace.
Matahari, south end of Long Beach, This is one of many identikit chalet operators, offering you a roof over your head, a mosquito net, a fan and a bathroom.
Mohsin Chalets , 603 21630963 Outdated Phone Number, 603 21630963 Outdated Phone Number, Blue roof chalets on the hills, south end of Long Beach, 25 chalets, one dormitory and a restaurant overlooking white sand beaches and a blue lagoon abundant with fish and living coral, and offers a prime location from which to witness the island's stunning sunrise. Restaurants offers buffet at nights, with movies on big-screen projectors and if you're lucky, the Reggae Band from Langkawi comes here to perform from time to time. The restaurant area overlooks the entire beach, and wi-fi Internet is free when you dine at the restaurant.
Rock Garden, on the side of the hill on the southernmost part of the beach, The cheapest place to stay on the island and for good reason. No additional amenities and very poor conditions but the price is right and it has a nice view of the incredible beach.
Elsewhere on the island:
D'Lagoon, 0199857089, in the bay north of Long Beach, Wooden chalets with mosquito nets, and own restaurant.Very good food/ quiet place with private beach. Coral is right in the bay but so close you cut yourself in low tide. Possible to walk from Long beach; follow power lines up to the windmill then walk a little bit down and take the first path to the right going into the jungle, when the path sections go to the right (make sure you keep moving to avoid mosquito bites).
Impiani Resort , +60 (0)19 9113 852, +60 (0)19 9113 852, southern end of Kecil, Large wooden chalets with verandah and air conditioning, either directly on the beach or higher up, some with great views, on a quiet and secluded beach. Good food. This resort is run by Watercolours, who have the Paradise Resort and Watercolours Dive Centre on the big island. If you are a diver then they pick you up for free and bring you the short distance to the dive centre. A very beautiful resort and setting.
Mira Beach Chalet , +60 16 647 6406 / +60 19 967 2349, +60 16 647 6406 / +60 19 967 2349, southwestern end of Kecil, Located on its own quiet beach, a 20 minute stroll down a paved jungle path from the busy beaches. Simple wooden chalets with mosquito nets, and a place to eat. All Rooms with fan and sea view. Rates: Room with shared bath RM40, Room with Bathroom Attached RM70. Dorm RM20.
Panorama Chalet & Restaurant, Middle of Long Beach, Panorama offers a variety of rooms and prices, ranging from a single bed with fan (RM 35) to a family style suite (two double beds, two bathrooms, and aircon - with 2 free dinners per night of stay RM140). Additionally, Panorama is a popular hub for many of those who stay on Long Beach.
Due to its popularity Kecil can get a little noisy at times, so to get away from it all, head for Besar. Starting from the northern Teluk Pauh:
A 5-minute walk away is Besar's nameless main beach, featuring the following:
Coral View Resort, +60-9-6974943, at the north end of Besar's main beach, Once a close number two to the PI Resort, it's taken some knocks over the years but was spruced up in 2007 and is now again a decent option. Standard rooms are back in the jungle, so it's best to opt for a beachfront room. A/C and fan-only rooms available. The restaurant food is good, although alcohol is not served and you are asked to not bring your own to the restaurant.
The Reef, The first in a series of near-identical no-frills chalets just south of the Coral View on the same beach, followed by *Paradise Island Resort/Watercolours* and *Mama's*. All offer basic non-air-conditioned chalets with basic attached bathrooms in the RM60-80 range.
Watercolours Paradise Resort, , Has clean but mostly basic non air-conditioned chalets (specifically request for one if desired) with attached bathrooms. The Garden View chalets are RM 60 and the Sea View chalets are RM 80. There's not much difference between the two, although the Sea View rooms are bigger and closer to the sea. The staff are very friendly and helpful. The Watercolours Restaurant and Dive Centre is attached to this resort. For those on a budget, this makes a good place to stay. There are no power outlets in the rooms, although they do let you use the restaurant's outlets. NEW: The rooms have all been redecorated for 2009 and now free wifi is available.
Mama's Place, Mama's Place is run by Aziz, a very friendly and organized person who will go the extra mile to make your stay enjoyable. Bungalows start from RM70 for a clean fan room with private bathroom. Aziz provides snorkeling equipment, arranges transfers and is more than willing to give you advice. The attached restaurant offers basic meals for breakfast and lunch but puts on a great BBQ dinner by the sea.
Crossing over to the next beach is a more challenging 15-minute hike up and down through the jungle, but it will bring you to the southwest beach and:
New Cocohut Chalet, a bit further south from the Cozy., One of the options on the south beach, New Cocohut offers air-conditioned chalets starting at RM130, chalets with a fan, and longhouse beds for less. However, expect unfriendly staff and run down toilets in the RM130 rooms with no water heater. The beach in front of Cocohut is also full of corals making it hard to swim even at the shallow ends. 10 mins walk to a nicer beach. Cocohut now are building even more chalets where Cozy Chalets used to be, to be ready in 2009. Its uphill and you have to climb stairs to reach to the beach. Good view, but also a small challenge to get up and down.
ABC Guesthouse, just further south on Besar's south beach, ABC is a barebones longhouse-only operation in a creaky two-story building, which looks like it will soon collapse and join Cozy in the dust pile of history.
Tuna Bay Island Resort , 09 6979 779, south of ABC, Tuna Bay is one of the newer and classier outfits, offering all air-con chalets at a steep RM290 and up, including hot showers and even safety deposit boxes in every room. The seaside restaurant is also pleasant with excellent food and a small bar.
Bubbles Resort, at the southern end of the island, A very quiet and small resort. Located in a beautiful bay you can rent family and air conditioned chalets with bathroom (from around RM150 and up) or cheap fan powered rooms with bathroom from RM50. There is a restaurant and a good dive school http://www.bubblesdc.com - canoes free to use and a volleyball net. Friendly staff. Ideal for families and those who wish to experience the islands` tranquility at its best.
The largest and the quietest beach on the islands, the southern beach has 6 resorts/chalets.
Arwana Perhentian Resort , +(609) 6911888, East end of the beach, Arwana is a family oriented resort at the very end of the beach, with reasonable room rates and a small swimming pool. Air-conditioned rooms start from RM140, and there are dorms available for large groups at RM30/person. All the air-conditioned rooms have TVs with a few channels on. The staff are very helpful and can arrange your boat transfers if you haven't already. Also offers free WiFi in the main lounge.
Samudra Resort, 609 691 1677, 609 691 1677, Beside Arwana, Quiet resort with a fan beach (RM60) and garden chalets (RM40-50). No power sockets in the rooms but electricity mostly 24 hours.
Flora Bay 1 and 2, There are two resorts separated by the Fauna resort offering chalets and rooms at reasonable prices. Nice restaurant and the 2nd pool on Besar.
Everfresh chalets, It had a lot of chalets and some rooms, but it looked deserted the last time I saw it, although not abandoned.
Mosquitoes can be a nuisance after it rains. Bring repellent and consider burning a mosquito coil (available locally), especially if your bed does not have a mosquito net.
Tap water is generally not safe to drink. Bottled water is widely available at a fairly expensive RM 3-5 per 1.5L bottle.
The sun can be extremely hot and burning in the afternoons till early evenings. Slap on sunscreen and, if snorkeling, wear a T-shirt. (Take note that ocean conservationists do not encourage sunscreen to be in contact with the sea water as it ruins the corals! So avoid sunscreen and throw on a t-shirt if you can) The midday sun is the most dangerous and can really ruin a holiday if you're not careful. Caps, hats or any other sun protective gear would be a good idea.
Internet cafes can be found on both Kecil and Besar. Although some connections are slow and a little expensive (RM 10 for 30 mins) many resorts are now installing satellite broadband. If your main reason to use the internet is to stay in touch with friends and family then another option is getting a prepaid GSM SIM and use your mobile phone. Most modern phones do handle email, just remember to get the appropriate settings from you email provider. Rates are the same for all three operators in Malaysia: 0,01RM/kB.
Lazy Boy Shop, Long Beach, Kecil
Gen Mart, Long Beach, Kecil
Panorama Chalet, Long Beach, Kecil
Coral View Island Resort, Besar
Tropical Reef, Besar
Senja Bay Resort, Kecil (September 2007)
Mama's Place, Besar (June 2008)
GSM mobile phone coverage is available on both islands as all three (Digi, Celcom and Maxis) operators have placed their respective cell towers (huge red and white ones). They look a bit weird coming out of the green jungle. Celcom and Maxis provide UMTS 3G coverage though coverage is more limited than GSM, the best coverage is in the band between the islands (east coast of Kecil and west coast of Besar). There are some points where reception cannot be reached on the more secluded beaches. In particular the whole southern beach on Besar has very poor reception and no 3G reception.
For all their beauty, the Perhentians remain a bit of an up-and-coming attraction and there are some missing bits in the infrastructure to be aware of:
Credit cards are accepted only by some dive shops. However, a number of places will charge an additional 3-6%.The only place on the islands where you can get a cash advance is on Bubu Long Beach Resort on Kecil, which charges 10%. Perhentian Island Resort on Besar used to be able to do a cash advance but that is not true anymore (July 2007). Money can be changed at least on Long Beach, but rates are bad (approx. 10% worse than in mainland). Watercolours on Perhentian Besar will change money with only a small commission.
Electricity generators provide most of the electricity on the islands. Power outages are not uncommon and in many cheaper chalets power is only provided at night. It seems most places that have outages on Besar are only limited to 3-hour blackouts during the late afternoon (4-7pm, a good time to snorkel or jungle trek).
There are concerns that the coral reef will be gone in as little as ten years because of the intensive tourism industry. But as long as you take care and do not touch the living coral you will not be contributing to that directly.
Many snorkeling trip operators have very little awareness of environmental issues. They may discard plastic bags which contained food for attracting fish directly into the sea. This adds up to thousands of plastic bags needlessly thrown into the ocean. Do what you can do discourage this neglectful habit.
If you are a diver then you can dive with operators who do care about the marine environment. One or two Dive Centres run regular reef and beach clean operations and even offer the Reef Check survey methodology, which you can learn whilst helping to monitor and conserve the marine environment. Check our Watercolours and Coral Sky Dive Centres.
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