Thailand, May 2022

We recently returned from a trip to Thailand in celebration of the start of my year-long sabbatical. While said sabbatical started at the beginning of May, this was our first trip together since I stopped working and it was our first chance to travel knowing that when we returned home, I wouldn’t face an avalanche of pending tasks.

This booking evolved several times. I originally intended to include stopovers in both Japan and South Korea on either side of our time in Thailand, but those didn’t work out because Japan did not open for tourism as I expected and my return flight from South Korea was cancelled without an alternative. In the end, we decided to keep things simple and make Thailand our sole destination.

The impetus for this booking was a mention from a friend that he and his wife were going to be visiting the Conrad Koh Samui at the end of May. After a brief look at the property, I decided to join him.

As usual, I’ll detail the final bookings only given that the trip evolved continuously from the start of planning until a couple of weeks before our trip.

Bookings

It pays to have a variety of airline miles and hotel points and this trip was a great example of that. It is also a great example of maximizing value when you find it.

Flights

  • Angela and Nicholas
    • 60,000 United Airlines MileagePlus Miles + 42.10USD per person
      • LAS-SFO on UA J
      • SFO-FRA on UA J
      • FRA-HKT on UA J
    • 1390THB (41.48USD) per person
      • HKT-BKK on TG Y
    • 6360THB (188.93USD) per person
      • BKK-USM on PG Y
      • USM-BKK on PG Y
    • 75,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles + 32.63USD per person
      • BKK-NRT on JL J
      • NRT-LAX on JL F
      • LAX-LAS on AS J

The United Airlines award was booked during a period where UA’s award engine was pricing itineraries at a lower level than usual. It is not reproducible at this time, but it was a great deal and I’m happy to have booked it. The Alaska Airlines award was in place for quite some time and, two weeks out from our travel date, I was able to upgrade the NRT-LAX segment from business class to first class for 10,000 additional miles.

Hotels

Other Costs

Due to the nature of this trip and the elongated planning process, there were a few unavoidable fees and other expenses associated with it. I want to mention these specifically because they’re important to consider when booking complex trips that involve multiple itineraries and redundant bookings.

  • 25.00USD Alaska Airlines non-refundable partner booking fee for a cancelled itinerary
  • 150.00USD Singapore Airlines mileage redeposit fee for a cancelled itinerary
  • 159.10USD United Airlines mileage purchase fee for 4,000 miles
  • 3000THB (175.26USD) cancellation fee (50%) for Bangkok Food Tours
  • 1100THB (31.90USD) per person for insurance required when applying for the Thailand Pass
  • 550THB (16.07USD) per person for SARS-COV-2 rapid antigen tests prior to returning home

SARS-COV-2 Procedures

With how quickly travel requirements change, it is likely that those we encountered and are outlined in the following few paragraphs may be out of date when you’re reading this. That being said, this is what we encountered and the solutions we chose to ensure everyone could move between countries with a minimum of fuss.

For entry, Thailand required travelers from the United States to be fully vaccinated or, if unvaccinated, to provide a negative SARS-COV-2 PCR test prior to departure. In addition, all travelers were required to apply for the Thailand Pass which required submitting proof of vaccination, proof of insurance valid in Thailand, and expected date of arrival.

For entry, the USA required all travelers to present a negative SARS-COV-2 PCR or antigen result obtained within one calendar day of departure. To fulfill this requirement, we opted to test at BKK airport the day prior to our flights back to the United States for a cost of 550THB per person.

For our outbound itinerary, we were able to provide the documentation required for travel to the airline (United Airlines, in this case) through their bespoke Travel-Ready Center and receive confirmation of acceptance within a few minutes.

For our inbound itinerary, we provided the negative test result at check-in and provided the required CDC attestation prior to boarding our flight in Tokyo bound for the United States.

Day 0

This travel saga begins the day before we left when I attempted to check Angela and myself into our United Airlines itineraries and was unable to persist our seat selections. At that point, I discovered that we had been equipment swapped from a B77W featuring retrofitted United Polaris business class seats to an older B789 and that Angela and I were seated in separate rows next to unrelated people.

I made multiple requests to United Airlines to move us into seats next to each other or, as a last resort, move us onto the earlier SFO-FRA flight which showed the availability we needed. After two phone calls and a ninety minute chat session, I was finally able to get us into the middle seats next to one another. It took some effort, but it all worked out in the end and it prevented the seat switching dance that so many other couples had to do once we boarded.

Days 1 and 2

Our flight from LAS didn’t depart until later in the day so we went through our normal morning routine before boarding Fitz and taking a car to the airport. At LAS, we tried to access the Centurion Lounge to grab some food, but there was a thirty person line to get on a wait-list and another twenty people waiting nearby who had already been added to said wait-list. As such, we opted to head to The Club at LAS, the second-tier lounge available in Terminal 3. We were able to access it without a wait and, while crowded, it was nice to get some light refreshments before our initial flight.

The LAS-SFO flight was uneventful, although we notably flew on the 8,000th Boeing 737 ever assembled, marked with a special sticker on the fuselage.

Once we disembarked in San Francisco, we walked to the United Polaris Lounge planning to grab a Polaris Burger before our flight to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, the lounge was understaffed and, while the Dining Room seemed to be mostly empty, there was a wait-list long enough that we were unable to secure a table during our layover. We chose to eat from the buffet which offered an extensive salad bar, a variety of protein sources, and a light pasta dish. Given our past experiences with UA’s onboard catering, we chose to to fill up before departure.

We arrived at our gate at the listed boarding time and waited about 15 minutes before boarding actually started. Once onboard, we settled into our seats, took a look at the menu, and decided we’d order some drinks and dessert before going to sleep. While the menu card offered slippers and pajamas, there were no pajamas available given they are only provided on Polaris flights of 12 hours or more. The slippers we were given were quite nice, though.

After dining service concluded and the lights were turned off, we were able to sleep for most of the flight. While the seats aren’t cutting edge and are in a sub-optimal layout for those not in the center, the pillows and blanket that are part of the United Polaris product are a delight. The cabin was a little warm, but that was mitigated by the presence of individual air nozzles at our seats.

Breakfast was served about an hour before landing and Angela and I both chose the “continental” breakfast consisting of a small assortment of fruit and some strawberry yogurt. After deplaning in Frankfurt, we walked from the F gates, where we landed, to the upper B gates. This involved exiting the secure area and re-clearing security but did not require immigration processing as we never left the transit area.

We visited the Lufthansa Business Lounge near Gate B24 and stayed for a few hours while enjoying pretzels and beer before exiting and stretching our legs in advance of our flight to Phuket. During our terminal tour, we visited our departure gate so that I could change my seat and sit next to Angela during the flight.

We boarded twenty minutes later than expected but ended up departing on time because the plane seemed to be half empty. Luckily, we ended up on a B77W with the more desirable seat layout. Once we boarded, we were offered beverages of our choice and presented with available meal selections. Angela and I both chose Thai-style chicken stir fry for both meals.

The dishes on board were flavorful and tasty. We were served a delicious chocolate and cream mousse with a strawberry for dessert alongside some surprisingly bold and fresh coffee. After the meal service, Angela made our beds with the mattress pad provided and we both laid down to get what sleep we could.

We awoke about three hours before landing and chatted about the plan for once we arrived. Clearing immigration and customs was very straightforward given our preparations. We stopped at an ATM to secure some local currency before heading to the exit to meet the car that I’d arranged. A woman holding a sign for Keemala advised us to wait a few minutes after which we were whisked into a Mercedes-Benz sedan for the journey to the property.

Check-in at Keemala was friendly and we were offered some small refreshments during the process before being taken by golf cart to our villa. The room was beautiful, with one half containing the sleeping and living quarters and the other half housing a huge bathroom with outdoor shower. Everything in the minibar was complimentary with the exception of alcohol and chocolate bars. The delicious drinks and snacks were replenished each night free of charge.

The exterior of the room featured a small deck and a private pool which we immediately dipped into.

After an hour of lounging, we started to get a bit peckish and ordered dinner.

  • Som Tum Gai Yang (papaya salad with chicken)
  • Moo Hong (Phuket-style slow-cooked stewed pork belly)
  • Pla Nueng Manao (steamed sea bass fillet with chili lime sauce)

The dishes were quite delicious and well worth the price paid. We fell asleep early given the time spent traveling combined with the drastic time zone shift.

Day 3

After waking up, we visited the relatively small but well equipped fitness room located next to the property’s restaurant. We exercised until a few others decided to join us in the cramped space and decided to leave so as not to stay in an isolated area with others.

We walked across the hallway to the property’s restaurant and chose to enjoy breakfast outside. The breakfast was included as part of our rate and consisted of a small buffet, a substantial a la carte menu, and delicious drinks.

  • Angela
    • Red Sunrise Boost Juice
    • Khai Kra-Tha (fried eggs with savory toppings)
    • Buckwheat Waffle
  • Nicholas
    • Green Clean Juice
    • Khai Jiew (Thai omelet)
    • Khai Kra-Tha (fried eggs with savory toppings)

After breakfast we returned to our room to let our food settle before heading back to the fitness room to finish our workout while doing a brief walking tour of the property.

Afterwards, we made our way to the meditation cave and practiced yoga for about thirty minutes. The meditation cave is a really unique feature of the property and one that I could see getting a lot of use from someone interested in self-care.

We spent most of the afternoon lounging in our pool and, while it was relaxing for the first few hours, the vibe changed when people started getting boisterous at the property’s main pool. We retreated to our bathroom, isolated from the noise, and continued our lounging in the giant soaking tub. Dinner was provided via in-room dining and was again delicious.

  • Phad Kra Prao (stir-fried basil with chicken)
  • Gaeng Phed Ped Yaag (red curry with roasted duck)

Day 4

Our second morning at Keemala was pretty much the same as our first. We woke up, exercised, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

  • Angela
    • Red Sunrise Boost Juice
    • Khai Kra-Tha (fried eggs with savory toppings)
    • Crepe
  • Nicholas
    • Green Clean Juice
    • Khai Kra-Tha (fried eggs with savory toppings)
    • Phuket Dim Sum

After breakfast we strolled around the property and found the suspension bridge that runs above the meditation cave’s pond, observed the garden that provides many of the herbs and vegetables for the resort, and took a look at the various other villa types. The walk around the hilly property was a great way to spend our last morning in Phuket.

After freshening up we called someone to pick up our luggage so we could check-out. At check-out, there was no record of the transportation that I’d requested to the airport and the front desk staff refused to charge me for the pickup service from the airport. Luckily, a staff member quickly arranged us transport via local taxi for 800THB.

Overall, our stay at Keemala was good for two nights and a nice way to acclimate to the new time zone. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than two or three nights at this property at the risk of getting bored.

At HKT, we checked our bags and received paper boarding passes before passing through security, a process that took less than five minutes in its entirety. We saw a special couch reserved for Buddhist monks, which was pretty interesting.

We visited the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge courtesy of Priority Pass. Drinks and packaged snacks in the lounge were self-serve, but most hot food was served by staff.

Our flight to BKK departed on time and passed without incident. The seats were comfortable enough for the short journey and flight attendants were diligent about ensuring that passengers wore their masks properly. When we deplaned, we were given a bag of refreshments, including a small sandwich and a bottle of water.

When we arrived, our bags were delayed for about twenty minutes before appearing on the carousel. We walked to the taxi stand and arranged transport to our hotel. I specifically asked the driver if the meter was running while pointing at it. He confirmed it was, but refused to honor the meter when we arrived at the St. Regis Bangkok. I decided not to fight it because it wasn’t worth it, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Our check-in was friendly. We were given complementary cappuccinos while we waited for our room to be ready.

Once we had access, the room was in-line with my expectations based on our previous stay at the property. Our butler arrived shortly after we settled in and informed us of the benefits available to us, including on-demand hot beverage service.

We had scheduled a food tour via scooter set to depart at 1800 but, just as we were about to walk to the meeting point, a torrential downpour started. I called the tour company and asked if the tour was still going forward and was informed that it would but that the tour guide and scooter drivers would meet us at the hotel and to stand by.

About twenty minutes later the rainstorm had become a thunderstorm and, given we were hungry, we decided to voluntarily cancel the tour and accept a 50% refund because of the weather. I don’t really understand how the tour company expected to move forward with the tour, but that’s how things shook out.

Our hunger demanded satisfaction and, because we had a 100.00USD dining credit available to us, we opted to eat at Viu, one of the property’s restaurants. The restaurant was hosting a special dining experience called the Epic Dinner Buffet on the night of our stay. The buffet included unlimited steak and seafood dishes with one lobster per person. We enjoyed our meal quite a bit.

Day 5

I ordered a couple of cappuccinos via butler service to start our day and it reminded me how much I love staying at St. Regis properties. After they arrived, we got dressed and headed to the gym.

The property has one of the best hotel gyms that we’ve ever had the pleasure of using. In addition to the usual treadmills and exercise bikes, there is a set of heavy dumbbells, a Smith machine, a barbell with free weights, and a boxing ring. A sign in the gym indicated that you could arrange personal Muay Thai lessons for a reasonable price.

We worked up an appetite, so the vast breakfast spread was very welcome. I will never cease to be amazed by the quantity and variety of food provided at luxury hotels in Asia. I enjoyed a few delicious pastries, fresh fruit, excellent dim sum, and noodles. Most hot dishes were served by staff, a Covid related change.

After breakfast, we walked to Lumpini Park to enjoy the sunny day. We saw some local wildlife in the park, including a few water monitor lizards, and about a dozen cats.

When we returned to the room, I ordered two more cappuccinos to enjoy while we packed up and prepared to check-out. After settling the bill, the front desk called a taxi to take us to the airport. At BKK, we checked our bags via one of the many automated kiosks and printed paper boarding passes for our flight.

We passed through security without incident before heading to the Royal Silk Lounge near Gate A1 courtesy of Priority Pass. The lounge was a pleasant place for the ninety minutes we spent there and offered a reasonable spread of food and drinks. It was also very close to our departure gate, a nice coincidence given that security is at the gate rather than when entering the terminal.

We met David, the aforementioned friend who was the impetus for this trip, and Fay for the first time in the lounge and spent some time chatting before heading to our gate in advance of boarding.

The flight was short and pleasant, taking only fifty minutes from gate to gate. Again, the flight attendants were diligent about ensuring that passengers wore their masks properly, and, again, when we deplaned, we were given a bag of refreshments, including a small sandwich and a bottle of water.

We picked up our bags and met the driver that I’d arranged through our hotel. It took about forty-five minutes to reach the resort and we were greeted immediately by name once we arrived. Check-in was straightforward and we were driven to our room via golf cart while being given a brief tour of the property.

The rooms at the Conrad Koh Samui are absolutely stunning. They’re split in half with one side containing the bed and sitting area and the other side hosting a huge soaking tub, shower, and toilet facilities. Every villa has a private infinity pool that overlooks the Gulf of Thailand. When we arrived, we found a couple of personalized stuffed bears on our bed for us to take with us, a gesture that I really appreciated. In addition, we were provided with a delicious cake that read Congratulations in recognition of my sabbatical.

After unpacking, I messaged the concierge to make a reservation at Jahn, the upscale restaurant at the property, for the following night. The restaurant requires 24-hour notice for dining and I knew that we’d want to enjoy the bespoke experience that they offered. A short while later, we met David and Fay for dinner at Zest, the Thai restaurant that is also used to serve breakfast.

We ate here every night of our stay except for the night we dined at Jahn. The food was uniformly delicious and the chefs happily tailored dishes to the spice level desired. Personally, I thought the prices were cheap given the captive nature of the resort and the size of the portions.

  • Angela
    • Gaeng Nuea Phrik Khi Nu Suan (braised beef red curry, bird’s green chili, kaffir lemon leaf, and reduction of coconut milk)
  • Nicholas
    • Kai Mak Samun Prai (fried chicken marinated in Thai herbs, served with tamarind-chili sauce)
    • Moo Grob Pad Kana (stir-fried crispy pork belly with kale and crispy garlic)

Day 6

We woke before dawn and watched the sun rise before heading to the gym for an early workout. The fitness center contained a variety of cardiovascular equipment, an extensive cable machine setup, a small amount of free weights, and a Smith machine. Overall, a great place to get a workout in on vacation.

After our morning exercise, we walked to Zest for breakfast. Espresso drinks were available on demand and the buffet was extensive enough that we never felt the need to order from a la carte options that were available. I particularly enjoyed the pastries and fruits that were available. The noodle bar was decent, but not exceptional.

We relaxed in our villa’s pool for a couple of hours before walking down to the beachfront to kayak. The beach concierge on duty was not enthusiastic about us going out on the water given the waves that were breaking over the reef, but he eventually relented and off we went with a promise that we not stray too far from the reef. To be completely honest, this ended up being a waste of time. It was hard to get any momentum given the shallowness of the water and the fact that we were banging off a sandbar or rock every few yards. After about twenty minutes, we gave up and resolved to return the next day.

Departing from the beach, we stopped at the main pool to hang out with David and Fay for about forty-five minutes before returning to our villa to relax. I messaged our concierge asking her to book us a spa treatment for the following day and to secure us a spot for Muay Thai lessons on the day after. We walked up to Botanikka for some mid-day coffee and Angela tried Koka, a cold brew fermented coffee.

Later that evening, we visited Jahn for dinner and it was incredible. The food was amazing, the portions were larger than most tasting menus we’ve enjoyed, and the price was low compared to a similar meal anywhere else in the world.

We took a golf cart back to the room and fell asleep quite satisfied by the day.

Day 7

We slept in a bit and visited the fitness room for a brief but intense workout before enjoying a leisurely breakfast. I made us a smoothie on the “smoothie bike” after selecting some fresh fruit, herbs, and yogurt.

Afterwards, we returned to the room and covered ourselves in sunscreen before heading back to the beach to try kayaking again given the waves were dead. We had a good time traversing the beachfront a few times but, unfortunately, my phone ended up soaked in the surf and turned off, never to be resurrected, taking quite a few pictures with it.

After our kayaking session we returned to our room and enjoyed the villa’s pool for thirty minutes before scrubbing all the sunscreen off and heading to the spa for a ninety-minute couples’ massage. The treatment started with a foot soak and scrub before the massage proper. Angela and I both agreed this was the best massage of our lives, with the masseuses honoring our pressure preferences and concentrating in just the right spots. The spa pricing is very reasonable.

When we returned from our massage, we wanted nothing more than to enjoy the post-treatment glow so we took a nap on our villa’s deck before meeting up with David and Fay for dinner at Zest to end the day. I put on my best holiday wear and walked to the restaurant.

  • Angela
    • Phad Thai Over Sea (stir fried rice noodle sauteed with seafood, tamarind sauce, and the traditional garnish)
  • Nicholas
    • Nuea Yang on Zest (grilled skirt steak, garlic, coriander, sticky rice balls, and Thai chili sauce)
  • Shared
    • Kai Mak Samun Prai (fried chicken marinated in Thai herbs, served with tamarind-chili sauce)
    • Khao Niew Miamuang (sweet sticky rice with mango)

Day 8

We skipped the fitness room and ate breakfast immediately upon waking in preparation for our Muay Thai lessons at 0900. This morning, Angela powered our smoothie blending.

After taking a stroll to let our food settle, we meandered down to the beach deck for some exercise.

The instructor was entertaining, friendly, and informative. The class was excellent exercise and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning the basics of Muay Thai. The class was challenging if you took it seriously and Angela and I both ended up sweating so much that our clothes were soaked through. If we return in the future, I’ll make sure we’re signed up for Muay Thai lessons on every day that they’re available.

We returned to the room to dry off and scrub away some of the sweat before returning to the main pool area to hang out with David and Fay. Most of the day was spent chatting.

We ordered a few drinks and enjoyed lunch at the pool deck restaurant, Azure.

  • Angela
    • Gin Fizz
  • Nicholas
    • Passion Fruit Lemonade
  • Shared
    • Caesar Salad with Bacon and Chicken
    • Parmesan Truffle Fries

After lunch, we took a golf cart to the property’s coffee shop, Botanikka, where we enjoyed a few drinks and visited with a bunch of ducks. Surprisingly, they would come when called and even let you touch them. Be careful, though, as one of them gave me a little nibble when I got too close! After coffee, we walked back to the room to freshen up for dinner which we enjoyed at Zest again. For some reason, I forgot to note which dishes we ate this night.

Day 9

On our last day in Koh Samui we visited the fitness room but it was packed full of people so we skipped our workout and enjoyed a lengthy breakfast. We returned to the room to pack and relax on our villa’s deck for the last time. David and Fay came to say goodbye before we checked out and took a car to the airport.

We checked in for a flight and checked our bags. USM is an absolutely gorgeous airport with an open-air terminal surrounded by lush vegetation.

We visited the Blue Ribbon Lounge courtesy of Priority Pass. It is a small air conditioned room in the middle of the domestic gates with snacks, drinks, and hot food on demand. We grabbed a couple cans of Coke Light before heading to our gate. Once boarding started, we hopped on a tram which took us the remote gate.

Our flight to BKK departed on time and passed without incident and was essentially a repeat of our previous flight from BKK to USM. We declined the bag of refreshments available upon deplaning given we didn’t want to waste them.

After collecting our bags, we walked outside to the SARS-COV-2 testing facility run by Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital. We paid 550THB per person for a rapid antigen test good for travel to the United States. After a brain tickling swab, we waited twenty minutes for our negative test results and the assurance we could return home without issue.

We secured a taxi at the airport and I confirmed that he’d be using a meter and made sure he started it for me. Again, he wanted to charge us a flat fee well in excess of the metered rate, but I did not want a repeat of our first taxi ride. The driver, unfortunately, passed the entrance of our lodging, went the wrong way down a dead end street, and got angry with us about the situation for some reason. I eventually told him to stop the car and we walked the quarter mile back to the hotel.

Service was great at check-in with all the benefits of our booking clearly explained. We were escorted to our gorgeous room which contained both a chocolate cake and two young coconuts as welcome amenities.

We ate dinner at The Front Door, the upscale Thai restaurant on property, and it was absolutely delicious.

  • Angela
    • Phla Lai Bua Hoy Shell (seared Hokkaido scallop, lotus stem, pomelo, homemade chili paste)
    • Nuea Khem Tom Kati (coconut broth, salted beef cheek, shallot, chili)
  • Nicholas
    • Goong Phae Phrik Gaeng Gub Ajard (crunchy curried prawn, sweet and sour cucumber sauce)
    • Suea Rong Hai (marinated wagyu beef, roasted rice, chili powder)
  • Shared
    • Maphrao Cheesecake (coconut cheesecake, young coconut jelly, white chocolate mousse)

After the credits from our booking, the meal cost approximately 150THB out of pocket, a fantastic value.

Day 10

Our journey home was a long one, starting with a wake-up call at 0430 before a riotous taxi ride with a driver sporting a Mohawk and blaring American pop music streamed via YouTube. Check-in at BKK was easy given our test results were in order. We were given a copy of the CDC attestation form to fill out and hand over when we reached Tokyo.

We walked to the Sakura Lounge run by Japan Airlines and enjoyed a few quiet moments before re-entering the terminal and boarding our flight. Our flight from BKK to NRT was on a B789 featuring the Sky Suite III seat configuration. It was a pleasant flight, as usual with Japan Airlines, with a tasty Japanese meal and excellent service. Angela and I were both able to get some sleep after our early morning.

When we arrived in NRT we were directed to the international transit zone. The airport is certainly different from the last time we visited, with most shops closed and most sections of the airport roped off given the small number of gates operating. While we had a short transit, our flight’s boarding was delayed a little over an hour thanks to a tornado warning.

We eventually boarded and were personally greeted by each of the first class flight attendants and the purser. The seats were enormous, the bedding was delightful, the food was restaurant quality delicious, and the service was fantastic. If we have the opportunity in the future, we will definitely fly Japan Airlines first class again. The flight was nine hours but it felt like it passed in no time at all.

A particular highlight for us was the Queen of Blue tea served in a wine glass. Angela and I drank two bottles over the first couple of hours of the flight.

I was a little concerned about our connecting flight, but we landed early in spite of our departure delay so, once we cleared customs at LAX, we visited the Alaska Lounge prior to our short flight home. Once we arrived at LAS, we ordered an Uber for the ride home before heading out to pick Fitz up from boarding. Thus, our trip was complete and our family reunited.

We had a fantastic time in Thailand and on both our outbound and inbound journeys. In fact, the Conrad Koh Samui was such a delight that we’re already planning on returning at some point in the future. It was very nice to meet David and Fay in person after having interacted with David online for almost three years and I’m looking forward to meeting some other churning friends on future trips this year.

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