Fixing Cisco Linksys E4200 v2 Stability Issues

I have an old Cisco Linksys E4200 v2 and have decided to share my fix for various stability issues that are present in the hardware design. It’s still quite a useful little router for my purposes (even though now there are newer faster designs).

There are two problems that I have encountered:

  • Power Supply: The stock power supply is not the best and mine stopped working (the device would not power on after a year or two). The fix here is pretty easy, change the power supply.
  • Overheating / stability: There are a lot of reports of the E4200 overheating and becoming unstable. That is, after a couple of minutes or hours of functioning, it stops working.

My post deals mostly with the overheating issue.  A solution that I have found is to use a Raspberry PI heatsink kit to replace the heatpads and RF shield combo on the router. Other methods of freezing the router are not going to be long term solutions.

In order to install this, you need to open the router. There are screws on the bottom, hidden by plastic feet covers. There are then a set of plastic clips that hold the lid onto the router. Once open, the circuit board should look like the photo below.

There are two steps to the installation:

  • Install CPU Heatsinks: There are three RF shields. The two at the bottom are for wireless circuits and the larger one on the top is for the main CPU. Use a screwdriver to gently prise open the RF cover over the main CPU (it should click out). Take off the heat pads from the processors / surface mounted chips. Stick on the Raspberry PI chips as shown in my photo.
  • Create cooling vents: In order for the router to cool itself via convection, you need to add some cooling vents in the top cover. I recommend drilling holes into it in a grid pattern. You should cover not only the CPU area but also the wireless circuits as they are large generators of heat. Sure, it ain’t pretty, but it works.

Put the router back together and reboot it – it should start working.  Mine has been on for the past few weeks with some large sustained activity uploading to my AWS Glacier cold storage… and it works perfectly fine. Good luck!

MacBook 2017: First Impressions

I recently acquired a MacBook 2017. It has been over 7 years since my last new Mac purchase experience, so I thought I’d document the first impressions since my last purchase experience. (Full disclosure: I’m primarily a Microsoft Windows / PC user, with Office 2016 for personal and professional use).

In short: I’m really impressed. In under an hour, I had all my apps up and running, my files synched from the Microsoft cloud, and a fully productive, secure portable computer. The small software and hardware changes that Apple have made since 2009 are noticeably productive and pleasing. Finally, the computer lacks the platform lock-in feeling of other Apple products (which is a good thing).

 

In more detail:

  • Unboxing experience is really quite good (with some reservations): Next day delivery. The UPS box is designed to lift the MacBook box up and out as you open it. The laptop is the first thing you see, then the charger and instructions. The instructions are in a small envelope with an internal spacer in the envelope to make it a small box to fit the hole in the larger box perfectly: nice touch. The downsides then. The MacBook box is too large: they could have shipped a smaller adapter to make the box smaller. The MacBook box is only in English with a French sticker over it — it is a good hack, but not perfect.
  • Physical hardware: Small form factor and wow factor first up, until you pick it up and realise it is quite heavy. At first glance, not much has changed here since 2009, but then some subtle changes are really apparent.
    • Keyboard / Touch Pad The new keyboard feels unlike anything I’ve used before. It has a very positive click to every press but very little throw. The touchpad is classic apple, really reactive, smooth, precise. Good false thumb rejection. The force feature, a bit annoying as there is no allegory anywhere else. Instead of delete there is a power button … which does NOTHING as I type this. Total fail. I clock 107 WPM in 10 fast fingers at 97.8% in my first hour on the keyboard, so I guess this is a win for the Apple.
    • Screen: The screen is just wonderful. Great gamut, very sharp, and accurate colour from the get go.
    • Single USB-C Port: I’m a huge fan of this feature. One port to charge and to connect them all. It works with all my USB-C chargers thus far (15W and the supplied 29W)
    • Case polishing defect: The case is milled from aluminium and in my sample, you can see the milling lines on the wrist pad. You can only see it (and not feel it), but still. Apple needs to work a little on the finishing / sanding of their cases. A shame.
    • Laptop screen balance: The laptop is screen heavy, so it wants to lean backwards. Your hands on the wrist pads and the screen itself balances this out, but I imagine Apple agonised over this because they could have made the laptop heavier and more balanced (with more battery life).
    • Sound: The speakers are well designed and throw out quite a bit of noise for the size.
    • No fan / silent running: With the low thermal profile of these new Intel chips, the laptop is completely silent. Which is great apart from the click noise from the keys and mouse.
  • Software: Lots of small changes to OS X since Lion or whatever it was back then.
    • Setup: The initial setup wizard is almost the same, apart from the inclusion of AppleID / iCloud and FileVault.
    • Applications included: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are now included in the base build. Maps is also there.
    • iOS features have managed to make it to OS X: Autocomplete, Siri, notifications, and others… These may seem like small features, but they are significant and show that Apple are sharing features cross platform.
    • Setting it all up: Unfortunately, common applications outside the Apple walled garden need to be side loaded from the web. Why not the App Store? Chrome, Firefox, Spotify, Skype, Office … I’m talking about you (this might not be Apple’s fault). As an added feature, post installation, OS X will ask you if you want to move the install to the Trash.
    • Safari: This is worth a bullet point on its own. It feels like it is more elegantly integrated into OS X than Firefox or Chrome. For example, as you enter in your credentials, you can save them but also grant access to other OS X features at the same time. I’m not entirely supportive of this but I can understand the convenience.
    • Retina Screen Rendering: I’ve got mixed feelings about this. By default, the magnification in the applications is huge, reducing the information density. But it also makes sense on the smaller screen. For the most part, Apple have updated all apps to be Retina ready, but there are some exceptions: like the flags for the keyboard formats and web applications. A small detail, but still.
    • Default screen font: San Francisco is a wonderful change from Myriad. It is more legible and cleaner (and arguably more so than Helvetica). It’s a nice touch that it is on the physical keyboard as well (although I do miss Univers).

Migrating from Amazon Kindle to Kobo E-Reader (Using Free Tools)

This blog post explains the migration from Amazon Kindle to Kobo E-Reader. I had purchased the Kobo independently of wanting to do such a migration (and use two devices) but I found tools online that facilitate such a migration (and also remove Amazon’s DRM in the process).

I believe such side loading is legal since I have purchased the book already from Amazon. I guess this is my only caveat.

My tools below are based on the Microsoft Windows platform; however you can use the Apple Macintosh versions of these tools. All of these tools are freely available.

What you will need:

  • Calibre e-Book Manager: A free e-book manager for Windows and Macintosh (https://calibre-ebook.com/). This tool will ingest the Amazon E-Books and convert them to the target profile desired.
  • DeDRM Calibre Plugin: A free plugin for Calibre that decrypts Amazon E-Books and removes DRM. This is an open source project, with pre-built plugins (https://github.com/apprenticeharper/DeDRM_tools/releases).
  • Amazon Kindle Reader for PC Version 1.17 or earlier: The version is important, as any version after 1.17 will output a file that is currently not able to be decrypted by DeDRM. Search the internet for an archived version of 1.17 (here for example).

Instructions

  • Download all the tools noted above.
  • Install Calibre e-Book Manager.
  • Install DeDRM Calibre Plugin, using the instructions provided. Within Calibre, go to Preferences, add a custom downloaded plugin by using the feature in Calibre and indicating the downloaded DeDRM Zip file release on your hard drive. Restart Calibre.
  • Run Amazon Kindle Reader for PC v1.17. Connect it to your account and download your books.
  • In Calibre, click Add Books and select all the books downloaded by the Amazon Kindle Reader for PC. These should be in Documents \ My Kindle Content, and should have the extension of .azw.
  • If DeDRM has been installed correctly, these files should be imported into Calibre. The titles of the E-Books will be in the list of books instead of the filename on your hard drive. Double click one to check. If you can open the file, the DRM has been removed.

At this point, you have successfully decrypted the Amazon Kindle E-Books and removed the DRM. If you have a Kobo, you can then convert and sideload the E-Book to your reader by doing the following:

  • Install the KoboUtilities plugin in Calibre by clicking Get New Plugin, finding it in the list and installing it. Restart Calibre.
  • Plug in your Kobo E-Reader via USB to the computer running Calibre. Click on KoboUtilities on the toolbar. It should be detected, so add it as a managed device.
  • Select the book(s) you want to transfer to the Kobo, and click Send to Device.
  • Calibre should perform the conversion and upload the book(s) over USB to the Kobo.

The Amazon Kindle E-Book(s) should now be on your Kobo. Congratulations!

Pentax K-30 / K-50 Black Picture Problem and Fix (Aperture Control Block)

Pentax K-30 and K-50 have a problem with the aperture control block mechanism within the camera that causes them to not actuate the aperture, hence giving only black photos. This is due to a small solenoid within the camera, that over time becomes more magnetized and fails to actuate.

The fix is simple: take out the moving horseshoe part from the solenoid and then file or grind it down to reduce the magnetic force imposed on it at rest. The filing works because it reduces the effective contact area at rest, hence reducing the amount of magnetic flux lines going through it.

This post is an addendum to the very useful video posted here by MBS TV. This will show you how to open the camera and also a good technique on saving the screws.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZZoTUQvwBI

What the video doesn’t show you is how to do it for a K-30 nor how to extract the solenoid. To extract the part on the K-30, there are two tricks missing in the video:
• Unscrewing the solenoid: You should use the bit of a multibit screwdriver to access this. Normally there should be enough clearance and once the glue is removed, you can remove it by hand.
• Taking the solenoid out: You need to bend the top cover case slightly and simultaneously use a pair of tweezers to extract it.

Once it is extracted, you can grind it down. I have shown an example of the ground down part here. Remember to reassemble and test the camera before putting the case back on.

Photo 1: Unscrewing the solenoid. Note the screwdriver bit which comes from a mobile phone screwdriver set. If you search Amazon for this, you should find one. Also, you’ll probably find it handy for opening the camera in the first place.

Photo 2: Extracting the solenoid means you have the carefully bend the top cover by applying force as indicated by the red arrow.

Photo 3: Photo of the actuator in the solenoid once round down. you can see that grinding down the tips are the most important thing to do in order to reduce the magnetic flux going through the horseshoe.

 

 

 

Fix for Epson R3000 Ink Smearing / Dropping on Prints (Also works on R3880, R2880, and others)

A common problem with the R3000 (and other Epson printers that use the same print head), is that after a couple of years of service ink drops begin to fall on your prints. This is not due to a head strike, but actually due to with the PK/MK switch within the ink supply unit that gets blocked over time. After a while, especially if you use Photo Black (PK) only, such as myself, the MK line will block at the switch and then start leaking black ink.  This process will work for any other Epson printer with a PK and MK ink switch, i.e. 3880, 2880, etc.

UPDATE: Another user has confirmed that this works for the R3880. Great!

One solution is to switch to MK and then cut PK cartridges to fit into the MK hole – but this is hardly satisfactory. Another solution is to replace the entire ink supply unit, but this costs about 200 EUR and is labour intensive.  A final solution that I have tried (and works!) is to perform a complete line clean on the R3000, using refillable cartridges. The total cost is going to be for a set of refillable cartridges (~25 EUR), some flushing liquid (~25 EUR) and a set of cartridges (2 x PK + MK, i.e. about 100 EUR). Note that the cost of the cartridges you will require anyway, if you do perform an ink supply change.

Here is how it works:

  • Ensure you have a couple of days where you don’t need to print and a set of PK and MK cartridges in the printer at least 50% full, and as a minimum one new set at hand.
    • The 50% full ink cartridges will allow you to perform the PK / MK switch if you have a problem with your refillable cartridges.
    • You will need at least one new set of cartridges to recharge the lines and the supply unit. I would recommend two as a minimum.
  • Buy a refillable R3000 cartridge set and solvent cleaning set. I recommend the following (or similar):
  • Load the PK and MK cartridges with cleaning fluid. Load them into your printer. Store the original PK and MK cartridges in plastic cling wrap, making sure that you have covered the ink outlet holes and the whole cartridge.
  • Perform multiple ink changes between MK and PK. This will charge your PK and MK lines with the cleaning fluid. I would do this for a whole refillable cartridge capacity. Reload them and perform the switch again.
    • Perform intermittent print head checks to see if the lines are being flushed. You should see the full black head starting to get lighter and lighter until it becomes transparent (for PK and MK).
    • Open a word processor and print a page full of full black. You should see the print getting successively greyer and greyer. It should be somewhat grey at the end (due to the R3000 mixing other greys to print black), so remember to use the print head check to verify it is fully flushed.
  • Wait for 2 days. Switch to the other black ink. Wait for another 2 days. (i.e. leave the switch on each black colour at least 2 days on the cleaning fluid).
  • Perform another print with the word processor on full black. It should now be clean.
  • Unwrap the real PK and MK ink cartridges. Reload them into printer and perform a switch between PK and MK to charge the lines. Note that you will need about 20ml of ink to recharge the lines.

Epson sells a software utility for the R3000 to prime the lines to feed ink back through them. If you don’t have this tool, then you should use between 3-5 head cleaning cycles to do the same thing (one for PK and MK).

At this stage, the R3000 should now be fixed and no longer be dropping ink. Change to new PK and MK cartridges when ready.  Congratulations, you have just saved your printer! (Well, at least it worked for me …)

p.s. Do NOT use the syringe directly into the feed line — even though this may be recommended on some sites. This is for small format printers only, and if you do this, you may blow the lines into the supply unit permanently damaging the R3000.

Before Fix: Ink drops on prints due to problem with PK / MK switch. These are not head strikes.

 

After Fix: No more ink drops on prints!

 

Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, Delhi, India

 

The Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar is a huge parking lot for trucks in the north west of Delhi. It’s the largest truck roadhouse in Asia, and handles between 2000-3000 trucks (and about 6000 truckers a day). With 6000 men moving in and out, there’s a lot of business to be done, so it’s like a miniature city with services for truckers and their trucks. And that means a lot of dodgy business, i.e. sex.

CSI’s role here is on safe sex education of the truckers and on providing a health service to them whilst they are passing through the transport nagar. To find out more about the truckers and the aid work here, we visited some of the organized events in the transport nagar by CSI.

Satish, a peer of CSI, was an owner of a transport company. On top of managing truckers, he ran 10 interpersonal communication (IPC) education sessions with the truckers that pass by every month. Of the 50-60 truckers, there are a couple who are not well, and he keeps a track of them. The IPC sessions involve group talks about sexual health and include a “body-mapping” exercise, which is an interactive drawing and discussion about the various body parts of a female and sources of STD. This exercise was designed to increase the engagement of the truckers as this kind of discussion would typically be taboo.

What is a typical trucker’s life like? I asked Kariji and Netabalu (two truckers who participated in Satish’s IPC session) for more information. They were currently delivering goods from Delhi to Visakhapatnam, a trip of about 1700km or 72 hours. Their sharing principle was simple: one guy drives, one guy sleeps. I looked inside Kariji’s new truck – there wasn’t a sleeping cab, they were just sleeping on the seats. They work away from home for many days at a time and do not see their families often. I asked Kariji (who had been a trucker since the 80s), what had changed. He told me that before, there was a real brotherhood between the truckers, there was less fighting, less theft. Things seemed like they were only getting harder.

CSI also ran 2 health clinics in the transport nagar and I visited Dr. Prem Sagar Gutta, to talk about the services he was being paid to offer to truckers. He would perform testing for STDs and interview them on their sexual activity and could get a lab report on their health in 24 hours (normally within the lay-in time for most truckers in the transport nagar). For the truckers, the consultation was free and medicine was provided at cost. This was an added incentive for them to go there and be checked out.

The next day, we returned to the transport nagar and saw a street play organized by some shop owners. The themes of the street play were around the same topics of sexual health and the lives of the truckers, to engage and educate them. At the end of the street play, another IPC body-map session was performed and a new set of truckers were educated and informed.

It was during the street play that attracted a lot of attention, that I noticed it also included the attention of some rag pickers and children on the street. On the way back to the office, I noticed the underside of all that we were educating: the reality of women and children on the street. Two kids were collecting garbage and carrying magnets on rope to collect scrap metal, a group of ladies were taking shelter in the 42C heat under a truck together, and a woman was leading 4 children through the roads of the transport nagar.

I spared a thought for the truckers, those in the transport nagar serving them, and those being exploited and trying to find a way to just live. A just and equitable solution to the problem was just one step too far away. Education and change was happening, but it was going to take time.

WWW: http://www.childsurvival-india.org/

Self Help Group (SHG), Microfinancing, Nerela, New Delhi

Savita (CSI Community Mobiliser) and Devaki (GRC Director) are facilitating a rather interesting microfinancing project in the slum called a Self Help Group (SHG) or Stree Shakti Suvidha Kendra (in Hindi). This is a program whereby they help the women in the slum to have access to a line of credit.

It works as follows: each month, every participant in this SHG puts in a nominal amount into the SHG savings pool (i.e. 100 rupees each). When they need a loan, they can ask for a loan at the SHG meeting (e.g. a minimum of 5000 rupees, at 1% a month, or 12% a year). They then pay this back at subsequent SHG meetings.

These women cannot open a bank account on their own because they do not have enough money for the initial deposit. The banks are also not easily accessible, as there are not any branches in the slum. In addition to this, if they did have an account, they would not have access to credit as they do not have a sufficient credit rating. Their only line of credit would be the money lender in the slum, who charges 5% a month interest (60% a year).

At this point it is also important to point out that interest paid on a SHG loan goes back to the members of the SHG (rather than a bank, or a money lender). Also, the shame of not paying a loan back in front of the others of the SHG means that they are very unlikely to default on their loan. CSI puts their principle amount into a bank to then gain additional interest on their principal amount. This results in a win-win scenario for them.

This SHG has 19 members and has been running for 27 months: resulting in a principal total of 51000 rupees. I then asked some questions to see how this works in practice.

Pak: “So, what do you do with the loans?”
SHG: “We use it to pay for the marriage of our daughters, buy goods in bulk for self employment, or just to handle rainy day scenarios. It is very useful.”
Pak: “51000 rupees, that’s a lot of money. Have you considered any larger projects instead of just personal loans?”
SHG: (collective silence / wide eyes).

They hadn’t even considered that collectively they had 51000 rupees. They were somewhat shocked when they realized what the question implied and what they had collectively achieved. They had created the potential for future opportunities they had never before considered.

At this point, Savita and Devaki as facilitators stepped in to help out and suggested some ideas: training and machinery, etc. They talked about this for about 10 minutes as they explored ideas I think they would not have considered alone. It was one of the most wonderful things to see that the SHG had opened doors for them that were previously shut.

Pak: “So how about a shop? Why not start something commercial?”
SHG: “No, no, no. The men will come home from work, get drunk, and then beat us up at night. Who will protect us?”

There was no shaking of heads, it was just stated like it was so obvious I was really stupid for not taking this into consideration. I asked Divesh, “Is that really true? They would get beaten up at night by the men?” He replied, “Sadly, it’s unfortunately very true. It would not be safe.”

Stories from the women in the SHG:

  • Sima. The first lady to borrow from the SHG. She took out 5000 rupees to buy toys to set up a stall in a 4 day fair in the village. She recovered the money selling half the toys in the fair and now wants to do the same thing again elsewhere.
  • Rekha. Her husband had an accident and was put into a coma. She borrowed 5000 rupees to cover the costs of him being in hospital and lost income. He has now recovered and is back at work.
  • Kumla. Borrowed money to help a friend from another village finance her daughter’s wedding.
  • Angeli. Borrowed 5000 rupees to buy and operate a mill to produce and sell flour. Now borrowing another 5000 rupees to expand and continue her operations.

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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-help_group_(finance)
WWW: http://www.childsurvival-india.org/

Marriage Mediation, Near Pocket 11, Sector 6, Nerela

NOTE: This post has been written by Divesh Kaul with additional information from Devaki the CSI GRC’s programme manager (Child Survival India Gender Resource Center).

Geeta’s and her husband’s weeding was conducted by her family in a village of Uttar Pradesh (where the husband’s family lives). In search of better livelihood prospects the couple migrated to Delhi. Her husband however could not hold down a regular job and he also turned out to be a spendthrift, alcoholic, and a womaniser. Unable to pay the rent of their house for 4-5 months in a row, the husband ran away from the rented house and disappeared for a while.
This matter was reported to CSI’s Gender Resource Center. Their paralegal team arranged for a mediation session with the resolution of the husband agreeing to live with the wife and paying maintenance for the household expenses. The husband came back, however it did not take too long before he started regularly “disappearing” again.

Additionally, Geeta’s in-laws filed a complaint in their local family court in UP (Uttar Pradesh) that claimed that Geeta had left the house of her husband and in-laws, that she no longer wanted to live with them, and she had stolen some articles from their house. The court sought her reply. Geeta then went to UP to attend the proceedings and presented her side of the story: that she was pregnant and that her in-laws were troubling her. The court favoured her.

The CSI GRC arranged two additional mediation sessions for the couple and has also called her in-laws. Devaki feels that everything becomes normal when they intervene, but this is temporary. Some weeks after mediation, the husband and in-laws return to their previous position against Geetha. She thinks there are two reasons for that: one, Geeta’s husband is one who runs away from his responsibilities and two, her in-laws are playing foul.

Now the matter is sub judice, in a Delhi family court, and GRC is helping her with the facilitation of a lawyer.

*Footnote: The CSI Gender Resource Center promotes women empowerment by providing legal counselling, mediation, vocation training to women above 16, health, education and supporting Self Help Groups (community based micro-credit/finance).

WWW: http://www.childsurvival-india.org/

Masti Ki Paathashaala (MKP), Fun School Project, New Delhi

 

The Masti Ki Paathashaala (MKP) or Fun School project being run by CSI (the NGO I’m shadowing here in Delhi). This school takes kids that have either fallen out or not been to school and provides them with remedial education to bring up their level to then reintegrate them into a government school. The Indian government has a law which makes education a right — it is free with all fees, uniforms, books, and other material paid for by the government.

The government makes education free because in the context of many poorer people education is not a priority – working is. Here’s a picture of the slum where the MKP is located.

The MKP program is completely funded by CSI who pay the rent for the building and pay the teachers (normally training teachers themselves) to bring up the level of these kids. The problems that the MKP program are addressing lie with the parents and the system.

Firstly, with many of the parents migrating to Delhi either looking for work or to join other family, they do not have official residential status, and the school can turn the kids away. CSI provides advice on what paperwork to prepare and then accompanies the parents and kids to the schools to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The second problem is a little more thorny. Some parents don’t want their kids to work and want them to work at home (or even worse, sell them to work for someone else as a home assistant, i.e. child labour). These kids don’t know better, nor do the parents as it is socially acceptable. However they do know it is illegal under Indian law to do this. CSI identifies these kids and makes the parents aware of the benefits of education and the cost (i.e. almost nothing). Asking Renu, the teacher what she does to convince parents, she simply replied, “I ask the parents if they want their kids to have the same life that they had… and that education is the way out.”

I saw one success today: the girl in the blue dress asked the teacher to be excused because she had to go home to help (i.e. probably to work). After missing out on school for a couple of years, MKP has brought her level up to her age group, and she’s been enrolled into a government school for the next term.

WWW: http://www.childsurvival-india.org/

Vietnam: Of Visas, Ha Long Bay, and Hanoi

Whilst on holiday in Penang, my dad turned to me and asked what it would take to go to Vietnam for a couple of days. My sister and I looked at each other and said we would work it out. In the end, with about a day’s worth of planning, we turned out a great 3 day holiday to Ha Long Bay and Hanoi.

Vietnam, April 2013 album.

Here’s our recommendations (and negotiation tips):

1. Visas: I can recommend eVietnam Visa. You will probably need a visa to go to Vietnam (I entered on an Australian visa). They need a 48 hour lead time to prepare your visa, but they can rush it in 24 hours. As this is not a guaranteed SLA, I would leave at least 5 days before you leave to do this. They will prepare the visa letter to present at the airport, plus the form that you will need to fill out. They also have a free visa assistance service once you get to the Airport — remember to bring enough US dollars to cover the stamp fee once you arrive. The fees if you do it via airport pickup are cheaper than if you go via the embassy, and given how reliable it was, I would do this again.

2. Ha Long Bay Hotel + Getting Around: Stay at the Ha Long DC Hotel. They can organise transfers from the airport / Hanoi, as well as organise a tour of the Ha Long Bay area for you.

  • Hotel: The family suite we stayed in was large, clean, and very well maintained. There’s free internet on all floors. Staff are very genuinely courteous and helpful. English levels vary, so speak slowly and clearly.
  • Transfers: Call the hotel and organise a transfer from Hanoi. It will cost about 100 USD one way and take about 3 hours, which makes sense if you are a family. Note that the drivers and the tourist rest stops have an agreement. Once you arrive there, he will sit away from you. Then, you should at the very minimum buy something to eat — because the restaurant owner will share the profit with the driver by giving him food.
  • Eating near Ha Long DC Hotel: There’s a hawker food court just behind the hotel that serves great food. It opens early and closes late (around 11pm).
  • Taxis: There’s one brand of taxis that are recommended — the Mailinh group, they have green signs. Generally, their drivers have good meters, and if they don’t, take down the driver details and follow up. I had one of their drivers with a dodgy meter, and I negotiated the meter fare with him on my phone.

3. Ha Long Bay Boat Tour: You probably came here to see the bay.

  • Boat Tour: Organised by the hotel (see above). There will be a private charter available, in 4, 6, and 8 hours (they want you to take the 6 hour one generally). The fee was about 25 USD per hour, plus lunch.
  • Getting to the Boat Tour: The taxi to the boat will be in cohorts with the boat’s salesperson, and will normally take you a long way around to the bay: the fee should be around 130000 dong.
  • Boat Tour Lunch: Once at the docks, you will meet the boat’s sales person for lunch. He will start with about 15-20 USD per head for lunch (which will also need cover the lunch for the boat crew). If you are a small party, you will not be able to move too much on this, and given that you risk annoying the crew (with bad lunch) and also the sales guy before you have left, I would recommend a lighter bargaining strategy here. 50 USD for 4 was what we arrived at.  The sales guy will turn up with a couple of bags of fresh fish and food, and show you to the boat. The captain should then check the food, verify things with the sales guy, and then get underway.
  • Additional Boat Tour charges: You will need to buy tickets to a couple of the islands and keep about 20 USD per person for a row boat ride through the caves (not really negotiable). There will be a lady trying to sell some wares on the boat, you don’t need to buy from her. I would recommend that you buy some drinks however, as this pay will go directly to the crew.
  • Overnight Boat Tours: There are a couple of overnight cruises available — but after some research I didn’t end up doing them because all these boats moor in the same location. Think loud chinese karoake and toilet refuge overboard all through the night.

4. Ha Long Bay Other Attractions:

  • Bai Chay Tourist Night Markets: Yes, they are even called tourist markets and are organised by a mob who make sure that each stall has the same goods and more or less the same price. Avoid.
  • Ha Long Markets: Around Cho Ha Long in the mornings you will see a bustling market selling fresh live fish and vegetables. The sellers will arrive by boat and disembark all their goods via gang planks into the market. Incredible stuff.

5. Staying in Hanoi: Stay at the Hanoi Elegance Ruby. This is rated a 2 star, but is not at all a 2 star hotel. The family suite is really a much better room than the others and is worth upgrading to. Internet, TV, great shower, and even a loan laptop will be in the room when you arrive. Very nice welcome and helpful staff will welcome you with a drink and then take you through the touristic sights and restaurants. They can organise the airport transfer for you, if required.

6. What to see / eat in Hanoi: These are a couple of things I managed to squeeze into my 24 hours or so in Hanoi.

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausauleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, etc.: There are lots of guides that cover this, so I won’t get too much into this here.
  • Silk Shops: These will be around Hang Gai. Go early, and make sure you are the first customer — this should give you a very strong bargaining advantage (asian superstition dictates you must make the first sell, no matter what).
  • Xoi Yen: Famous for their sticky rice. Upper level overlooks a very busy street intersection.
  • Cha Ca Thang Long: Easy to order here — there’s only one dish. They do grilled fish with vegetables and noodles, assembled on a hot plate on the table.
  • Pho Ga Dac Biet: From memory, this is on the corner of Bat Dan and Hang Dieu. It’s a good place for breakfast.

7. Airlines: We travelled with Singapore Airlines and Silk Air (their budget subsidiary). Note that they codeshare, so double check, triple check your gates in Changi Airport!