thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

Don Sak To Khanom: Re-visited…

… The Great Drone Recce, Part 1.

To be honest, I didn’t think this story would need more than a few paragraphs and photos, let alone a Part 1, 2 & I don’t yet know how many more.

I wanted to check out possible places to make drone videos, and I thought I’d drive up to Don Sak – only about 35 minutes away – and have a leisurely drive back, stopping at all the coastal locations where filming might be possible. I figured a couple of hours, or a whole afternoon at most. But I kept finding more than I expected, and one afternoon led to two, and two to three, etc.

And why would I even need to do that?

Well; first off, for a few weeks now the weather has been disgusting. Low cloud, frequent rain, and worst of all gale-force winds. None of which, especially the latter, is conducive to drone flying. So, when the skies brightened a little, the rain stopped, but the wind kept on wind-ing, I figured that when the weather does finally improve (around the end of the year!) I’d know exactly where to go and what to shoot.

But, there’s another good reason to plan in advance. Battery life. Or rather, the limitations of battery life. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem. I now have two new batteries with a third about to arrive from China, and the manufacturer claims a flying time of 27 minutes per battery. Ha! I wish.

Many drone manufacturers test battery life by hovering the drone indoors with the camera turned off. A bit like testing the gas mileage of your car by driving at a steady 80kph on the expressway with the windows closed and the aircon turned off. In the real world, normal flying of the drone with the camera turned on, will reduce the flying time by at least 25%. So, suddenly, that 27 minutes becomes slightly more than 20 minutes. And then they tell you that you risk damaging the battery if you let it discharge below 30%. And yes, you really do. Been there, done that. Now your 20 minutes that was 27 minutes is down to 14 minutes. And that is the real-world flying time of one “27 minutes” battery.

Then there’s the fact you don’t start taking good video the instant you lift off the ground. You might rise up to 50 meters, go 200 meters down the beach, and then get good shots pulling back from some boats. So, a minute or two are taken up getting to where you want to film. Oh, and you have to get back, before you reach that battery-destroying 30%. When you also take into account the time needed to fly between shots, suddenly your actual filming time from one battery may only be seven or eight minutes. Hence, planning is important.

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

Which brings us back to my recce trips…

By the way, all of these places I’ve been to before, so the place names are links to the earlier articles if you want to know more.

First; in Don Sak, I headed down the long road to the Lomprayah Ferry Terminal.

Then I trudged down the long pedestrian walkway, (although, I could have driven as there was no sign of security anywhere) being careful not to get blown into the sea by the gale-force winds.

The railings were not quite up to Thailand’s normal low safety standards…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

In fact, in places, there weren’t any railings, so I decided it safer to walk in the road.

I should have been focusing on places to take off and land, but I was attracted to the large bulk palm oil carrier tied to one of the jetties…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

And I thought this was a ferry terminal.

It’s not often you can get up close and personal with a ship this size. There was something hypnotic about the steady droning of the diesel generators, and I felt like I wanted to sign-on immediately as a deck-hand. Well, I’d rather be Captain, but I imagine that needs a week or two of training and I don’t have the patience for that. For now, I could only be the non-official photographer.

There were ferries too…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

…so I concluded there would be enough material to make a video one day, especially if there were large ships tied up and not too many people around. So, that’s one place on the list.

Next, slowly heading back towards home, I stopped at Ko Raet. Last time I visited there a better bridge to the island was being slowly constructed, and I was surprised to find it more or less completed. But, there seemed to be some complex rules for vehicular traffic on the bridge, and knowing that parking space on the island was seriously limited, I decided to walk.

This gave me time to figure out how two-way traffic could negotiate a one-lane bridge.

For sure, it’s best not to take the right lane…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

Anyways, it’s all quite ingenious really. The rules seem to be that you must stop before heading up the bridge. Traffic coming down has the right of way, and when there is none, you can go up. Ah ha, but what if a vehicle suddenly appears? It won’t. At the top, there’s another Stop sign. Any traffic coming up the other side must stop and wait for you to reach the top – where there is a lay-by/passing place…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

Then, a vehicle at the top can proceed if the other side of the bridge is clear. It sounds like it could be disorganized chaos, but in the hour I was there, I only saw two vehicles.

Ko Raet, with it’s pedestrian walkways all around the island, and the quaint wooden buildings built out into the sea, not to mention the friendly islanders, should be an absolute tourist magnet. Happily, it isn’t. I had the impression they hadn’t seen another tourist since I was last there eighteen months ago.

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

Now, this is a place I’d love to film, but I concluded it wouldn’t be possible. On the island, the buildings are so tightly packed, and the walkways only two persons wide at most, there would be nowhere to take off and land. I wondered if it might be possible to persuade a building owner to let me use something at the water’s edge, but these all seem to be covered, making flying risky…

thailand, travel, don_sak, khanom

I could use the bridge, but it’s reinforced concrete, and as I discovered on Ko Yao Noi, the metal interferes with the drone’s compass. Which I think left me with only one option… to take off from the mainland, fly around the island, and back. Hmm, maybe. I need to think some more.


...has been travelling the world for more than sixty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more.

He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Drones, Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way.

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