For years I was in continuous indecision in buying drones in Thailand, flagging price alerts, but never finding anything practical for our travels. As size will always factor majorly with drones for travellers, because the only decent DJI drones were bulky in size in the past, and they literally needed a separate bag for travel. Therefore I was never happier to not have made the purchase earlier, before the DJI Spark was launched in Thailand. As the DJI Spark can literally launch from the palm of your hand, and it can fit in your pocket, and, for a while, it was exempt from the strict laws and legislation for drones in Thailand.
Thailand Drone Laws
Due to the smaller size, and lightweight body of the DJI Spark, there was some leeway when starting out, where it avoided certain drone laws in Thailand. But this didn’t last long, as weight restrictions were soon lowered (or heightened maybe) as the Thailand drone laws would also include any drone with a camera needing to be registered. Which is pretty much all drones in Thailand. However, the DJI Spark is still a lot less noticeable when flying, and more importantly less dangerous, as it is relatively harmless when compared to either the Phantom or even the Mavik.
Registering and Insuring Drones
But now the current Thailand drone laws are extremely strict, to the point where it’s almost impossible for tourists to fly drones in Thailand. And for those who risk flying an unregistered drone, they face up to five years’ jail time or a US$3,000 fine. I really don’t feel it is worth the risk. But even the process of registering drones in Thailand can take months, as the drone must first be registered with the NBTC (registering your radio communications device), and insurance is then needed before the drone can be registered with the CAAT (for permission to fly). And this is these are the processes at their simplest, as they are otherwise rather ambiguous, and may change down the line (check here for updated info).
Why the Strict Rules
While punishments are ridiculously steep for unregistered drones in Thailand, I do understand the need for regulations, as well as insurance. And these precautions became obvious in our first weeks of using our drone along the Chiang Khan riverside, Loei Province (video above). Which was literally the first time we used the drone in around people. It was also misty at the time, which apparently confuses the obstacle avoidance sensors of the DJI Spark, and, in short, the sensors thought the mist/cloud was ground level. So the drone ended up crash landing (note, if you do lose control with the Spark, switch to Sports Mode). Anyway, we were extremely lucky not to hit someone or damage anything, and that the local Thai people are just ridiculously laid back. However we have not used a drone in public again since this time.
Safe Places to Fly
Other than this time in Chiang Khan we have only really used the drone in rural areas of Thailand, and with the permission of locals when necessary. We were even invited to make a video for the local temple in Broken Road (video above) and were even allowed to use it in the interiors of a hotel in Isaan (although chances of this now are pretty much none). But we of course always asked permission before doing so on private properties. Otherwise most people in and around lesser visited areas are still very relaxed on drones. And Fanfan’s uncle, who is a police officer in Chonburi, knows very little about these drones or drone laws. As they really are not high priority, or even relevant in queiter parts of the country.
Areas to Avoid
Otherwise problems are more likely to be found in tourist areas, and National Parks, and built up areas. Although these days we just avoid using the drone at all in Thailand. At least until we have fully registered it, which won’t be any time soon. So instead we just make the most of the drone in other countries where there is less chance of being arrested or bribed. However even registered drones in Thailand need to follow rules, and some areas are just out-of-bounds, and we were once rushed by security at Phanom Rung Temple (video below), due to its close proximity to the Cambodian borders and army checkpoints. And the army will have no worry in taking or destroying your drones.