drone flight in Laos: I had to surrender my passport to the Lao Tourism police

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Let me start with a spoiler alert to my sensationalistic headline: I got my passport back. I also got official approval to fly anywhere in Luang Prabang for 4 days. Do NOT try this at home.

Flew three destinations this morning in Luang Prabang, Lao People's Democratic Republic. I was with my friend, Mr. S, a hotel group CEO in the hospitality industry in Laos. The third flight was at a temple called Wat Pa Pon Phao. There was a policeman on duty when we pulled up. Mr. S engaged him in a conversation about the drone as I set up to launch. During the flight, I shared my FPV with the policeman, then downloaded it onto my Mac to watch it again.

The policeman then said it was not ok to fly a drone and directed us to the Ministry of Tourism who directed us to the Tourism police. They decided I needed to get approval to make those flights, and would hold my passport and SD Card until I had it.

I didn't understand a word of the many conversations Mr S had with the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Tourism Police of Luang Prabang. Mr. S has some friends in high places, and he made calls to the Lieutenant Governor and the Head of Tourism Police. It also helped that the Minister of Culture and Information is from his hometown and they knew each other.

Three hours later, I had my passport and SD card back, along with official approval from the MoT and the Tourism Police. I can fly my Phantom anywhere around Luang Prabang for the next 4 days. The Ministry of Tourism retains the right to use my footage on their website promoting Luang Prabang. (I'm actually in progress negotiating an almost identical deal with an Asian country that doesn't allow drones.)

With the exception of the first policeman at the pagoda, every one treated us professionally. The MoT served us coffee and tea.

Side notes:
  • Just before launch, an SUV pulled up with 4 Americans and a tourguide. I offered to delay my flight if they wanted to enjoy the temple first. The wife laughed and rolled her eyes. "Go ahead, he has one, too," she said gesturing towards her husband.
  • The husband told me he had an Inspire 1. He came over later and talked to me for a few minutes. He was a bit jealous about the portability of my P2V+.
  • It seemed official permission for drone photography had not been granted before. I'm probably the first in Laos.
  • One draft of the approval had to be amended because "drone camera" was too vague. The police wanted it replaced by "DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus aerial camera" in order to be more specific.
 
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Living on the edge, are we Clipper? Thanks for the great outcome, and letting us know about the sequence of events.

Now, where's the **** video... LOL :D
 
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Upload times here are longer than a last name in Luang Prabang. Here's a 30 sec teaser for now.


 
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Darn nice teaser Clipper. You the man. :D
 

N017RW

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Always bring a photocopy (or two) of your passport.

If anything gets 'lost' you'll have info for the consulate/embassy.

Helps to speed things up.
 
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Always bring a photocopy (or two) of your passport.

If anything gets 'lost' you'll have info for the consulate/embassy.

Helps to speed things up.
Agreed! I have photocopies in each of my backpacks, my wallet, etc. Also, I save a PDF on my Mac and on Google Drive.
 
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This whole experience can only be looked at as positive. During the time I wasn't supposed to be flying, about 3-4 hour window, some crazy winds and monsoon rains blew in and out. It was raining when we went to get my passport and the approval letter and sunny and calm when we came out.

Immediately we drove out the the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp, about 30 clicks out of LP and made it just in time to get a few flights in. Couldn't get too low, or the drone would spook the elephants but got some beautiful sunset shots of them from above, and the Mekong River in the background.

This morning, document in hand, we went to a temple in the middle of the city and launched from right in front of the pagoda. I always try to fly respectfully and there was nobody around, but it feels GREAT to have that document. I have pretty much unrestricted access to Luang Prabang, though a lot of my flights are for my friend's hotels and resorts.

Keeping my fingers crossed for another similar document for one of the other Asian countries on my itinerary, otherwise I'll leave the bird behind in Hanoi and come back for her later.
 
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Great outcome , still sounds a little scary though :(
 
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Beautiful area, and great video. Drove from the Isan region of Thailand to Vientiane years ago. Love the people, and love the food!
 
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Thanks, GoodnNuff, Laos is my favorite country to visit. The people, food, and natural beauty are great. Without a doubt, I'll be going back.
 
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So what is the official rule though? All drone flights must have pre-approval? I am here in Vientiane now with my P4. Got here yesterday and i know there is a ban until the 15th, Obama will be in town. Glad you had a good outcome
 
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Thanks, GoodnNuff, Laos is my favorite country to visit. The people, food, and natural beauty are great. Without a doubt, I'll be going back.

That's a big statement: out of all countries, your favorite is Laos? Impressive.
Do you like the country or the way you feel when you are there?
 
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This isnt what i expected. I was waiting for an explanation of how you needed to grease the dirty palms of one or more corrupt officials. Pleasing that wasnt the case, still the usual big noting by some as to how in they are with important freinds is no suprise.

Great story and nice vid. Thanks for sharing.
 
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That's a big statement: out of all countries, your favorite is Laos? Impressive.
Do you like the country or the way you feel when you are there?
I am a Lao American, born in Laos and started coming back here in 2010. Its mind blowing how beautiful this country is and how wonderful the people are. A photographer's dream
 

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