The Day I Crashed My Brand New Drone

Hello there. If you’ve been following this blog I apologise to inform you that there will be no Sunday Sesh this week. The previous week has been a national holiday for Pchum Ben or Ancestors Day, so I’ve been away. I was on Koh Rong Sanloem, an island off the coast of Sihanoukville which, yes, I will be writing a blog post for in the near future. So stay tuned. In the meantime, please enjoy this recap of a trip I made a little while ago:


Ride to Tonle Bati

A couple of months ago, Mel took me to visit somewhere new: the Tonle Bati temple. This place is about 35km outside of Phnom Penh and contains a monastery similar in architecture to the infamous Angkor Wat temple. Except that this one is actually much older.

Here’s the route we took to get there:

Actually, I lied – this map is only indicative. I have no idea the exact route we took to get there.

Our conversation at the start of the journey went something like this:

“How are we getting there?”, I asked Mel.

“Why, the sun, of course”, Mel replied.

“What about Google Maps?”, I asked.

“Nah, let’s just go in… That direction!” She pointed.

So that’s how we navigated our way there – keeping the sun in a same position in the sky. Skeptically, I had no choice but to follow along. I admit, it’s a lot more convenient than checking my phone every 10 minutes. Probably safer too, as long as you don’t stare directly into the sun.


First pit stop: គុយទាវ (Kway Teav)

This was a bit of an exciting moment for me. Having recently discovered the great dish that is Cambodian Kway Teav at a restaurant, I’d been wanting to try a “real” one off the street. Today was my chance. 10km into our ride, I was already feeling hungry.

Mel noticed the street cart selling one of these and we came to a stop. I ordered one from the seller and he pulled out a styrofoam bowl and added the dry ingredients: rice noodles, spring onion, pork, sugar, other herbs and fried garlic. Then he opened the lid of a big metal pot and pulled out a ladle of soup. I was handed a steaming bowl of noodle soup and he motioned for me to add whatever else I liked from the sauce station. I added a dash of chilli, soy sauce and a squeeze of lime.

It was fantastic! It tasted hearty yet light. Similar to a Vietnamese Pho but with a clear broth that tasted slightly sweet, balanced by the acidity of the lime. I slurped it right up in a couple of minutes, paid the man 3000 Riel (75 cents!) for the meal and we continued on our way.



Then I Almost Lost My New Drone

I had just bought a new drone this week, the DJI Mavic Mini 2. It’s a tiny beast of a drone, weighing only 249 grams and is barely bigger than my phone. I bought it for its portability and the ability to still shoot great 4k footage. Since drones are banned everywhere in Phnom Penh, this was clearly a great opportunity to take it out for a test fly. Along the way we rode on dirt roads that passed through beautiful rice fields. So naturally I made us stop so I could take it out for its maiden flight.

Everything was going well – the drone handled mostly as I expected. Smooth and reliable, just like every DJI drone I’d been used to. It was much zippier and sensitive compared to bigger drones though. I got some nice shots of the field and even followed Mel as she rode her bicycle.

But when I decided to fly it back to me, that’s when I was about to learn a lesson. Every drone I’d flown in the past had come with obstacle avoidance sensors to stop it from crashing into things. But in order to keep this drone so light, they weren’t included. Deciding that I wanted one last cool shot, I flew it back towards me in a path that would bring it close to some trees. It went slightly off course, right towards one of the trees. “It’s ok” I thought, the sensors would slow it down and stop it from hitting anything. Then everything happened in a blur. The drone approached the tree and didn’t slow. I panicked, flipping the controller stick in reverse. But in my panic I moved it the opposite direction and actually sped it up. It crashed into one of the vines of the tree at a running sprint. Immediately the propellers switched off and my new purchase dropped into the bush.

The look on my face the moment before my new drone crashed into a tree

My heart lurched. The tree it hit was right next to a small canal, and if it dropped at the wrong angle it could have fallen into the water. I was confident that there was enough bush to cushion it’s fall if it landed on the ground, but there was no saving it if it fell into the water. I stepped into the tangle of vines and searched for it. It took a few minutes (small drones are hard to find) but I found it nestled among a few branches, still powered on but not moving. I gingerly picked up the drone and didn’t see any visible signs of damage. Everything was going to be okay. I ran over to find Mel so we could continue our journey and tried to shake off the experience.


Tonle Bati Temple

After another hour or so of riding, we made it to the temple. The whole area was extremely quiet. Barely any locals were even walking through the complex. The few people who were there were mulling about under the shade of a tree.

As we approached the entry, a man on a motorbike conveniently pulled up at the same time and asked us to pay $1 each to enter the pagoda. I had so many questions: where did he come from? does he really work for the Ministry of Tourism? Is this some kind of scam? How did he get here at the same time as us? Well, he was wearing a faded shirt with a Ministry logo on it, and gave us some official-looking tickets to enter. If it was a scam, it was a pretty low-cost and elaborate one. So yeah, seemed legit enough to me.

This ticket was definitely worth $1

The name of the temple is “Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati”. The same name as Ta Prohm in Siem Reap that was used as a set in the movie Tomb Raider. Indeed, the stone architecture and carvings do resemble the Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap. Believed to have been built around the 12th century, it was originally a Hindu temple but has become a Buddhist one since Cambodia became a Buddhist country in the 16th century.

Although I was still rather shaken from crashing my drone just before, I couldn’t resist taking it out again to fly here. Luckily, there were no crashes again for the day. The aerial view of this place was similarly impressive.


Hammock restaurant stop off

No trip in Cambodia would be complete without a lunch at a hammock restaurant. This one was especially nice, since it overlooked the Tonle Bati river where the temple gets its name from. We ordered our usual: stir-fried vegetables with omelette, served with a big pot of Cambodian rice.

Here I got in one last drone fly for the day.