Disabled in Bangkok…

Wheelchairs in the Land of Smiles

Wat Phrakaew Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

 

I love Bangkok. I first came to this frenetic city in the early 90s and have been a regular visitor ever since. I’ve visited the temples, done the klong boat tour, seen Jim Thompson’s house and the Bridge over the River Kwai, and eaten extraordinary amounts of Thai food. ( ❤ ❤ ❤ Som Tam, green Papaya salad Yum 🙂 )

But this trip was my first visit as a wheelchair user, and boy is it a different place trying to navigate.

An old friend of mine from Hong Kong, Andrew, moved to Bangkok a few years ago after he suffered serious complications following surgery on his spinal cord to remove a tumour.

He developed a blood clot in his neck which took some time for medical staff to recognise. By the time they did he’d become quadriplegic. He spent a year in hospital, but decided to move to Thailand because medical care is much cheaper.

After six months of intensive physio there he came out able to walk short distances but suffers constant nerve pain (which is a bit like getting an electric shock on a regular basis)

So we often discuss our various disability woes.

Here we are at the fabulous Blue Elephant restaurant.

brownie

(If you like Thai cooking btw they have a great cookbook and their recipes are easy to follow)

To many, Bangkok would seem an odd destination for the disabled. Here’s a peek why, courtesy of another friend, Scott:

Andrew variously described the city to me as ten degrees of hell and as having been designed as a series of precipice for the disabled to fall into.

And here are a few more pictures:

The flight of stairs leads up to the skytrain, which gets you round town above the traffic if you can get to it. As you will have seen in the video, lifts are being installed slowly, but are not yet at every station.

Then there are the ramps, which are so steep they’re almost impossible to use, even if someone is pushing you.

And like KL, there are street bollards which block pathways.

But there are many more examples: like the bus stop with immovable seats in the middle of the pathway and the random concrete pole.

Here’s one I found at travelhappy.info

bangkok-street-injuries-14

I guess you could call the Thai city folk to complain you can’t get by. So ‘a challenge to navigate’ would be an understatement.

Andrew says: “The streets of Bangkok are not wheelchair friendly. The curbs are so big, I feel like I am climbing a precipice. There are holes in the concrete, often to allow workers to get access to drains or power cables.

“I have nightmares about these holes because they can, quite literally, swallow your crutches. The sidewalks are full of obstructions – metal poles, the carts that the food sellers use, and vehicles. In Bangkok cars and motorcycles are often parked in pedestrian areas.”

So not good then?

“[Leaving hospital] being able to take some steps (even with the aid of crutches), climb a flight of stairs and use my arms and legs to get in and out of cars has made an enormous difference to the quality of my life. So Thailand, with its abundance of cheap, professional care, has been a very positive experience.

“Thailand has invested heavily in the education for healthcare professionals. The result is highly qualified doctors, nurses and therapists who earn modest salaries, and hospitals that can provide good standards without charging patients a fortune

“The advantages? Affordable doctors, and affordable caregivers in the home. Most patients love the climate, although for people like me (and me, Steph) who have lost the ability to sweat, the tropical sun can easily lead to overheating. Thais are friendly and helpful. Bangkok has most of the stuff you need, and there are fabulous beach excursions. It’s safe.”

Can it get better?

“Yes, with time, money and magic”

And maybe with a bit of good karma. 🙂

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Where next?

barcelona

Take a look at this:

World’s Best Disabled Cities

Must go to Barcelona after reading the write up here. Designer disabled apartments?

I may die and go to heaven if I ever get there.

Meanwhile, over in Asia my hotel hell continues…

The destination: Hong Kong. My first home in Asia. Time for a quick break to catch up with some old friends.

Staying with IHG linked hotels I booked a room at the Indigo Hotel in trendy Wanchai. It’s on Queens Road East, which used to be the harbour front about a century ago and now about three quarters of a kilometre inland thanks to repeated land reclamation over the years.

It looked amazing and I was imagining cocktails by the rooftop pool.

So thinking ahead, I emailed the hotel for pictures of their accessible room given my persistent problems this past year.

It looked good: the bathroom had all the right bells and whistles

indigoloo

Two railings, paper in an easy spot to reach and an alarm bell, also within reach. What could go wrong?

Then I opened the attachment for the shower.

indgoshower

No railings at all. 😮 (and a seat that looks mighty low)

Why? why? why? why? why?

So I emailed the hotel. Can you put in a shower chair like this?

inter chair

Yes we can.

Yeah!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

But with only one arm rest.

Noooooo. 😦 😦 😦

Why???? why? why? why? why?

The hotel couldn’t or wouldn’t source another chair, so I had no choice.

One cancelled reservation. GGrrrrrr. Again.

I wrote an explained why I was cancelling, explaining the need for TWO railings. TWO. Got that? TWO.

I subsequently received an email from Judith Chan, the Reservations Manager at Indigo Hotel:

Thank you for providing us your valuable comments of our facilities, and will certainly take this into consideration for further improvement of our service although the setup of our Accessible room is in fact meet with the IHG standards.  We are providing the shower chair without the armrest in considering that this may be able to fit most of the guest requiring it and the space available in the shower area, and we are sorry that this is unable to meet with your requirement.

Nice words, but note the part I’ve highlighted in bold type. A shower chair without armrest which may fit MOST guests. So not all. I’m not sure why a two armrest chair over one with a single one is thought to take up more floor space either.

Judith also said the room fitted IHG’s standards for accessibility but that she would pass on my comments to higher management for their consideration in future planning. So clearly my idea of what works and IHG’s are two different things. And would the higher management be the same Thomas Schmelter I emailed after my stay in Bangkok, and have yet to hear back from?

hkskyline

 

 

 

 

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree

How long before I eat thee?

xmastree

I resisted this chocolate confection for a few days, but it was gone by the end of 2016. (though the star at the top had to go immediately so I could get it in the fridge 🙂

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you had a great Christmas. I flew off to Bali to see an old dive buddy who lives near the town of Ubud in the centre of the island.

Given my hotel hiccups in Bangkok earlier in the month I thought I’d ask my friend to see exactly what the ‘accessible’ facilities were like at the Courtyard Marriott Nusa Dua before my arrival.

With the holidays approaching I didn’t want to find myself scrambling for equipment at the last minute.

Just as well I did.

Sadly facilities, not unpredictably, were not up to scratch. As in other hotels – a room that had been converted from a regular room without talking to anyone about what was needed.

Fortunately Bali has some useful disability organisations which I’d checked out before I arrived and the hotel had hired some equipment from them.

Pak Kadek, the operations manager put his team into action on my arrival and we soon had two commodes available. Neither were perfect: we had to wire one around the toilet to stop it from moving.

This one in the shower was not really safe at all.  The arm rests didn’t lock meaning transfers were hazardous at best. But without it the shower seat was just a low bench: impossible for me to use.

The pluses: no carpet on the floor. Yay 🙂 Just marble. No blisters on my hands for once.

Bali Access Travel rents out equipment when needed and can also arrange a variety of tours while you’re there, including disabled diving.

Following one of their suggested tours on their website I hired a car and took a trip to one of Bali’s active volcanoes, Kintamani.

There’s a village at the top of the caldera, and you descend down the edge to the crater lake formed after a previous eruption.

In the middle of the lake Mount Batur climbs 700m above the lake surface. The summit is at 1700m, over a mile high for those of you still living in the non-metric world. And you can see there’s another caldera at the top of mountain.

The weather wasn’t great on the day of my visit, lots of cloud and rain.

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After Kintamani we drove back towards Ubud stopping off at the rice terraces at Tegalalang. It was between seasons. Some had just been planted, others were bare, but beautiful none the less.

 

Joni, my driver, hopped out the car to get some better shots of the paddy fields, leaving me a sitting duck: Flash mobbed by Bali’s tourist tat mob, but all very happy with a few rupiah

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Next stop Hong Kong.