Wheelchairs in the Land of Smiles
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.
(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
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. 🙂