Mission Impossible Malaysia

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Find a wheelchair friendly hotel in KL

Yeah, you’d think it would be easy right?


After almost 21 years overseas I moved back to the UK at the end of last month. But I needed a few nights in a hotel after I left my apartment before flying out for good so I could tidy up any loose ends. So what better way to spend it than in 4* or 5* luxury.

But it took me more than month of searching and endless emails asking for photos of so-called accessible rooms to make a decision.

The hunt for hotel heaven began way back in January when I tried the Intercontinental. It was where I first stayed when I moved to KL in November 2005. It was the Nikko then but it seemed fitting to end my time in Malaysia where it all began.

I emailed asking for pictures of their disabled-friendly room. This came back:

I was not impressed (railings AGAIN) and moved swiftly along…

Next on the list: Traders. Nice view of the Twin Towers, great pool and bar.


Something here obviously got me excited, though looking at these pictures now I’m not sure why. But I was sufficiently interested to visit in person.

But glass walls prevented me from even getting close to either shower or toilet. Had to scratch that too.

Third on my list: Hilton Doubletree. It’s in sight of my home. What could possibly go wrong?

I emailed the hotel. Could they put in some additional equipment (like extra railings or a commode shower chair?)

Yes they could for the shower chair, including a photo of the same chair I had at home.


Finally I was getting somewhere.

But what about a commode for the toilet?

Ma’af (sorry) ma’am, tak boleh. (we can’t)

So three strikes, but I wasn’t prepared to quite say out. Just moving on again.

Early February was the Renaissance

The toilet was passable, but like the Intercon – the shower area offered a micro seat and…. join the chorus…. not enough railings. Not really any railings of use. And this was the hotel’s newly renovated disabled friendly room.

When I pointed out I could not stand and the installed railing was too high and too far away from the seat to be of use, the hotel did offer me a chair to be closer to it. But still missing the point of the railing being too high.

I didn’t dismiss it but it was not 100%. There was still time to check more.

But I was getting desperate. I’d booked the shippers, had my flight and cancelled the satellite tv.

Where was I going to stay? Surely it couldn’t be that hard?

In quick succession I contacted the NovotelPullmanG Tower, and the Mandarin hotels.

It wasn’t good.

The showers, clockwise from top left:

Common thread: Not enough railings. What about the toilets?

L-R: Novotel, Pullman, Mandarin and G Tower.

Common thread: Not enough railings (again) Sigh (again)

I dismissed the Novotel straight away, the whole bathroom space being too small. Ditto G Tower and The Pullman, even though their toilet did have two railings. Their shower area however did not look particularly accessible so dismissed that option. So my final option of the four was the Mandarin. I emailed with suggested pictures of what would work for me, but they couldn’t help.

Where would I stay? Time was running out…

This wasn’t sleepless in Seattle. More bedless in K-helL….

Surely there was a room in the city that could meet my needs?

The Ritz to the rescue

(aka there is a God)

I’d been speaking to Radhika, the Reservations manager, since mid February. Their facilities weren’t perfect but they had a toilet with two railings and promised me a shower chair – which was really a commode but I could live with that.

We’d been playing email tag trying to find a solution. Then I had a moment of inspiration. Could Hilton Doubletrees loan their shower chair to the Ritz?

Hotels might be rivals for guests but inter-hotel hospitality? Surely can? Malaysia Boleh, (Malaysia can) as residents of Malaysia are so frequently told.

Sorry tak boleh. No. Malaysia Cannot.

The Hilton politely declined.

I booked the Ritz anyway. We’d figure it out. Time was up.

When I finally checked in and got to my room disaster loomed. The two railings either side of the loo were too far apart. Standing up? Tak boleh.

Oh bol@**#!!

Ok lets use the commode for what it’s meant to used for and we’ll switch it round for the shower in the morning.

I slept on it and the next day had another idea. Could, would, the hotel buy a proper shower chair like the one the Hilton and I had?

After a bit of checking with the boss Radhika came back to me. Yes we can! One chair safely delivered while I celebrated my birthday with some friends nearby.

So five days of being pampered by the staff and the wonderful Butler service ladies (Jelena, Abigail, Amy and Sin Yee) and I checked out with a tear in my eye.


Farewell Malaysia


Next stop London.



Disabled on … safari

Not for the faint hearted


Zebra. Crossing

Take it from me, you gotta really really want to see wild animals before taking the decision to get on a bush plane and spend hours rattling around in van.

Make no mistake folks, this is serious travel for the disabled. Please think seriously before engaging in this activity.

Ok that’s enough thinking.

Here’s the how to guide:

You will need:

1 safari van and driver

1 strong able bodied person to lift you in/out vans; in/out planes.


A cast iron bladder and/or adult diapers

1 camera (and not one that comes with your phone)

Adhoc plane captains


1. First take a small plane from Nairobi’s Wilson airport to the Mara Triangle.

You’ll have a choice of airstrip depending on your hotel but you’ll only have two airlines to get you there: AirKenya and Safarilink. Seats on both can be booked online but be quick. Flights and seats are limited.

Don’t be alarmed at the potholes you’ll see on the taxiway at Wilson. The airstrips are in much better condition.

2. Get on the plane.

Be prepared to lose any dignity. You will be manhandled.

ambo cessna

The plane pictured above is a Cessna Caravan and they’re used to bump all manner of stuff and people across airstrips around the world. These planes are no A380s. They’re small and practical.

I knew I’d have to be carried into the plane. There’s no air bridge, just a roll across the tarmac. And I thought I’d be going up the steps you can see in the picture. One volunteer grabbing me under the arms, another under the knees.

It’s an exercise I’ve perfected after countless bruises, sprains and near encounters with the floor on god knows how many flights over the last few years.

But oh, silly me. The stairs were too obvious.

I was taking the back entrance.

ambo plane back

Being man-hauled about two metres off the ground however, while sitting in your chair, would not be my preferred method of entry into a plane, but when there’s a distinct lack of ‘airport’ on safari you ain’t got much choice.

See that single seat closest to the doorway? They even took that out to make it easier for me to get in the plane. Jeez, you’re too kind.

And this was only the plane down to Amboseli, in Kenya’s South East, not even the Maasai Mara.

I didn’t exit the plane quite the same way. My personal ‘muscle’ Moses, the tour organiser, realised the chances of a high-altitude face plant on the way down if we did the same in reverse were pretty high.

This time my chair came off first and then me, bum-shuffling to the doorway before launching myself into the arms of… the captain.

See, how many other women can say: “The captain swept me off the plane and into his arms…” ? There have to be some advantages to being in a wheelchair right?

Ok, enough Babs Cartland.

I’m here in Kenya for the wildebeest migration. It’s one of the world’s great natural wonders. Up to 1.5 million animals spending three months wandering from Tanzania’s Serengeti through Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

For my actual flight to Keekorok in the Maasai I entered via the stairs, though the plane was so full a passenger occupied the co-pilot’s seat.


I was sat right next to the exit door and I joked about just pushing me out of it if there was an emergency…until my wheelchair blocked it. No other space. Better not crash then, I guess.

David, the captain on our chartered East African plane, was somewhat astonished I was on safari at all as he helped me off the aircraft.

“How can you do it?” he asked. “Why can’t I,” I respond. “Just ‘cos I can’t walk doesn’t mean I can’t do something.”

To be fair, I couldn’t do it without the help of Moses, my uncomplaining ‘muscle’. He reckoned he’d lose 5kg on this trip. (He didn’t)

3. Bring a very fat wallet.

Prices for everything double during the migration. It ain’t cheap. There are strict weight limits on luggage for the plane. (You might want to leave stuff behind in Nairobi) And don’t forget the park fee $80 per day per person. You pay at the air strip. Keekorok can’t do credit cards, so bring cash. Dollars are king and there’s an unofficial exchange rate of 100 Kenyan shillings to the greenback. Makes conversions nice and easy when the Maasai want some local money. (They win)


4. Keep your legs crossed until arrival at the hotel. (The toilet at the airstrip is probably best avoided)

Once you arrive in the Mara you’re realise safari does not mean luxury travel, even if it comes with a luxury price tag attached.

After I’m lifted into the safari van we’re off bumping down the road to the hotel 15km away. My bladder is reminded of the roads – or more accurately the lack of them.

Not a piece of tarmac in sight and a mandatory No pitstop on the road rule. Danger: Lions.

Though we did spot later in the week from a distance a woman emerging from behind some bushes. Why hide, I wondered, when you are literally in the middle of nowhere? She was fortunate. The wildlife is also good at hiding itself.

Anyway, bumpy roads, no loos. We’re just going to the hotel, but on the average game drive your next toilet is 3-4 hours away.

Disabled on Safari means managing your need to pee.

5. We’re staying at the Sarova Mara Game Camp and the staff are ready to help you in the restaurant, pushing you to the buffet. There are no end of choices for food and drink. But remember: you are about to spend several hours on bumpy roads.

It’s important to just say NO

To cappuccino (caffeine)

To English Breakfast (caffeine)

To coke (caffeine)

To OJ or juice (too acidic)

And last of all (though you probably don’t want to do this during the day)

No to alcohol.

Basically no to anything that encourages your bladder to work hard. That doesn’t mean don’t drink at all – water is fine. And as you’re at altitude, (between 1500m-2100m) it’s a must!

I went for peppermint or chamomile tea in the mornings. Ok, it’s a bit odd with your Kenyan mandazis and streaky bacon, but it’s hot.

6. Don’t forget your equipment: Hat, camera, sunscreen. Tena Ladies.

Yes ladies, before you go [out], step into those deeply unfashionable but very necessary Tena Ladies, then there are no accidents. Don’t think I need to spell out why.

Chaps, you just have to point and shoot, or use a bottle, but I guess you’d have figured that out on your own.

Oh, sorry is this making you feel a bit… uncomfortable?

Then imagine sitting in a van with less than perfect suspension for 4 hours where every 10-15 seconds you’re bumped around in your seat and your bladder feels like a can of beer that’s been shaken so vigorously it’s about to explode.

And you feel like that after 30 seconds. And there are another 14,370 to go before you can pee again.

7. Liberally mix game drives with excellent food three times a day and you will be in safari heaven. Game in the Maasai features the Big Five – lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo, elephant – with cheetah, giraffe, wildebeest, varied antelope, amazing bird life and more. But sightings cannot be guaranteed.

The animals will help you to forget the discomfort of the roads. It is why you’re here. And who said safari had to mean complete air-conditioned perfection?

Actually depending on your type of safari van there is no air conditioning. Some vans are just open-sided jeeps. Mine had windows but a roof that could be raised, so those able to stand you can get a better view of what’s going on around you.

8. Take lots of photos, and make a back up in case of theft. (I lost my computer on the way home)

9. At the end of the day, sit back with a cold Tuskers and read a disabled traveller’s account of one of the greatest shows on earth.



They come like an invading swarm of locusts. Hundreds of thousands of them. They’re here for fresh grazing and they’re hungry.

In single file they trek – long trains of animals stretching across the plain pausing only to bow their heads to take another clump of fresh grass.

As you emerge from behind the enclosing electric fence and the safety of your game lodge,  you could at first be forgiven for thinking the animals have disappeared. Then, around a turn in the track – you’ll find a small group.

You pass a rotting carcass before another group scatters before you. They’re skittish animals, see.


If they don’t run as your safari van approaches, they’ll turn their heads directly towards you with a seemingly imperious stare. It’s impossible to discern an impression through the dark fur of their faces and shag of their beards.

For the wildebeest this is a time of plenty. The long grass needs to be devoured before the rains start again in the Serengeti.

It’s a time of plenty too for the Mara’s predators. Lions, leopards and cheetah all feast on the plentiful game. The plain is littered with the remains of dead animals. Dazzles of zebra also travel with the wildebeest and fall victim too. Along with eland and Thomson gazelle.


Vultures lay siege to the dead but are too fat or too full to fight over the pickings on offer.

They can’t even be bothered to scare off one of the plains’ other scavengers – the jackal – which soon has its teeth tugging at the decaying flesh.

At night we can hear the hyenas calling.

The plains’ vegetarians – the elephants, rhino and buffalo have all but disappeared. My guide Edward tells me they don’t like the rustle the long grass makes as the wildebeest move through, nor their constant porcine-like grunt that pierces the air.

One morning we head towards one of the migration’s chokepoints: the river crossings that are the deadliest part of the wildebeests’ journey.

We bump along the dirt track for hours, circling vultures indicating the location of the latest kill.

A clump of safari vans reveals a resting lion still panting from the morning’s hunt. Edward tells me most male lions die of heart attacks – a poor diet and too little exercise.

The King of the Jungle is said to sleep for 22 hours a day.

The wildebeest move slowly towards us with seemingly no destination in mind. We spot a young animal with a broken front leg. The hyenas will have it soon enough, maybe before its mother abandons it.

Still we carry on. Then Edward excitedly pronounces: “They’re coming from the Talek river.”

A slight in increase in speed.

As we get closer it’s clear there’s been heavy traffic here. The grassland has been bitten and trampled flat to the earth. Any animal crossing now will have to walk some distance before finding fresh grazing.

We can see a line of bushes and trees. The vegetation following the path of the river.

And finally we are here. It’s quiet. Edward explains that the Wildebeest don’t use the same crossing point every year.

We drive along the riverbank a few kilometres. There’s a small herd of Wildebeest eyeing the river.

“There’s not a constant stream of animals crossing. It depends on the day and the time,” says Edward.

We watch as the group edges closer to the water. Then inexplicably they turn back.

“They fear the crocodiles in the river and the lions and leopards on the other side. And they get scared. Sometimes they’ll go the whole day going back and forth, or even the next day.

“It’s like a game of dare. But once one has no fear and starts to cross, they all do.”

Edward says to witness the crossing you must be either incredibly lucky or stake out the river for a month, not a day like a visiting tourist.

He recalls the time a few years back when the Mara river flooded after heavy rain.

“Many wildebeest drowned, others trampled on each other. You could smell death from two kilometres away.

“Crocodiles were lying on top of the carcasses. They didn’t have to hunt, it was like a party.”

Further down the river two bloated crocs lie basking in the midday sun digesting their latest meal.

A pair of hippos is submerged in the water – only occasional spurts of water revealing their presence.

There’ll be no crossing here today.


I travelled on a private safari with Moses Mungai @ Musir Tours

musirtravels@yahoo.com Tel +254 (0)723 774903



If a picture paints a thousand words…


Whaddya think of this logo?

Pretty cool right?

A disabled icon looking like someone in a wheelchair going places, not just some static body becalmed in the middle of a blue lagoon.

My cousin’s husband Simon just told me about this project Accessible Icon (He’s a graphic designer).

And if an icon is meant to represent something or someone or somewhere isn’t this a great place to start changing attitudes about the disabled?

We aren’t just people stranded in the middle of nowhere unable to do things without assistance.

We can and do get out the house, do the shopping, catch a plane, go places… (oooh scary prospect that one for some (other people) ).

If you’ve got five minutes take a look through the website. I’m not advocating defacing public signage, but what’s that saying about the beat of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the planet becomes a typhoon on the other?



Disabled In…Updates

It’s not the silly season just yet


So working my way through a bunch of post last week in my mail box and I was rather stunned to see a letter postmarked EIIR.

And then on closer inspection ‘Buckingham Palace.’


A letter from the Royals.

I’d forgotten about the letter I’d handed over to one of the Royal staff at my Dad’s investiture. And I hadn’t really expected an answer.

But as my old boss at AP used to say: No ask-ie, no get-tie. So I asked and I got.

What did I ask? For William and Harry to support my blog on disability, given the work they do with disabled groups – Harry especially with Invictus Games.

I didn’t get quite what I asked. A polite: We can’t, because then we’d have to do it for every request.

So not quite By Royal Appointment just yet 😦

But that doesn’t mean Harry @KensingtonRoyal and William @DukeCambridgeUK can’t follow my blog on Twitter @tvsteph does it guys???

Back to Africa

Anyway as it’s holiday time, later this month I’m going back to Kenya – as I want to see some wildlife in the wild.

I won’t just be watching wildebeest on migration though, I’ll also be looking at what life is like for the  wheelchair bound there.

Remember my blog about Australian charity Wheelchairs For Kids?

I’m going to be looking at what it’s like to receive a wheelchair. I’ll be hooking up with Worldvision and hopefully Pek Care International to see their wheelchair distribution programmes.

And of course I’ll be taking a look at disabled facilities in some of the places I’ll be staying. Some will be brand new, others already tried and tested. Watch out for my reviews.

I also hope to catch up with Kenya’s MS Society chairman Kimani Kamau on what’s been happening with those guys since their inaugural meeting last year. If #MS is rare in Malaysia, it’s even rarer in Africa.

Doctors are only just starting to recognise the illness there. And with the price of medication so astronomical, treatment is probably out of reach for the vast majority of people.

It’s another potential Vitamin D link. Because most African skin is dark it can’t manufacture enough Vitamin D – thought to be linked in someway to the illness. I touched on that in my doco.

And finally…

Last update from me for now. The Star newspaper in Malaysia featured a nice piece about me and my adventures in a wheelchair and having MS. Hopefully it will help kick start my consultancy into action.

See ya back in August




And now for the hard part…

Starting my own business consultancy


Life as a disabled person is endlessly challenging, so keeping a sense of humour and seeing the funny side – in a twisted kind of way – is a necessity.

How can you not see the irony when you approach reception desk for an appointment and the woman behind it says: “please take a seat” when you’ve just wheeled up in a chair.

I’ve been in a wheelchair now for more than two years, and ever since then I’ve been discovering endless hurdles to life stuck in a seat.

Gallows humour certainly helps.

You have been reading my blog, right?

I’ve always tried to offer suggestions as to how I think places could be improved (mostly toilets). Sometimes I get listened to, often I don’t.

Now though with my life as a tv journalist in the background for now, I’m taking a new direction. I’m not gonna give out free advice any more – I’ll tell you as a consultant.

I’ll still be in KL for now, but am happy to travel, as I know things ain’t perfect wherever I go.

My aim is to assess existing facilities, make recommendations for changes (if needed) and offer advice on where to find equipment as necessary.

In new buildings, or those under construction, I hope to hook in with the architects/designers before they make mistakes.

Certainly in KL I’m sure I’ll need to hook up with health & safety, and the fire department so I’m working on the nitty gritty right now. But that will be done in a few weeks, and then the really hard part:

Getting the first client.

Watch this space 🙂