It’s been almost a month since I set out to backpack through Thailand in my wheelchair, all on my own. All I had was a plane ticket, a hotel reservation for two nights and the determination to figure it all out as I go along.
A few years ago, friends showed me photos of their trip through Thailand. I remember how I thought back then: “Of all the things I can do when I set my mind to it – this is something I will never be able to do.”
So in the long tradition of my lifestyle, a few years later I said “Screw this!” – and went ahead with it anyway.
And what a month it has been. I met friends here that I’m sure I’ll keep for a lifetime, and also befriended a bunch of monkeys (by buying a basket of fruit) and a baby elephant. I tried food I didn’t know you could eat – and to this day don’t know what much of it actually was. I traveled around in my wheelchair for hours, looking at buddhist temples, beaches and local markets.
Bangkok, my first destination, made it impossible to get around. The sidewalks usually have ramps to get on them, so that’s good since the curbs are too high for my set of wheels. But every once in a while someone put a billboard or a flower pot right in the middle of the sidewalk, and that’s when I usually had to turn around and find another way. Even trying to go through backstreets and parking lots, I just couldn’t make it to my destination. It didn’t even cross my mind to use the streets – two or four lane roads with drivers that had a rather random approach towards traffic rules? I would have been an expensive piece of roadkill in an hour.
So instead I called a Taxi for the 3h trip down to Khao Takiab a day later. A friend suggested that I take a portable, foldable ramp with me to Asia, so that I could drive my wheelchair into the back of regular Taxis. That made me a lot more flexible than having to book special disability transfer. I have the 2m ramp with me all the time now (at the back of my wheelchair), just in case I really have to get up some stairs and there’s no other way. It’s a hassle to set it up (and the dang thing weighs 8kg, so I can’t do it on my own anyway), so that’s only for real emergencies.
Khao Takiab is a small, quiet town with plenty of seafood restaurants, supermarkets and other places that I could actually drive to, and often times even get in – provided they didn’t have steps. Which, I’d say is true for one out of four. It’s not a great quota, I admit. But it meant that I could buy all the things I needed and go out if I felt like it. The town is so small that I didn’t have to bother with sidewalks but could just drive on the street like everyone else. I had to get used to driving on the left side of the road again, but after two years in New Zealand that came back quickly. The beach was just 200m from my hotel, and actually wheelchair accessible – when the water had receded and the the sand was wet.
So far, so good! Time to settle in and get a bit comfortable, get a tan, and start working. After all, the plan was not to run through Thailand like a photo crazed tourist with a sightseeing list, but to do what I do at home: work, take care of my health, and enjoy life.
Nearly all the places I had found online where in the nearby city of Hua Hin, its center about 5km away from where I was staying. Equipped with my apartment list and lots of sun block, I left to check them out.
This meant that I inevitably had to drive on a bigger four lane road with lots of traffic, the only one leading into the city. A taxi would have been an option, but I didn’t want to pay for that every time I had to cover a little distance. Besides, it was time to stand up to my worries, or I’d never be able to get around much.
And you know what? It worked just fine. I was always driving on the very side of the road, so that scooters and even cars would be able to pass without getting too close. After the first 20 minutes of desensitising and getting used to it, it was actually easy! Now I wonder if I could have done the same thing in Bangkok? But I don’t think so. Bangkoks traffic was a different league.
It’s wheelchair accessible, but not with the usual disability facilities. For me that’s fine, I just want to be able to keep my wheelchair locked up in the room so I can charge it, and not on the parking lot outside. But this building actually has a fully equipped apartment with the whole array of disability facilities, direct access to the pool and even a lift into the pool if necessary – rented out by two very nice people I got to meet: www.gehandicapten.com (ps. I don’t get anything for mentioning this, but I think it’s a great apartment and great people)
I don’t travel with a suitcase, but a sturdy Tatonka duffle bag that I can fit on my lap. That was a great decision, because it means I can transport everything myself, without having to worry about a suitcase I’d never be able to get from A to B without help from someone. The downside is that the bag only holds 45l, which is about half that of a normal suitcase. But this is a tropical country, it’s not like I needed to bring a lot of stuff anyway.
Edit: Here’s “Backpacking Thailand, part 2”