Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chiang Mai, Thailand in a wheelchair

I can describe Chiang Mai as a land of steep ramps. With steep ramps one may think that ravelling on a motorised wheelchair would be ideal, but mind you that public transport (tuk-tuk and songthaew) is not accessible and one needs to use regular saloon taxis to get around where carrying a motorised wheelchair may be a challenge.  Having said that there are a lot of very steep ramps and one would need constant assistance to negotiate them, I must add that the local Thai people are very helpful.

I stayed at the hotel Furama. The concept of an accessible guest room was new to them and the using the en-suite shower cum toilet is not easy. He the hotel is great but probably not the best choice if you are a wheelchair user.

Wat Doi Suthep – a temple probably built around the 1383 on a mountain top. There is popular saying that those who go to Chiang Mai without visiting Doi Suthep are no better than those who have never been to Chiang Mai at all.

The good news for all wheelchair users is that it has been made accessible.  There is an elevator from the road level that connect to the cable car that by-passes the 306 steps to reach the temple. Once in the temple site there are ramps (very steep) that connect the various levels in the temple.

Bad news is that the gradient of most the ramps is probably 1:4 and especially the one leading into the main temple seems extremely dangerous. I decided not to risk using it.

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2011– This is a floral exposition organized yearly at the Royal Agricultural Research Center. It is spread over 80 hectares of land. There is a cart ride available that one can take to see the expo. There is a special wheelchair accessible vehicle also available at the same cost that the staff helps you with. The only thing that is not so good is that once you board the vehicle you cannot get off at different areas instead have to just drive past everything. People using the regular carts have the option to hope in and out though. So according to me the best option is to take the accessible vehicle till a point and then wheel the rest. 

Most of the Gardens of the King from different countries are inaccessible.
Ho Kham Royal Pavillion is accessible by a lift. Bad luck for me the lift was out of operation during my visit
Thai Tropical Garden and the Expo Plaza are accessible by steep ramps.

This is one place I missed my motorized wheelchair the most.

Night Bazaar is one of Chiang Mai’s must-sees on the city’s tourist trail. Every night thousands of tourists flock to this bizarre bazaar. It is famous throughout Thailand and is perhaps the best place in the Kingdom to stock up on souvenirs and tourist-friendly clothing and accessories. The stalls are all on the pavement and there are (steep) curb ramps to get on. At places the passage is very narrow and may be difficult to pass. There may be a step or two at some places. Definitely worth a visit even in a wheelchair. Remember to bargain!

Wat Chedi Luang – One of the most fascinating structures. Built sometime between 1385 and 1402, during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, 7th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty, Wat Chedi Luang's massive chedi (pagoda) is a distinctive feature of the Chiang Mai skyline. At its peak, the chedi measured 60 metres across at the square base and 80 metres tall and was once the home of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred religious relic.

Wheelchair access into the courtyard that houses this ancient pagoda is only from one corner. The temples inside this complex are not accessible, but yet just seeing the giant ancient pagoda is a treat.

Maesa Elephant Camp - In the lush tropical jungle of Chiang Mai's Maesa Valley , a big family of elephants lives side by side with their mahout caretakers. "Maea Elephant Camp" is home to one of the largest assembly of elephants in the north of Thailand.  The elephants put up a show twice a day and they have also been included in the Gunnies Book of World Records.

Probably like going into any natural forest – going on a wheelchair is difficult as the ground is uneven and leveled. They have tried to give wheelchair access by building a (very steep) ramp to get on till one of the machaan’s from where one get on to the elephant for a ride. I am sure adventurous wheelchair users (that does not include me L) will be able to take an elephant ride through the forest.

Staff of the camp are helpful and willing help to negotiate the wheelchair.

Accessible toilets – before I conclude my blog I must mention that all accessible toilets throughout Thailand seem to have fixed handrails on both sides making it nearly unusable by people who do a side transfer onto the WC.

Shivani Gupta
Director AccessAbility

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