I have wanted to return to Thailand for many years now as I had been there twice before my accident and it’s a place that I have always loved. A friend suggested that I also try Cambodia, as this would not be as commercialised as Thailand has now become. My Friend Damian (Damo) and I had been talking about it for a couple of years now so finally in the summer we decided that we had to get on and book it.
I hadn’t travelled further than Europe since my accident so a little more preparation would be needed. I would be travelling as light as possible but that’s not very easy when you have all your medical equipment, power trike, batteries, catheters etc so all I packed clothing wise was two t shirts a pair of shorts and a wash bag. Everyone always laughs when I tell them this but I knew I could get everything I needed where I was going at a 10th of the price in the UK.
Our trip to Cambodia and Thailand as with any international trip starts with the flight from the airport, Heathrow for this one. My friend of over 25 years Damo would be accompanying me and I tried to let him know that he would have to help me with a lot of the heavy lifting. I was bringing my power trike with me as I knew the terrain we were heading for wouldn’t be at all wheelchair friendly. The power trike I have is from PDQ, which went out of business a few years ago as I’ve had it for about 8 years now. There are several places that you can get them but the most popular types are the following:
Team Hybrid (www.teamhybrid.co.uk) – they do a selection of power trikes, and trikes with hand cycling abilities built in so you can exercise and or use the power when needed.
Davinici Mobility (www.davincimobility.com) – they have a trike called the Trail Rider and it looks very good
Cyclone Mobility (www.cyclonemobility.com) – they sell a trike made by Batec which looks like a very good machine
A cheaper alternative is the Free Wheel for about £350 which allows you to travel across uneven ground but without the addition electric power. EPC the supplier of the Free Wheel are also the preferred supplier of other disability products
The electric machines are not cheap though; they range from around £3000 – £5000. If these prices are beyond your means though the alternative is to look on Ebay, I often see trikes come up for sale every month or two and the prices can start from as little as £250. I purchased one on ebay a while ago, which I use for spares.
So Heathrow and check in. It turns out airlines have become increasingly worried about transporting batteries now due to some lithium batteries catching fire, so I advise you to check and double check with the airline before arriving. I had two large battery packs containing 3 lead acid batteries each. After about an hour at the check in, talking to several different staff and managers all scratching their heads and making phone calls to other parts of the airport, they finally let us check the trike and batteries in.
First unexpected hurdle over!!! Next the plane. So I booked the front row seats which I was assured were the first row of the plane although they were row 17, I presumed this meant that the fist 16 were for business class which meant you turned left instead of right for the first 16 rows. I was therefore confident that I would be able to get my own chair on to the plane, up to my seat and then transfer over, as I had done with many other airlines before. But no, row 17 was actually half way down the plane. No bother though, I just needed to transfer to a skinny chair and be pushed down the aisle of the plane. I hopped in to my seat and finally relief, the first part of the journeys hurdles were now over. I could sit back and relax for the 11-hour flight. The 11 hours flew by (excuse the pun) watching movies and chatting with Damo. The only hassle was that being unable to get to the loo, I knew that at some point I would have to catheterise and I was concerned about how I would do this discreetly in my seat. It turned out to be pretty easy using a blanket to hide my embarrassment and Hollister VaPro Pocket (www.vapropocket.co.uk ) catheters to make the job easy, I then managed to have a pee in to my Uri Bag (www.uribag.com ) a rubber expandable bottle that is available on prescription. Then I just had to ask Damo nicely if he would flush it down the loo for me.
We arrived in Bangkok at 9.30 am for our connecting flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia which was four hours later, and all went well until we reached the check in at Bangkok Airlines (our airline of choice to Cambodia) and again issues with the batteries. I had previously emailed them several times with positive responses back which I printed and brought with me confirming all would be fine but it still took another hour of head scratching to finally get them through. At the gate the airport staff met us to assist me on to the plane. (An enthusiastic team of 5 to help me which I thought might have been a bit over the top!!). This was no jumbo jet though and the stairs in to the plane were only the ones that fold down like on most propeller planes. The steps were narrow so I was taken from the transfer bus and put in a small skinny chair to lift me in. The guys all took it in their stride though and with some heaving and heavy breathing from them, I was in the plane and in my seat. Another hurdle over and time to relax again for the short 55 minutes flight to Siem Reap.
Arriving at Siem Reap airport I realized they didn’t have a skinny chair to carry me out of the plane with, so the assistance crew just carried me off and put me in an oversized wheelchair, assuring me that my wheelchair and trike would be coming round the carousel shortly, and they are right! Within 10 minutes of being pushed through passport like a VIP, all my luggage was there and ready for me to embark on the next phase of the journey to the hotel.
I had been assured by the hotel that there would be a driver waiting for us but I was still slightly nervous that no one would be, but I shouldn’t have been. Waiting there at arrivals with a card saying Grant Logan, friend of Mitch, was our driver. Mitch is someone (a wheelchair user) that I found online through a disabled travelling site (trip advisor) that I spoke to on Skype a few times and helped me plan the basics of our trip. The driver from the hotel helped us in to the car with all our stuff and it was just a short 20-minute trip to our hotel.
So after 24 hours of travel and being awake for nearly 30 hours after not being able to sleep on the planes we arrived at Hotel 20th Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Which was one recommended by Mitch as he’d worked there before. We arrived to a great welcome from the owners and staff and were helped in with our entire luggage. The hotel is not fully accessible in the UK sense but the entrance was just a steep incline that Damo could help with and two small shallow steps in to reception, within hours of arriving they had built me a ramp so i able to come and go around the hotel as i pleased. Before we checked out our rooms, a well-deserved beer was in order!!
I had been booked a room on the ground floor, as there were no lifts and the room turned out to be very good with a wet room shower and toilet, air-conditioning, two doubles beds, a fridge and enough room to move around. The only downside being that the door to the bathroom was only 24 inches wide, which is fine for me, but a wider wheelchair wouldn’t be able to get in, and there are no handrails to hold on to at the shower and toilet. I have explained all these issues to the owner and he plans to sort them for the next disabled traveller.
So we arrived at the hotel at 4pm local time with no sleep but we had to try and push though. We unpacked and went to the bar where we met with Johan the owner again and chatted with him about where to go and what to see. He recommended a local restaurant for tonight just across the road, as an early night was needed. The food was amazing, we had a Bbq dinner with steamed vegetables and a couple of beers, grand total $16. Can’t say fairer than that!! By 9.30 I was starting to feel delirious so time for bed.
Part 2 coming soon…..