In recent years, Thailand has made significant progress in improving access for disabled travellers. This is especially true in Bangkok with improved facilities at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport and at BTS Skytrain and MRT Metro stations. While there have been welcome changes for disabled travellers, there is still room for improvement.
Nutty’s Adventures are a Thai tour company who specialise in community-based tourism and local experiences. Named after the co-founder of the company, Nithi ‘Nutty’ Subhongsang, they also operate Accessible Thailand Tours which provides practical assistance to disabled visitors to Thailand. We asked Khun Nithi and his team for their tips on visiting Thailand:
What is your number one piece of advice for disabled travellers visiting Thailand for the first time?
Don’t be discouraged by the long distance and the uncertainties of an exotic location. The Thai people are extremely friendly and hospitable and you will soon feel quite at home.
If a disabled traveller is visiting Thailand for a two week holiday for the first-time, where would you recommend they visit?
With proper planning, the whole country can be open to disabled visitors, no different from anybody else. Example itineraries could include visits to Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi in Central Thailand. Or combine a trip with Chiang Mai and North Thailand with a visit to South Thailand and destinations like Phatthalung, Krabi or Khao Lak.
Compared to other countries in South-East Asia, how well do you think Thailand compares in terms of facilities and ease of access for disabled travellers?
Better than some, less good than others. But the kindness and hospitality of Thai people trumps all.
What would you like to see Thailand do to improve access for disabled travellers (both local and overseas tourists)?
Improved pavements in the towns and cities and more accessible bathrooms in rural areas.
Responsible Thailand Award winners
In 2020, Khun Nithi and his team won the ‘Green Steps’ category at the Tourism Authority of Thailand Responsible Thailand Awards, for their work in promoting accessible tourism in Thailand.
Accessible Thailand Tours
Accessible Thailand Tours offers tailor-made holidays for travellers with disabilities. Helping to make a visit to Thailand less daunting, the award-winning tour operator can provide assistance and specially trained guides to help make your Thailand adventure go smoothly. Whether you are visually impaired or are a wheelchair user, Accessible Thailand Tours have local knowledge and can book the right accommodation for your requirements and also handle any special travel arrangements.
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Travel around Thailand
As Khun Nithi mentions, “the kindness and hospitality of Thai people trumps all”. This is so true and although not everywhere in Thailand is as accessible as we would like, most Thai people will be happy to lend a helping hand if required. Language barriers can sometimes be an issue for all travellers and it’s worth considering hiring a reputable tour guide for at least part of your trip. We highly recommend Accessible Thailand, but you can find other recommendations and advice online.
Every airport in Thailand can provide assistance to disabled travellers. If you are a wheelchair user, visually impaired or need assistance, you should advise the airline at time of booking. The main international airport, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK), uses air-bridges for most international flights, but that isn’t always the case for some domestic flights and at regional airports where steps may be used instead. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi also has modern and well-maintained facilities for disabled travellers including electric carts, lift access to all levels, and good toilet facilities.
Airport rail link
If you’re travelling into Bangkok from Suvarnabhumi, the Airport Rail Link (ARL) has good access for disabled travellers. This includes elevators which are not only spacious enough to accommodate wheelchairs, but also include braille buttons. Voice announcements in Thai and English indicate which level the elevator has arrived at. The ARL ticket machines and access gates are wheelchair friendly and on the train itself there is an area allocated especially for wheelchair users.
State Railway of Thailand (SRT) staff are well-trained and usually very helpful to all passengers. Not all trains have disabled facilities and you should check before making your booking. New rolling stock was introduced on some routes in 2016. Suitable for wheelchair users, these newer style trains run on some long-distance routes linking Bangkok with Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani.
Taxis, tuk-tuks and songthaews
Taxis in Thailand are excellent value compared to the UK or Ireland. Hiring a taxi for a few hours can save a lot of frustration waiting around in the heat. Alternatively, you could hire a car with a driver for a half-day or full-day. Rates are reasonable and your hotel or nearest tour office to your accommodation are both good places to ask for recommendations.
Away from Bangkok and the main tourist resorts, you will find that the main form of public transport is often a songthaew. These are basically converted pick-up trucks with two rows of seats. In many cases they run as shared taxis, but can usually be hired privately on an hourly or per journey basis. Although you can negotiate yourself, it’s best to ask at your hotel or tour office for local recommendations. Alternative options are tuk-tuks which can also be hired as private taxis for as long as you want. Again, you will need to negotiate a price and it’s best to ask for assistance from your hotel or a nearby tour office.
Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) and Metro (MRT)
In Bangkok, the Skytrain (BTS) and Metro (MRT) can be a convenient way to get around the city. The Skytain is clean and modern, but not all stations have lifts and facilities for disabled travellers. Check the BTS website for details or ask at the Tourist Information Centres located at Phaya Thai, Saphan Taksin and Siam stations.
The Bangkok Metro has excellent facilities for disabled travellers with every station equipped with lifts and wheelchair access. See the MRT website for more details.
The BTS and MRT can be a useful way to travel around Bangkok, but they can also get crowded especially in the morning and evening rush hours.
Travelling by boat is all part of the Thailand holiday experience, but can present challenges. The public commuter boats in Bangkok don’t wait around for passengers and no matter how independent you are, they are not the best choice for solo disabled travellers. Hiring a private longtail boat to explore the canals of Bangkok is an alternative option, but will be easier if you have a travel companion with you.
At beach resorts and the islands, public ferries and longtail boats are more of a leisurely affair compared to Bangkok. However, some ferry boats can be difficult to board with steps sometimes used instead of ramps.
Newer hotels and more luxurious resorts often have good facilities for disabled travellers. Unfortunately, many of Thailand’s budget hotels and guest-houses don’t have lifts so always check in advance if stairs are an issue. But what smaller hotels and guest-houses sometimes lack in amenities they can make up for with a more personal service, so that is something to consider too. Wherever you choose to stay, ask questions in advance via email and let them know if you have any specific requirements.
Visiting different tourist attractions in Thailand can be hit and miss when it comes to disabled access. This is particularly true outside of Bangkok and the main cities and it can be worthwhile hiring a guide who will have local knowledge that means you get the most out of your visit.
Bringing medications to Thailand
If you are bringing medications into Thailand you should be able to prove that these have been prescribed by your doctor or similar qualified professional. Check out the official advice from the Royal Thai Embassy in London here.
If you are not flying directly to Thailand and are transiting via another country, you should check the rules in place with that country. For example, Dubai has very strict rules which prohibit some common medicinal items.
If you’re caught short on your city travels or just need to cool off, head to any shopping centre. Most will have disabled toilet facilities and the air-conditioning of the mall provides welcome respite from the heat. For good value Thai food, head to the food court which can often be found on the ground floor of many shopping centres.
Thailand is a welcoming destination with some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere in the world. A smile and being calm and polite really does go a long way in Thailand so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if required.
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