I arrived in Phuket on Saturday 6th April, flying in from Bangkok. Me and my carer collected our luggage and rented a car relatively quickly. Booking a rental car on-line has its flaws; I selected the ‘Ford Focus model or similar’ because I have a 3 door Focus at home and know I can get in and out easily, plus my wheelchair fits in the boot easily. However, they didn’t have and Ford Focus’s when we arrived so the ‘similar’ was a Toyota with 5 doors. The point being, if you book a rental car on-line, be prepared to accept you won’t necessarily get the most suitable model of car in the size range you book.
We hit the road south to Phuket, armed with a relatively easy to use Sat-nav, we got to our hotel within an hour. I book hotels through Accorhotels.com, they cover hotels worldwide from economy to luxury but most importantly, all their hotels will have at least 1 disabled room. At the economy end, I find Ibis hotels to be very reasonable in price, modern and comfortable. For Phuket, I booked the Ibis Kata Beach, staying for 9 nights in April (low season) for £377 inc. breakfast (average £42 per night). The price does vary a lot between high and low season and can nearly double in high season. The disabled rooms at the Ibis Kata beach are ideal; wooden flooring, and slide door accessing a large bathroom with a wet room shower, I believe the toilet had grab bars though I can’t remember. The bed is a double, about the same height as my wheelchair for relatively easy transferring from chair to bed and vice versa.
During my stay in Phuket I made use of one of the the many massage spas in the area. However, the few massage shops I have visited in Phuket have never been suitable as full back massage treatment is provided upstairs; downstairs at shop level is generally for foot & head massage for people on the go. The advantage to staying at the Ibis Kata Beach is they have 2 massage Gazebo’s poolside from which masseurs work. Massage can be arranged at Oriental Massage, opposite the hotel. I got a massage after breakfast daily, 1 hour costing around just £6. The massage tables under the Gazebo’s have 2 steps up to their level, my carer helped me up these and on and off the massage table.
Our guide is an English local. He’s been living in Phuket for around 5 years and very knowledgeable of the local area. He was friendly, very helpful and happy to show us around based on whatever we wished to see and do offering suggestions where necessary. On our first day we visited the Great Buddha monument high up on a viewpoint overlooking the coast of Phuket. It provides a fantastic panoramic of Phuket and home to very friendly monkeys!
One of my highlights staying in Phuket was to arrange an island trip. Tom took us down to Chalong Pier to book this. The tour operator was very helpful and offered much flexibility with our plans. It had been a burning passion of mine to spend a night camping on a tropical island beach. She was happy to add a night’s stay in tents to our island tour and the next day we arrived at 9m donned life jackets and got ready to board the speed boat. Accessing the boat wasn’t easy; some wheelchair users may not be comfortable with being ‘man handled’, for me it’s just a necessity to enabling me to go where I want. I was helped but 3 Thai assistants, lifting me out of my chair and carrying me onto the boats seating. My carer then brought my chair on board. After everyone had boarded, the engines fired up and we were off to ‘Coral Island’ Coral Island is 20 minutes off the coast of Phuket, the ride was exhilarating; speeding across the sea, and we would occasionally hit the waters chop which created turbulence. As a C5/6 Quadriplegic, I don’t have good balance or much upper body strength but I felt relatively comfortable during the short journey; again, to me, it’s a necessity to enabling me to go where I want. When we moored up at the beach, the Thai guides were just as helpful carrying me to my wheelchair which my carer had prepared on the shore.The beach is a beautiful location from which you can see a few other islands and look back at Phuket’s main land.
During the morning more boats arrived bringing tourists, there was many deck chairs for relaxing in the sun and speedboats providing paragliding experiences for queuing guests. A good buffet lunch was provided and in the latter afternoon the boats begin carrying people back to the main land. By around 4pm me, my carer & Tom found ourselves alone, the only tourists left on the beach. Taking in the warmth of the sun and beautiful scenery was hard to do, it was just so overwhelming. Our tents were put up where we chose by our Thai guides who otherwise, remained out of sight but let us know they were not far if we needed anything. We ordered dinner to our deck chairs on the beach from a small beach hotel further down the beach. As we settled into our tents, the last and first thing I could hear as I fell asleep and woke, was the gentle lapping of waves on the shore.
The next day we were given a basic egg on toast breakfast with coffee which we ate from our tents as we watched the boats arrive again to bring another day off tourists. We boarded our designated speedboat around 2pm and returned to Chalong Pier. The whole experience including buffet lunch and breakfast cost about £40 each.
I was fortunate to be visiting Thailand in early April; Thai New Year is known as ‘Songkran’ and is celebrated around April 12th. Tom took us to Rawai Beach to enjoy the festivities. Songkran is essentially a massive water fight from dusk till dawn; people line the streets and hurl or shoot water at anyone passing by, including bikes and cars. We got stuck in quickly and within minutes I was completely soaked, surrounded by many smiling happy people, dancing and celebrating the washing of bad away to bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year. These are some the highlights of my trip to Phuket and may give you some idea about accessibility from a wheelchair user’s experience. There will always be steps, curbs, rough terrain and steep hill gradients that’ll make it difficult or even impossible for a wheelchair user to go. Phuket is no exception to this principle but if you wish to explore this part of the world, you’ll be met with overwhelming hospitality and a genuine willingness from locals to help you overcome any physical barriers you may have to fully enjoy your experience.