Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Travel – Essential AT for Two Different Locations
In 2019 I was fortunate enough to travel to two very different destinations, Portugal and Thailand. Despite the differences between the two destinations, there are a few pieces of assistive technology that helped me make the most of these two trips.
To begin with, Portugal. Portugal has been on our list of places to go for many years, and in 2019 my wife and I decided to make it happen. As a wheelchair user who has done considerable travel over the years for both business and leisure my strong preference is to pick a place and spend time there rather than spending a night or two at several locations. This saves me the hassle of searching for accessible rooms, packing and unpacking, and hours in transit.
It has the added advantage of letting me get to know one place well, to find places that are often overlooked by tourist guides, to find the best food and cafes, to meet some local people and shopkeepers and to have a better taste of what life is like. In Portugal we decided we would spend our time in Porto.
For accommodation I used AirBnB. The accessibility filters now in the AirBnB website have worked well for me. We ended up in one-bedroom apartment right in the heart of Porto, equipped with a kitchen, good living room space and a bathroom set up that worked for me. This option was cheaper than the hotels with good accessibility and allowed us to buy the local cheeses, meats, olives, wines and other produce without having to eat out all the time.
Porto is an ancient city, built around the Douro River. This means there are a lot of steep hills, cobblestones, steps into shops, and at times narrow crowded sidewalk. Not ideal for wheelchairs! But to compensate for this it is a beautiful city, with magnificent views, architecture, history and very friendly locals. In addition, there is some excellent infrastructure such as the funicular, cable cars, accessible buses and accessible paths along the river and on the famous Dom Luís 1 Bridge. We also did a half day river cruise which was spectacular and then caught the train back to Porto (the train stations had portable ramps to get me into and out of the carriage).
In terms of getting around, we explored a lot of the city by wheeling/walking. We used the buses a few times, but mostly we just wheeled/walked to different areas. I find one of the attractions of old cities like this is to just wheel through the lanes and alleyways, get a feel for the history and be surprised by the small shops and their produce.
I will let the pictures and videos do much of the talking regards the beauty of Porto. In regard to equipment, the two vital pieces of equipment were the SmartDrive and the FreeWheel. These two products work so well together, the FreeWheel for the cobblestones and going down steep hills, the SmartDrive for getting up the steep hills. Having travelled through Europe without the FreeWheel, the difference it makes on cobblestones is truly liberating! Having the SmartDrive allowed my wife and I to explore much more of the city than we could of without it.
Moving onto Thailand, this has been one of my favourite destinations for many years. I have found it challenging (I kind of like to be challenged in my travels) but really rewarding. This trip I focused on two areas, Chiang Rai which is a mountainous province in the North West of Thailand famous for the Golden Triangle, and Prachuap Khiri Khan province in South West Thailand. In Chiang Rai I hired a car from the airport, and for the Prachuap Khiri Khan I hired car and drove from Bangkok (about a 4 hour drive). I travel with portable hand controls which can be fitted to an automatic hire car.
The Chiang Rai area is incredibly beautiful, and I really enjoyed exploring the mountains and the area known as the Golden Triangle. The history of this area is rich and fascinating, and the food is to die for. The influence of different tribal groups, the surrounding countries and the West all make it an intense cultural experience. While not as filled with tourists as the Thai islands and Chiang Mai, there is still reasonable infrastructure.
The other area I went to, the Prachuap Khiri Khan province, is a beautiful province that is largely unspoilt. The place I stayed in is very close to the biggest national park in Thailand (more jungle than park). It is only about 50 minutes from Hua Hin, a nice seaside village on the coast which is a popular tourist destination. However, where I stayed is far from the hustle and bustle of tourists. It is a new resort, on a river that had otters in it! All the other guests were Thai, I was the only foreigner staying there. Driving there I passed through areas that warned drivers to beware of wild elephants on the road, the bird life is incredible, and the scenery must be seen to be believed.
Once again, the SmartDrive and FreeWheel played a critical part in my being able to explore these areas. In the mountains of Chiang Rai, the SmartDrive took me to places I could not have got to without it. The FreeWheel allowed me to explore dirt tracks and off-road areas, as well as cross a suspension bridge that had big gaps in the planks.
If you’re interested in any more details regarding these two trips, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I hope wherever your travels take you in 2020 you have a great time!
Senior Advisor and Ambassador