The majority of sidewalks in Bangkok present significant accessibility challenges to wheelchair users. The most common issues are a lack of curb cuts and ramps, general disrepair, large crowds, and potholes.
Thailand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and the accessibility of sidewalks is slowly improving. Although foot paths in the more developed and tourist regions of the city are generally accessible, this is not true everywhere. When sidewalks are “accessible,” they are often old, deteriorating and cracked. Even on Sukhumvit Road, a tourist hotspot, sidewalks are without curb ramps at some intersections. Where curb cuts do not exist, curb heights can range anywhere from 3 to 12 inches. At these spots, wheelchair users will need to enter the roadway for a short distance until the sidewalk becomes passable.
Taking a wheelchair into Bangkok’s busy roadways may seem hazardous. While there is certainly risk involved, it is mitigated when wheelchair users observe the following tips:
- Wait for traffic in the lane you are entering to pass or stop before rolling onto the street.
- Try to wheel/roll as close to the curb as possible, taking up as little of the road/lane as possible.
- Wheel/roll with the flow of traffic. More than one-third of Bangkok’s traffic is represented by scooters or motorbikes. Drivers will respect your right of way and are used to sharing the road with slower vehicles or bicycles.
- If you are in a manual wheelchair, exit the roadway as soon as practicable.
Users of power wheelchairs or scooters may find that rolling in the roadway almost exclusively is preferable, as it makes for a smoother ride. The video above shows me taking my power wheelchair into a Bangkok street. Although I sped up certain parts of the video, my wheelchair has a maximum speed of 5 mph (8 km/h). Due to a road network that is over utilized, traffic jams are often the norm in Bangkok. This allows wheelchair, bicycle and motorbike riders to travel faster than the flow of traffic quite frequently.
I am a pretty daring traveler, and I again warn you to use extreme caution when taking a wheelchair unto an active roadway. If you’re not comfortable doing that, Bangkok may not be the best city for you to visit. There are many other destinations in Asia to choose from.