Photo: Canals of Ca Mau, Mekong Delta.

Vietnam forum

Advice on independent Mekong travel with disability?

Posted by delphulia on 5/2/2010 at 07:35

Hi -

We're travelling to Cambodia and Vietnam (14 day trip), and would love some advice: we're headed to Siem Reap , Hanoi /Halong Bay and then down to the Mekong delta. However, my boyfriend has limited mobility: in a wheelchair, but uses crutches for steps and short distances. We're thinking about flying to Can Tho, and then making our own way back to HCMC via Tra Vinh/Vinh Long. Any opinions on ways to do this and reasonably accessible things to see in that area? Or are there other parts of the Mekong that seem more accessible?

We're very well-traveled, independent types - not interested in package tours at all. We're game for buses and boats, but don't mind spending a few extra dollars to make the experience more pleasant: our backpacking/hostel days might be over, but we're a long way from getting into the luxury tours.

Also, if any of you have traveled to Siem Reap or Hanoi in a wheelchair - or seen it done, I'd love to hear about it and get any recommendations!

Thank you!

#1 delphulia has been a member since 5/2/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by daawgon on 5/2/2010 at 14:53

I've been in Vietnam a total of 3 months (3 trips) in the past 2 years, and have never once seen anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches. I have seen Vietnamese with no lower body using a wheeled board. You should know that sidewalks in this country are not usually used for walking - they're parking lots for motorbikes, space for sidewalk cooking and selling goods. People block your way and it's your responsibility to walk around them (even if it means in the street). When I'm a little tired, I feel especially vulnerable in the chaotic streets of Hanoi's Old Qtr since traffic is mere inches from my body. If all that don't scare you, it's a fantastic place to hang out.

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Posted by MADMAC on 5/2/2010 at 17:00

I am afraid I have to agree with daawgon on this one. My experience here is that SEA is not very handicapped friendly. The sidewalks are all but non-existent, there are seldom, if ever, ramps for access to buildings...

Now, I met a guy on line who was also limited in mobility and came here as a sex tourist (was in Pattaya), and in a weird display of empathy and comradery other sex tourists helped him get around by carrying his wheel chair over obstacles and into bars. He had cash, so the girls didn't care what his disability was. He stayed in a hotel that had an elevator (lift) and no stair case at the entry. But that's the only time I've even heard of a non-asian in a wheel chair here.

Having said that, people here are very nice and very accomodating if they can be. It might work out. Certainly an adventure.

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Posted by coopsnpeps on 23/3/2010 at 15:38

Hi there,

We travelled to Vietnam ( south to north) March 09 , Phuket Nov 09, Malaysia March 2010 and am currently planning for Cambodia in Nov 2010.

My situation is a little different as it is my 5 year old son who uses a wheelchair. He does not self propel so we push him up and down the walkways/roads etc on our travels.
However I am always on the look out for easy access etc and do notice these sorts of things being that it is my world now.

While in Malaysia I met a wonderful women( from Finland) who uses a wheelchair permanently. She found access in the street quite difficult but like past people have mentioned the sidewalks in SE asia are not for walking but more for motorbikes, stalls and signs! WE would use the road most of the time.

We chose Sapa over Halong bay at the time. no doubt Halong Bay on a boat would be more suited!

Hanoi seemed quieter and smaller than Saigon but still the sidewalks are pretty bad to be able to continue in an easy straight line without coming to some sort of obstacle every 5 meters.
A lot of the guesthouses also only have stairs and it is often hard to find a budget option with easy access/lift etc. I did see a few locals who used a wheelchair.
There is lots to see both in and around Hanoi and it seemed the most westernised part of Vietnam to me.

If I can suggest one place in Vietnam it would be Hoi An. Just beautiful.

I have blogged a little about our journey's

I really hope you can find some more useful info that will encourage more travel as I have no doubt it is possible it might just take a little adjusting and doing things a little different to the norm!

good luck and enjoy your adventures.


#4 coopsnpeps has been a member since 23/3/2010. Posts: 7

Posted by busylizzy on 23/3/2010 at 19:00

Absolutely agree with the above posters about the streets of Vietnam and Cambodia. It's impossible to walk a straight line down the street - you are constantly side-stepping things and in the end, I found it much easier to just walk in the middle of the road!

We actually saw two people (different occassions) wheeling around the main streets of Hanoi in wheelchairs, amongst the godzillion motorbikes, bicycles and other vehicles. Very brave, I thought!

Maybe considering hiring a cyclo driver for the duration of your time in Hanoi to get you around. It would be better (safer!) than a motorbike, and I'm sure they could get a wheelchair on board without problem.
Likewise, you can hire tuktuks in Cambodia relatively cheaply for the day.

Almost all the places that we stayed through Vietnam were in very tall and skinny buildings, which usually required stairs to access the rooms. I never once saw an elevator. One or twice I saw rooms on the ground level, but as they were right next to the reception area, I would imagine they are very noisy. It might pay to pre-book your accommodation as much as you can (even if a day or two before) to try and reserve the lower-level rooms.

You are more likely to find suitable rooms in Siem Reap (ie rooms on ground floor and/or elevators).

Sorry - I haven't really given you any useful suggestions on accessible things to see/do. It's actually hard to think of any! But you do need to be aware of the obstacles that you will face once you are there.

Enjoy your travels!

#5 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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Posted by delphulia on 8/4/2010 at 01:22

Hi All -
Thanks for all the responses - fortunately, we found the story was very different from how so many posters suggested! We went for two and a half weeks, and had a fantastic time. Every town we went to (Siem Reap in Cambodia, then Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An in Vietnam) was filled with friendly, helpful people, hotels with elevators (or max 1-2 steps, which was fine), and if there wasn't space to use the sidewalks (as in Hanoi), the wheelchair did just fine on the street, and we felt remarkably safe navigating to and around the markets, and moseying around town. We got some funny looks, and a lot of locals were curious about the chair. Perhaps the fact that there are so few rules (as expected, no ADA compliance - except, oddly enough, at the bathrooms of the Angkor ruins), but everyone - from the tuk-tuk drivers who got the wheelchair and us safely in to the crew on our boat on Halong Bay who helped us get onto the boat and into the kayak - was willing to find a creative way to make things work.

We chose not to go to the Mekong because it was so hot, and ended up in Hoi An instead, which was lovely and easy and highly recommended.


#6 delphulia has been a member since 5/2/2010. Posts: 2

Posted by busylizzy on 8/4/2010 at 03:09

Hey delphulia,

Thanks for the update - and I'm so pleased that everything went well for you on your travels.

Your post gives an interesting cause for reflection: I think most posters here really just wanted to provide a 'worst case' and realistic picture of what the conditions are like in Asia, as opposed to more handicap-friendly countries like the US, UK, etc. I suspect the obstacles (literal ones as well as mental) could be too much for many to overcome, while just providing a challenge for others.

It just goes to show that attitude is everything, and that's what can make or break your holiday. And of course, that would apply to anyone, wheelchair bound or not!

#7 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,152
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