How wheelchair accessible is Malaysia?

Malaysia, truly Asia, is definitely worth a visit, also or especially if you are in a wheelchair. The below report solely results of our experiences travelling in Malaysia in 2009 (Kuala Lumpur – Kota Kinabalu – Sabah – Danum Valley – Sipadan Island) and again in 2013 (Kota Kinabalu – Labuan Island – Kuching – Sarawak – Kuala Lumpur – Melakka). Therefore if you have any different experiences or updates on other Malaysian region please share them with us.

Transportation – 6 points

Transport_2

One of the challenges, if you want to reach the island Pulau Labuan – and missed the ferry: the speed boats have a too little entrance, so they sat me in the back behind the cabin.

We did not find any taxis that are specifically wheelchair accessible and mainly travelled via private taxis or transport companies. Cars varied from vans to Toyota Corolla type vehicles. It is important to note that transport via private taxis, compared with buses or shared transport, is expensive. As an example, we paid U$100 from Kota Kinabalu to Menumbok, which is a 150 km trip. Travelling on the mainland is definitely cheaper. Also, be aware that when you want to drive through to Singapore, select a transport company that has a license to cross the border. The drivers were all decent and none drove too fast. Sometimes, you might be delighted by some 80s music like the “Best of Modern Talking”. Water transport is more difficult but thanks to the assistance of the Malay, always possible. On one occasion, Tobi was carried onto a speedboat, where 20 people with their shopping parcels were already gathered. In Kuala Lumpur there are some other transport options: In particular, there is a ‘hop on and hop off’ bus that is wheelchair accessible. The walkways in the big cities are good. For example, in Kuching there was a beautiful walkway along the river, past the provincial government building, the main attraction. Otherwise, you can go on the street without any problems. Just make sure you face the traffic.

Infrastructure – 4 Points

Infrastructure

The Cultural Village of Sarawak offers ramps to nearly every building. As most of them are on stelts, it was quit hard work for our guide Freddy.

At this stage, the overall infrastructure does not generally cater for wheelchair users. So you seldom find lowered side walks, ramps or lifts specifically aimed to provide access. However, at the tourism sites, there are some initiatives to make the tourism experience more accessible. For example, the cultural village in Sarawak, Borneo, had huge wooden ramps to overcome the three metre high entrances to the traditional stilt houses. However, for the fire fly experience near KL you might have to be a bit brave to dare the transfer into the small wooden boats to watch them. The Malay are, in general, willing to help where they can to make access possible. Also, thanks to baby strollers, most shopping malls – especially the flashy ones in Kuala Lumpur – are equipped with lifts. However, sometimes waiting can be a bit frustrating as pretty much all family members, not just the one with strollers take the lifts. So, overall Malaysia’s infrastructure is still not wheelchair user-friendly but, with the help of the Malay, getting around is possible and enjoyable.

Hotels – 6 Points

Hotels

The Cosy Hotel in Melakka built this new ramp especially for us – great work!

Hotel searches have been frustrating in Malaysia, not because of the lack of wheelchair accessibility, but because they are extremely hard to find or outrageously expensive. For example, in Kota Kinabalu – an economic hotspot in Borneo – only upmarket, very expensive accessible accommodation could be found. Internet searches always required phone follow ups to confirm the specific needed information. So our journey include everything from the supercool and budget Papaya Beach resort to a rather expensive private apartment in Melakka. Hotels were often eager to adapt to our special needs. For example, a ramp was built in two days to facilitate the access into the room or a staff member provided 24 hours of time to master the rather tough rainforest terrain in the Permai Rainforest Lodge. In conclusion, our advice would be to either use already existing information like www.wheelchairtraveller.org or to go via a tour operator that is well versed with particular hotels and their services.

Food and Drinks – 8 Points

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The Tribal Stove in Kuching serves regional food with brown rice in banana leaves.

When you are acutely aware of your taste buds at breakfast, you know you are in Malaysia. Chicken curry with Roti, Nasi Lemak with a lot of Sambal or Borneo style Laksa are just some of the delicious local dishes on offer. Also, very fresh seafood is common, for example, by the beach at the Portuguese quarter of Melakka. Of course, in a big city like Kuala Lumpur you can find anything you are searching for: from vegan restaurants over any other Asian, but also any other kind of nationality. We also found an outlet of Din Thai Fun and enjoyed a Korean BBQ as our Christmas dinner. As Malaysia is predominately Muslim, alcohol is regulated. However, beer can be bought in almost any city in regionally determined zones, but good wines are hard to come by.

Security – 8 Points

As a tourist you are safe, however, there are certain regions in the country where you need to be careful. In the region around Sipadan Island, near to the border to the Philippines, there is heavy military presence due to a piracy incidence in the 90’s. Also the crossing into Thailand in the north was not recommended in Decemer 2013, due to some border conflicts. Otherwise, we had no situation in which we felt unsafe. Of course, precaution is always good but not that necessary in Malaysia.

Sightseeing – 6 Points

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Traditional dresses from the Borneo Island.

Animistic rituals and wildlife are as much part of Malaysia as are the skyscrapers of the Petronas Towers and shopping malls of Kuala Lumpur. Modern, megacity lifestyle seems to be predominately focused around shopping malls and family. Due to the multitude of prams, it is also guaranteed that every shopping mall has lifts to get you around… however, sometimes you might have to wait a while as if one family member has a pram, the whole family seems to want to fit around it. In all big cities there are huge shopping mall complexes and also excellent restaurants where you can sit and share a meal. The island of Borneo seems more traditional in its type of architecture and also tribal rituals. Borneo has beautiful natural wonders, starting from Sipadan Island and finishing off with the Borneo Rainforest. Thanks to the help and assistance of the Malay, even a rainforest excursion (even though if only through the resort) is accessible. However, if you are after a beach escape, be careful in which season you travel, as during the rainy season many resorts close and also access might be difficult due to different sea levels and missing jetties on the islands! So pre-check prior to your travels. Also, the Sarawak cultural village, with a very interesting performance of tribal dances, is partially equipped with ramps. Therefore you may say that Malaysia has a wide variety of accessible sightseeing attractions.

Health services – 7 Points

Kuala Lumpur targets the international plastic surgery markets, thus medical facilities are pretty good and accessible. However, this might be different in rather remote places. Your own travel pharmacy might be necessary!

Handling with disabled people – 8 Points

handling

Even the policemen in Kuching were very helpful.

In Malaysia, people are generally very helpful and kind. Once we had to travel on the back of a small speed boat where the water splashed us in the face. The boat was filled with people and no sooner had Tobi had a wet face, a handkerchief reached us from somewhere to wipe him dry. Also, people at hotels or on activities, are not hesitant to help free of charge. Even a hotel built a ramp to their room for us within two days.