Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


World Blind Union in Bangkok Thailand, 2012

The purpose for attending the WBU, held every 4 years, was to keep Sendero on the international stage and to emphasize, even in developing countries, the importance of independent wayfinding using GPS and other alternative tools and techniques. Cheng Hock Kua from Singapore and I walked around the Imperial Queen’s Park hotel to establish points of interest because the Thailand maps were quite sparse. There was a beautiful park with playgrounds, a stage and jogging path. We were close to a major shopping mall and to a train station. Sukhumvit Road was a very busy artery stuffed with shops and massage parlors. There was no shortage of places to establish as user Points of Interest.
Mike and Cheng marking User points of interestThe interesting thing about a WBU verses most conferences we attend, is that it is dominated by developing countries. There was a strong contingent of blind Africans from Togo to Mozambique, from Malawi to Ghana. It was fascinating to talk with these blind folks over breakfast or a drink. Most had little interest in let alone the resources to acquire a GPS system. Hence, we had few takers for our GPS tours around the hotel. We did have a decent turn-out for our formal presentation.

There were about 1000 people registered for the conference. I would guess half were blind. There were 300 volunteers omnipresent in their orange shirts, easy to find for low vision folks. With almost one-to-one sighted assistance around the hotel and even to walk to nearby restaurants or massage parlors, it was a rather unreal situation for navigation. We don’t typically have cheery college age volunteers in our lives at our every beck and call. I couldn’t help but be a bit philosophical about this form of accommodation at a conference of the world’s blind leaders. Sure it was convenient and very hospitable. However, what kind of message does it say about independence with full time sighted assistance?

Mike driving a Tuc Tuc with help from his caneWe did take one day to get outside the hotel area of Bangkok, well other than my two specific taxi trips to and from James Tailor, where I had some custom suits and shirts made. Gena and I visited the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We took the train, then a boat and then walked to the Temple. We had a guide for the day that explained everything to us and showed us her favorite lunch spot. From there, we took a 3-wheeled vehicle called a Tuc Tuc to a flower mart and a pedestrian shopping street. There are copious sidewalk food stands. People, scooters and Tuc Tucs were everywhere. We wrapped up with a taxi ride back to the hotel and capped off the day with Italian food for a change from Thai food.

view of gardens and elephant sculptures made out of woodAfter researching various side trips, we opted for a private guided 3 day 2 night tour to Pattaya, about 100 miles from Bangkok. We stayed at a hotel called Birds and Bees, Cabbage and Condoms resort. The highlight of Pattaya was an afternoon at the botanical gardens featuring an elephant show and rides. There is nothing quite as unique as being picked up by an elephant trunk. The elephants danced, bowled and shot basketballs at a hoop at least a full court away. They were such amazing creatures up close. There was various other Thai dancing and rituals as well.

Thai dancers on stagepeople lying down in a line for the elephant to step overGena with her arm around an elephant

I could not get over the price of a full hour massage for under $10. So, I had one a day while in Thailand including at the airport as we waited for our flight to Japan.  

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