Asia in a Wheelchair 
by Jack Campbell
© 1999  Photos by Jill Campbell © 1999

My wife Jill and I took this trip in the spring of 1999. I traveled in a manual chair, as I am unable to stand or walk, because of Polio 50 years ago. Everything described here was wheelchair accessible unless otherwise noted. I planned the itinerary by looking at guidebooks to decide what places I wanted to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any accessibility guidance in the guidebooks. There was a little bit on the web by searching for “accessible city name." My travel agent tried to make sure the hotels we wanted were accessible. I passed my draft of the places I wanted to see by friends, who have been there, and by e-mail to fellow Rotarians in those cities. E-mail to the Rotarians worked very well. Many people I didn’t know volunteered guidance on what was accessible. One very helpful person in Japan made reservations for a bullet train and a temple tour that required advance reservations, and which my travel agent didn’t know how to make. In addition, the e-mail correspondence led to meetings with our new friends in three cities.  

Hong Kong Traffic.

Hong Kong Traffic.

This 32-day vacation (18 days in Asia) started with Jill and I flying to Honolulu for three days, then onto Hong Kong, China for two days. After that, my parents, Lee and Bob, flew non-stop from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, where we met at the airport and flew on together to Bangkok, Thailand. We planned four days in Bangkok and four days in Hong Kong, then two days in Tokyo. After Tokyo, we split up for three days while Lee and Bob went to Gifu, and Jill and I went to Kyoto. Then Lee and Bob joined us in Kyoto for three more days before we all took the Holland American Line Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship for an 11-day cruise from Osaka, Japan to Vancouver, Canada.

Wheelchair Access

Few older buildings or restaurants have accessible bathrooms. Japan builds accessible bathrooms in most parks and museums. The best chance to find an accessible bathroom is by visiting a major hotel.

 I used a lightweight manual chair that is 21 ½” wide. We put a sack on the back to carry sweaters, hats, tour books, etc. An electric wheelchair would have many problems with getting over the many uncut curbs and single steps as well as not fitting into a normal taxi.

Honolulu, Hawaii

The DC-10 plane to Honolulu, NW935 was scheduled to leave Los Angeles at 12:55. Scheduled arrival was 3:20 p.m. (Elapsed time 5 hours and 40 minutes). At the airport, I called Ilima Tours 800-713-0146 at 4:00. They sent a wheelchair taxi from Metro Pacific, Inc. 536-0381, Cellular 554-2194. It arrived at 4:35 p.m. and we reached our hotel at 5:05. p.m. Transportation was included in our hotel package. For wheelchair-oriented tour packages, the driver suggested Access Aloha Travel.

We stayed at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, room 3504. With transfers and a $25 per day food credit it was $465/night. That seems very high to me, but I wanted a beach view and a hotel right on the beach. We checked into our room, which was nicely accessible, then went out to walk along our beach and see surfers, catamarans, and a Japanese couple rehearsing their wedding.

For dinner, we sat at a bar table under the giant Banyan tree in the hotel’s beach patio. We ordered three appetizers to use up our $25 food allowance plus two drinks. The appetizers were pretty good. The next night we ate their $27 each buffet. It had a little tough beef in a ratatouille of vegetables, crab wontons that were OK, medium size dull scallops, and pecan pie that wasn’t sweet enough. Service wasn’t great either. They did have a nice view and cloth napkins. The third night we forgot about the $25 credit and went across the street to a seven-course Chinese feast at the “Seafood Village Chinese Cuisine,” 2424 Kalakaua Ave., in the basement of the Hyatt. We had beef & pepper, moo goo gai pan, pork-fried rice, egg foo yung, appetizers, and soup. We had what I think was water chestnut paste for dessert. I had to ride an elevator mounted to the handrail, but it was worth it. The prices were very expensive on the menu. $50 - $100 per person, but there was someone handing out early-bird flyers on the street that gave this very nice meal for only $10.95 before 7:30 p.m.

After the first night’s appetizers, we went across the street to the Hawaiian Village, which is a large outdoor set of shopping booths.

The “Top of Hawaii,” a 17th floor rotating restaurant a few blocks from the hotel was not accessible. After taking one elevator up, then being led by a guard through the kitchen to a kitchen elevator to go up one more floor, we came out in the restaurant. All the tables were up four steps. We walked around the outside aisle and looked at the view but then left. We walked to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and ate at the Surf Room. This is a large nice beachside café with great views of Diamond Head and the beach. We sat at outdoor tables with beach umbrellas. The chicken salad with noodles had very little chicken, a good teriyaki dressing, rolls and very thin crackers. It was $13 and very good. The best is the weather and the view.

There were several mime groups entertaining on Kalakaua the main boulevard. We listened to the piano player in our hotel garden until 10:00 p.m.. The Hawaiian evenings are wonderful.

.4/21, Wednesday Honolulu - Tokyo - Hong Kong

We were scheduled to leave Honolulu at 12:00 Noon (DC-10) to Tokyo, NW21, arriving 3:40 PM (Thurs.) Elapsed time 8:40. We were picked up by the same “Handi-Van” from Ilima tours at 9:45 and got to the airport at 10:15. The plane departure schedule had been changed from 12:00 to 1:00. Jill had a croissant and minestrone soup, then we went through the Aerospace museum. It was Hawaii-oriented. The first plane to try to fly from the mainland to Hawaii, about 1925, was a seaplane with 10 military ships along the way to help give it radio guidance. The pilot misunderstood the directions from the last plane and ran out of gas 450 miles NE of Hawaii. They tore the fabric off the biplane wings and retied it between to make a sail and sailed into Hawaii! They got a tow from a submarine the last part.

In Tokyo, I used the bathroom. A drawing that looks like a vertical line running through a cup indicates the men’s room. The women’s is practically the same, except the cup is upside down. To board me on the NW17 plane to Hong Kong, they used an elevator truck that lifted me up to the door into the plane’s kitchen.

Hong Kong, China

4/22. The plane from Tokyo to Hong Kong was scheduled for 6:20. Elapsed time 4 hours and 57 minute minutes. (Note: It took us 16 hours and 20 minutes from Honolulu to HK. From LA - HK is non-stop 14 hours and 55 minutes. But ours includes a 2:45 stop in Tokyo. There was no non-stop from Hon - HK). Total airfare was $548/person.

4/22, Thursday Arrive Hong Kong (date line crossed) - 2 nights.  100HK$ = $13.50

The crew wheeled me through customs. I saw my new Rotarian friend and got bus at 11:00 a.m. My friend had e-mailed me:

April 22 - I shall receive you and Jill at the Hong Kong Int’l Airport.  Please do not mind about the time in the late evening. 11 p.m., in the eyes of a Hongkonger, is just the beginning of nightlife. Further, it so happened that I am going to see someone off just prior to your arrival.  After you have passed the immigration and the customs, please keep RIGHT and go out to the Arrival Hall via the RIGHT exit.  (Always Remember: Rotarians are always at the RIGHT side!)  I'll catch you there. From Airport to Hotel: two options (1) By Airport Express Train to Kowloon Station then transfer to a taxi. Most convenient and fast. You'll arrive at your hotel before midnight. (2) By Air Bus - All the buses are wheelchair friendly.  On board of the bus, you may just sit back (in your own wheelchair) and relax, enjoy the night scene of the Kowloon Peninsula along the road.  It's Amazing!  It is already the city tour.  However, it takes about 1 hour from Airport to Peninsula Hotel.  The Bus will stop at the opposite side of the road.  That means you have to cross the Nathan Road, and to take about 10 minutes walk to the main entrance of the hotel. It will be a problem if you have several pieces of baggage. The Peninsula Hotel is located at the centre of most of the museums, concert halls, cultural centres, shopping malls, etc., within the circle of one mile.

The A21 bus took us to Nathan St., the main street of Kowloon. The bus kneels plus a ramp comes out from under the steps. The driver will assist wheelchair users. There is a spot for a wheelchair or luggage. They announce the hotel names before each stop. There is also a sign that anHong Kong's Peninsula Hotelounces the stops in English and Chinese. I told the driver where I was going, and he made sure we got off at the right stop. The Airport Express train to Kowloon station is also supposed to be accessible and take 23 min. The bus from there to the hotels is the same type.  

On the bus, it took an hour to get to the Peninsula Hotel. $392/night. Nathan Rd. &Salisbury Road Tel: 852-2266-6251. When the receptionist at the hotel saw the wheelchair, she greeted me by name and ushered us up to our “upgraded” room. We had reservations for a “harbor view” room; rack rate was $3,600. HK, ($490/night). They put us in a “mini-suite,” normally $5,400 HK, ($735/night), and the price was reduced to $2,700 HK ($365 / night.) We saved $250 on the two-night stay. Jill was really impressed with the approximate 16 x 24 ft. living room, very large bedroom, separate wheelchair- accessible toilet room, accessible shower room, bathroom, and hall dressing/closet area. There were three separate air conditioning thermostats, three TVs, two video disk players, three phones. Bowls of fruit and hot tea were served on arrival. We think, the upgrade and the special service were all arranged by our new friend. Jill and I ate star fruit and lichee and drank tea. We got to bed at 1:00 a.m.

Friday, 10/23 – We were up at 8:30 a.m. and out about 10:30 a.m. We walked down to the edge of the Hong Kong channel to look at Hong Kong Island, and then we went in shops. Had a dim sum lunch on the 3rd floor of the Hong Kong Hotel. We ordered fried shrimp, pork dumplings, steamed meat and something, and a deep-fried, blended and sweetened water chestnut paste. They were all good. The price was $3.50 each. Each serving was three or four pieces. With Chinese and normal tea, the bill was $22. It was too much to finish.

At 4:00 p.m., Jill had a traditional tea of four different sweets, two raisin scones, one salmon finger sandwich, one cucumber sandwich and one very small ham roll, plus tea, in the lobby of the famous Peninsula Hotel. It was about $20. I had two each of the three kinds of finger sandwiches for about $11. The lobby is very nice with 30’ ceilings with gold painted relief at top edges. On the 2nd floor balcony a piano, violin and bass were playing Beethoven’s 5th symphony. There were probably 50 tables, well spaced apart, and there was a long line to be seated. We were greeted by name as we entered the room and taken to our reserved table. We were also asked by name if we enjoyed it as we left. When you make a reservation, you must give a room number, if you are staying in the hotel. I guess since we had a suite that upped the priority and the attention.

Service is exceptional in Hong Kong. From the plane, we had two people escort us until we got to customs. Then one stayed with us clear to the bus. In Marks & Stewart department store, we asked how to get to the Hong Kong Hotel. The sales lady left her store, led us around a maze of halls and went up on the elevator to show us. (But it still had four stairs.) Two police/guards helped me up the steps. The police don’t carry guns.

At 6:00 p.m. we walked along the river to see Hong Kong Island, watch the boats and ferries. One tour boat shaped like a junk rocked so heavily I am surprised people could stand on it. After sunset, we went back to “Chinese Arts & Crafts” where Jill spent 2 ½ hours picking out just the right blouse, box, Christmas ornament, bowl, etc. We also bought a gold dragon necklace. They closed at 9:30 p.m., and we went back to see the river and the Hong Kong lights. Dozens of couples were standing and holding each other along the river, with an occasional mild kiss.

Saturday, 4/24. We slept in until 10:00 a.m., did some packing then walked to the new History Museum. Only the lobby was open. The main parts are still under construction. There were minor exhibits on Opium wars and the old Hong Kong forts and cannon defenses.

We went to the Science Museum, which was somewhat better and saw low technology interactive exhibits on electricity, magnetism, and computers. We left early to relax. At the hotel lobby, Jill had a lunch of five spring rolls that were hot and good. Then we looked at the pool and the view before packing and leaving at 4:45 p.m. The hotel had allowed us to check out as late as 7:00.

We turned down the offer of a ride in the hotel’s Rolls Royce to the airport. The bellman took our bags one block to the bus stop. Then the bus came. Jill lifted the bags on the bus. I asked for the ramp. The reply was “ramp broken”. I asked if he could help, and the driver and a stranger tipped me onto the bus. On the one-hour ride to the airport we saw maybe 20 buildings 35+ stories tall going up. All were in a row and each was large. I guess it was 20,000 apartments. The large bay and the big bridges, plus the tall buildings looked like a combination of San Francisco and New York.

We were recognized by name at the UA check-in and escorted to the frequent flyer lounge at 6:15. It has an open bar, plus canned tea, peanuts, dried peas, and pretzels. At 7:15 p.m. the escort came back and took us to a truck with a ground lift on back and a lift to the airplane on the front. Others boarded later by stairway.

Bangkok, Thailand

4/24. Our airplane from Hong Kong arrived at 10:15 PM. Our tickets were $313/person. The April average temperature in Bangkok is a high of 95 and a low of 77.

Bangkok temple.Lee and Bob had arrived earlier and Bob brought transportation in a minivan. Four guys lifted me and my wheelchair into the back, behind the seats. At the hotel, we only had Bob and the driver. It was dangerous being lifted down, but I made it.

4/25 Sunday – Bangkok. Holiday Inn Crowne Point, 981 Silom Rd. (3600 THB = $114 + 21% / night) 4 nights.  1,000 Bat = $24. Holiday Inns in the Orient are more upscale than they are in the U.S.

Up at 8:30 a.m. We met Lee and Bob at 10:00 a.m. for coffee. I had chicken curry with rice, which was a bowl of thin soup with white chicken chunks some vegetables, Bok choi and strong curry flavor. I spooned it over the rice. Jill had a thin omelet with pork thoroughly cooked. It looked like egg foo young. It was better than most omelets.

We walked for about four blocks in the heat. It must have been 95 or so. April is the hot and humid month in Bangkok.  The streets have occasional garbage smells and lots of noisy traffic. The curbs are cut. We saw a small “reclining Buddha” temple across the street from the Shangri-La hotel. On the patio of the hotel, we had a drink overlooking the Chaophraya River. It is a little wider than the channel between Hong Kong Island and the mainland, and is busy with barges, tour boats and little people transports (buses). Then we walked back and rested.

In the afternoon, a minivan with a driver and a female guide came to take the four of us to see temples. The driver lifted me in and out of the van. The first stop was the Golden Buddha, which was in a small building up a flight of stairs in a crowded street. The driver lifted me in and out of the chair and into the van. I couldn’t see anything because the Buddha is up a full flight of stairs. While extending the port of Bangkok in 1955 workers discovered a plain stucco Buddha. It was kept at this temple under a makeshift shelter for 20 years, until a crane dropped it while moving it to a more permanent shelter. The plaster cracked revealing the world’s largest solid gold Buddha. This 13 foot high, 5 ton, 18kt gold Buddha was made in the 13th century. It was probably encased in stucco to hide it from Burmese ransackers

The guide showed them how to light incense sticks and press a small square of gold leaf onto a statue just outside the temple.

Our second stop was the Old Royal City and Wat Po, the reclining Buddha. The Old Royal City gives a sense of the original Bangkok. All of Bangkok's major wats (temples) and museums are situated here within walking distance or a short taxi ride of one other.

Bangkok dancers.The reclining Buddha is in a large temple in a large complex of dozens of temples and hundreds of statues. I was helped up the six steps to get inside this temple. Inside, the room has open windows on all sides and a walkway around the 100foot-plus  long reclining gold colored statue of a thin Buddha. Around the edges of the walkway, are over 100 iron pots, where the faithful make a contribution to the monk whose pot it is. They sell a sack with just enough ½ cent coins so that you can put a coin in each pot. The outside grounds around the temple with its hundreds of tall thin towers called Stupas was more interesting to me. Some of the temples were for believers only. There was an admission charge to the temple for foreigners but not for Thai.

Next, they drove us to a factory where they made sapphire and ruby jewelry and then a 2nd jewelry factory, “The Royal Lapidary.” Jill got a fresh water pearl necklace and a painted ring box here. One of these factories gave away beer. I stayed in the van with the driver, but the tour guide brought me a good beer.

We ate dinner at the hotel’s Window on Silom restaurant and had the best buffet I ever ate. I had duck, pork (too fatty), shrimp, very good dim sum, grilled shrimp, a fish (with too many bones), very good marinated cheese salad and several chocolate cakes including a Sacher torte and good chocolate ice cream with crème Anglaise and chocolate syrup. I didn’t have lamb, roast beef, sushi, sashimi, dozens of salads and fruits or the other 20 plus desserts. It was also a bargain, only $24.00.

4/26 Monday- We went by taxi to the Jim Thompson estate, actually three teak houses seamlessly fused together and built on stilts. It is now a museum for Thompson's collection of Asian art and artifacts. He lived here for six years and filled it with Thai and Chinese antiques and paintings. He disappeared in the jungle. English tours start at 12:00 p.m.. Perhaps ¼ of the tour is accessible from a wheelchair. The garden was up four stairs. It was green but not memorable. We walked about a block to catch a taxi back to the hotel.

At 2:30 p.m. we had lunch in the hotel lobby. Jill had an order of chicken satay (nine skewers). I had a croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese) cut into finger sandwiches. They were about $6 each and were very filling. Lee and Bob went swimming. Jill and I walked on Silom Rd. and in the Silom shopping center. Jill got two Hmong pillowcases, five elephant key chains, a little cross-stitch purse. She also got a nice silk blouse and shirt in blue with gold thread for $30. While walking back, we saw buses that were so crammed with standing people that they didn’t even close the doors. More people were standing on the exit stairs holding on. There were also pickups with the back filled with passengers. The guidebooks warn you about the traffic. Back at the hotel, I rested for an hour while Jill washed her hair.

At 7:30 a.m., we went to the Thai Orchid Lounge, in the hotel, for a Thai dinner and Thai dance and music.

4/27, Tuesday – We were up at 8:00 a.m. and met two more new Rotarian friends. They drove us to the multistory Narayana Phand Company Ltd., a state run craft store where Jill bought a $100 blue silk blouse with fan cutouts and $80 worth of miscellaneous in about an hour. She would have liked to have more time, but we had to go on to a Rotary luncheon.

Back at our hotel, we walked about two blocks to Silom Plaza and bought some Hmong gifts. We met Lee and Bob at 6:30 for a drink and then went back to the buffet again.

4/28, Wednesday. We were up at 2:45 a.m. after getting 4 ½ hours sleep. We got a minivan to the airport at 4:00 a.m. We went through security check where they cinched each suitcase tightly shut with plastic straps. This damaged our blue suitcase. Then we had to put 500 Baht ($12) each into vending machines to buy an exit stamp, using local currency only, and then turn in the stamp to get past customs. Then a line for passports, then a wait to get in the waiting room, then one person checking departure forms and another line to check your ticket. The plane was full and the four of us were upgraded to business class. The plane left for Hong Kong at 6:45 a.m. and landed at 10:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m. Bangkok.) Collecting that $12 tax in Bangkok a very inefficient. They should simply charge the airline company and let them pass it on like they do in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, China

We stayed four nights at the Holiday Inn, Golden Mile, 50 Nathan Rd., Kowloon $114. A good downtown location. Tel: (011) 85 22 369 3111.

Hong Kong has free porters who escorted me through customs, the elevator rides and the train ride, then got our bags, and waited for Bob & Lee to clear customs. He refused a tip.

We took bus A21, again to Nathan Rd. and got off at the Holiday Inn stop. We walked the ½ block to the hotel and asked for a bellman, they were all busy for 10 minutes, then one went to the bus stop with a cart for all the suitcases.

We checked in by noon. It wasn’t in a handicapped room. The bathroom was awkward, and I needed help to get into it. Later Bob complained and they offered to move us. Jill spent 30 plus minute packing, then they told us that the only handicapped room had only one double bed. So we stayed, and Jill unpacked again.

We all went to Gordon Yao’s tailor shop where Bob ordered a suit and Jill ordered a dress and a coat. I was pressured into ordering a blazer. We ate at the hotel’s Vienna Café. I had a small pizza, $8.25 and a glass of wine $6.

4/29, Thursday – We were over at Ocean Terminal about 10:00 a.m. and bought a few things at Amazing Grace, then had a good Dim Sum buffet that was $$5.25. This seems to be primarily for employees, kind of hidden on the 4th floor.

At 3:00 p.m. we had fittings. Jill agreed to get another dress and also asked about a sari. We walked back to India Company near our hotel and bought pink sari material for about $100. Sari material is 6 meters long and 1 meter wide. This one had lots of gold thread at one end, which was used to make the front skirt of the dress.  Back at the tailor’s, Jill said she wanted an A-line dress, and he penciled a sketch, adjusting skirt length, sleeve length, collar, waist line, etc. until she liked it. I suggested a drape effect across the front to look more like a sari, so he drew in some lines and they became pleats. Jill also ordered a maroon silk bolero to go with her older sari.

We had a 6:30 p.m. drink in the hotel, free at Avenues. It was complementary because of Bob complaining about my inaccessible room. I had a good steak and salad dinner and a beer at the Deli, which was their German restaurant and bakery. I also took out 100 grams of 10 different small chocolates that were good. They had about 20 kinds. Later I got one of each.

It had rained steadily and fairly hard most of the day. Tropical Cyclone Leo was Stage three. It was only the 3rd cyclone in April in 21 years. They are usually in October. My rain poncho kept me dry. Jill bought a waterproof golf jacket that kept her dry.

4/30, Friday. Jill and I went back to the tailor at 11:00 a.m. for fitting the sari and blouse, then back to the hotel for the 12:30 p.m. Rotary meeting.  Afterwards, Jill bought a sparkling blue blouse and a small red suitcase at Yue Hwa. We saw the same suitcase later at the Night Market for $180 HK.

We met Lee and Bob at 6:00 p.m. and went to Felix, a restaurant on the 28th floor of the Peninsula. The bar is up a flight of stairs from there. They reluctantly let us have a drink at a dinner table. They have an excellent view of Hong Kong. I ordered a spare rib appetizer that was $16 for 5 spare ribs.

Then we walked all the way up Nathan Rd. to the Night Market, which was probably 1 1/2 miles, then back to the hotel. Jill wanted a croissant. Bob wanted a pizza. We went to the pizza place, which took an hour to serve us. After 45 minutes, the boss suggested we help ourselves to the buffet, (no charge), which was better and normally more expensive. There was some mix up on the order. Eventually the pizza came.

We ate lunch again at the Dim Sum restaurant. This time instead of a buffet, they brought food by on carts. There is no menu and very little English spoken. Lee had a reference picture of lots of dim sum types with their English names that she brought with her. She pointed out the ones she wanted to the host and he called over people with those items. Someone tried the chicken feet. We picked up suits at 3:00 p.m. and tried on dresses. The dresses were delivered at 6:20 p.m. to the hotel. We had a drink at Hari’s, then had very good $6 deli sandwiches in the hotel.

5/2, Sunday - Tokyo from Hong Kong - (Narita airport), UA 800, 9:30 AM, arrive 2:25 PM, elapsed time 3:55. Air from Bangkok – Tokyo $591/person. Stay 2 nights. Leave 5/4.1,000 Yen = $8.50

We left Hong Kong by taking the A21 bus to the airport.

Tokyo, Japan

5/2, Sunday. In Narita airport, we were offloaded away from the gate again using the truck with two lifts.

After clearing customs, we were met by the English-speaking driver we requested, holding up my name. The company was Universal Taxi, [Keihin Unsou Co. Ltd.] 03 (3790) 0117, Fax 03 (3790) 0110. It was about a 1½ hour drive to the hotel in the minivan with lift. It was $216. Supposedly, with a document proving you are handicapped you get a 10% discount. I didn’t try.

We checked into a Meridian Hotel, Pacific Hotel Tokyo, 3-13-3 Takanawa Minato-Ku. $145. + 19% / day. Phone (011) 81 33 445 6711. They had no accessible rooms. Our travel agent messed up again. The bar at the hotel was up two steps. We had a drink. Our dinner in the coffee shop was OK. I had chicken strips and French fries. Our hotel room is “very spacious,” which translates correctly as very small. With the door off, my 22” wheelchair could barely get into the bathroom.

5/ 3 Tokyo. At 9:45 a.m., Our Internet found Rotary friend, Mr. Kawamoto, met us with the same taxi and driver. He had planned a driving tour of the city. We first drove around the Imperial Palace, 7 Kilometers. Then he drove into a street with scores of little stores selling computers. I saw a HDTV playing in one of them. He pointed out big government buildings, TV stations, etc. This was a big holiday, so traffic was light and the palace was closed.

Jensiu.We spent about two hours on an individually guided English tour of the Edo – Tokyo Museum.  Over 65 have free admission. The museum has large exhibits inside the multistory museum. We had a tempura, beer and sake lunch in the museum. There was a short wait and the tables were long banquet tables, like a cafeteria. They brought a hot towel before the meal. We ordered from a menu and the food was very good. The five meals were 10,000 Yen, ($85.00). He paid for the meals, the admission, and even the very expensive taxi for this drive and for tomorrow’s ride to the train station.

After more driving around the city, we got back to the hotel about 4:30 p.m. For dinner, we had pizza, spring rolls, and crab eggs (crabmeat in a dumpling) appetizers in the bar. These were $8.50 each and fairly filling.

5/ 4, - Tokyo – Kyoto. Tuesday.

We had cinnamon toast and croissants for breakfast, then met Mr. Kawamoto and the same driver and van at 11:35 a.m. He drove us the 30 minutes to the train station. This is the world’s largest train station. We already had our special tickets reserved for the wheelchair-accessible compartment, with an accessible bathroom across the aisle.

Kyoto, Japan

The train from Tokyo left at 12:56 p.m. Lee and Bob went most of the way, then got off to transfer to a train to Gifu. We arrived in Kyoto at 3:12 p.m.. The bullet train to Kyoto was 28,780 Yen for both ($244). Bullet train: "NOZOMI No.15" (maximum speed 280 km per hour) No.11th car, Seat No 14-A&B had a special compartment for a wheelchair. Reservations were made for the wheelchair and boarding assistance at least two days in advance. The station master was willing to assist with boarding. (Tokyo-Kyoto 134 min.)

KyotovieAt our hotel, they greeted us by name and took us to our room. Miyako Hotel, Sanjo Keage, Higashiyama-Ku, $208 + 18.8% per night. Phone # (011) 81 75 771 7111. six nights, two were part of the cruise package. The bathroom was large, the doors were wide, there were grab bars beside the toilet and in the tub, but there was only 24” of clearance in front of the toilet. The toilet seat was heated. There were two levels of bidet.

We went to the Teppanyaki restaurant at 7:30 p.m. and were told they were booked until 9:00 p.m. They called our room at 9:00 p.m. to tell us they were ready. The dinner had a green salad with a dressing like our Chinese chicken salad dressing. It included long thin mushrooms, almost like a 5” long grass, and curved at the end like a crook, and tangy cherry tomatoes. Then miso soup, and a small appetizer had squid, eggplant, and cuttle fish. They fried garlic chips on the grill. The main course was a modest serving of about four ounces of Omni beef with a large tall mushroom, onion, asparagus and bread all grilled. The beef was the most tender I ever had. My dinner included an appetizer of shrimp, but it was alive on the grill. My dinner was 12,500 Yen ($106); Jill’s had no appetizer and a lower grade of beef, 9,500 Yen ($81). Away from the hotel, the prices were still high but much more reasonable.

The Chion-In gate in Kyoto The Japanese worry about blowing a nose in public and shaking hands. They wear a surgical mask when they have a cold. Some of the toilets flush with an optical sensor you pass your hand in front of, so you won’t have to touch anything. When you enter the country, you fill out a quarantine form describing any fever, diarrhea, etc. that you have had in the last two weeks.

The Japanese cities are cleaner than U.S. cities. They do a lot for the handicapped. The bathrooms at the museum and on the train had motorized doors. They put raised, yellow dots on the ground in front of the elevator button, urinal, start of an escalator, curbs, etc. in order to help the blind.

There is no tipping in Japan although they add a 10% service charge to food and even the hotel room.

5/5, Wednesday. We were up early as breakfasts are free before 10:00 a.m. We had eggs, bacon, toast or breakfast roll, orange juice, and tea or milk. Then we walked to Shoren-In temple and the Chion-In temple. The Chion-In gate is one of the largest in Japan. It is all wood, very tall, big and dating from 1631. Jill went in both while I waited outside. In the temples you take off your shoes and carry them in a plastic bag, while wearing their slippers. In Maruyama Park, which was a nice medium-sized city park, we found a little shop with three tables and a tatami room with six tables. We had a chocolate sundae and a green tea ice cream sundae. They had good ice cream and little bits of candied fruit plus whipped cream. It was 1,600 Yen, ($13.60). Outside the sliding windows was a narrow pond with 3 ft. koi and two ducks. A very pleasant break.

The Golden PagodaA 50-year-old Japanese man offered to show us a beautiful Japanese garden. He was with his mother. He pushed me about four blocks to the Heian Shrine. When he found out there were steps, he drafted a young couple to help. Admission to the garden was about $5. I think he paid for all six of us. The garden starts with five steps up and then five steps down. At the end of the garden were two steps up a bridge and four steps down on the other end. In between were a dozen single steps and a couple of rough stone bridges, with no sides and maybe 24” wide. It was a beautiful garden. Its cherry blossoms had stopped flowering a week ago. There were some iris, azalea and lotus blossoms. A nice pond and fairly uncrowded. This kindness is typical of the Japanese.

For dinner we ate in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant. It started with an appetizer of turkey strips, crunchy noodles, tomato, green bean and then slices of duck. The main course was a little beef in oyster sauce and cuttlefish. There was a cup of noodles and ground beef in a too spicy chili. Last was almond jelly – slices of an almond flavored Jell-O in cold sugar water.

5/6, Thursday. Kyoto. We left by taxi for the Moss Garden Kodekedera. There were about five steps to get to the main building. Several ladies helped us up and down. I stayed outside the sliding doors while everyone else changed shoes went inside and sat on the floor in front of writing desks. Each person traced a printed prayer onto a transparent sheet of paper. They were using brush and ink. The complex characters take time to do carefully. After 20 minutes or so, there were three Buddhist priests who chanted for five minutes while pounding a drum and a gong. Then there was a five-minute sermon. Then 20 minutes more of tracing the prayers.

After people finished tracing, they placed the prayers on an altar and left.

The garden in the back is one Jill remembered from 1971. It is now open only if you have written them seven days in advance using their two-way postcard requesting a visit. They then send you back half the card with your date, time and number of guests indicated. Fortunately, a friend in Tokyo did all of that for us, so that Jill could get us back to see the garden she liked so much. Unfortunately, she didn’t remember that the garden was full of flights of steps. I got into the garden but immediately there were 10 steps down. I waited there, with an overlook of some of the garden while Jill toured it. We took a taxi back to the hotel and had a soup, salad, lobster and scallop main course and a Jell-O dessert for dinner in the hotel’s Royal Copenhagen Restaurant.

5/7 Friday. Jill and I walked about a mile along the canal to the Arts & Crafts Center where we spent several hours buying T-shirts and looking at five floors of tourist stuff.

We walked from the hotel to Jensiu, which is a large Japanese restaurant complex built around a large garden and pond. We sat in a building that had lots of tables, but we were alone. The Japanese were off in a different building sitting on the floor. Each table had a hole and gas heating built into the table so they could cook at the table. The dinner was $34 per person, for a multi-course meal of weird stuff that might have been tofu cooked in several ways. Since they don’t speak English we really didn’t know what we were eating. I ordered an appetizer of duck and sake. They were the best part. The garden was sublime.

 5/8, Saturday. We all walked about 1 ½ miles to Eikando Temple which had a large gate, an old stone aqueduct and a $3 million re-roofing project, then onto the Nanzenzi temple and then along the Philosophy trail to the temple at its end. The trail was basically just a walkway along a stone lined drainage ditch. It was not as impressive as the guidebooks sound.

While the interior of the temples were not wheelchair accessible, the exteriors were still impressive to see.

We ate dinner at Tairo Mikaku, a 120-year-old Japanese beef and sukiyaki restaurant that had two large steps in order to get in. It was good beef. They had three grades of tender beef for $36, $46 or $63.

Jill and I took a taxi to the Golden Palace. This temple has grounds with lots of trees and a lake. The palace sits on a foundation in the lake. The temple is only seen from the outside. There is a minor temple that can be entered with the usual five steps.

The grounds make two nice gardens paths. The lower is around the lake and is accessible. The garden was peaceful, although there were a lot of visitors. The upper has a lot of steps up to it. It has a tea garden. The public toilets were Japanese style. The urinals were accessible.

The bus driver was big and carried me on and off the bus that would go from our hotel to Osaka to catch the ship.

Holland American, Nieuw Amsterdam

5/10, Monday. At 5:00 p.m. we departed Osaka on Nieuw Amsterdam, Holland America Line, Cabin #191 (A wheelchair accessible cabin). Tel: 900-225-5425 for 11 days to Vancouver. ($4,134 for 2 +$300 port tax).

After having the steward move the beds in the room, it was accessible. The phone was not by the bed, although the long cord could reach across the room. When the wheelchair was in front of the toilet the bathroom door must be open. The room was all the way forward, directly under the bridge. Looking out the window you see forward which is nice. It was a very rocky part of the ship. Other ships I have been on put the accessible rooms in the middle of the ship where it rocks less. This ship rocked more than any other we have been on. Once my wheelchair slid sideways at high speed in the bathroom. I worried about being tipped over sideways, and I always tried to have something within reach to grab.

The trip did not go well. The temperature was usually around 44 degrees. The seas were rough. The ship dropped about 5 degrees Latitude below its planned great circle route, trying to avoid the storm and waves. It was windy and overcast. The ice carving demo was cancelled for cold. You can’t stay outside. Everyone is bored. The Indonesian crew is friendly and entertained one night. A story in costume, some dancing, and a big band playing bamboo rattles.

The rest of the cruise continued to have bad weather and acceptable but not good food. The menus had too few normal choices. 

Hotels & Tourist Sites

We stayed in the following hotels. They were fully accessible and comfortable unless otherwise noted.

Sheraton Moana Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s on the beach at Waikiki.

Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. $392/night. Nathan Rd. & Salisbury Road #852-2266-6251. Our room was very nice and very convenient to the harbor, museums and shopping.

Holiday Inn Crowne Point, 981 Silom Rd., Bangkok, Thailand. $114 + 21% tax. Holiday Inns in the Orient are more upscale than they are in the U. S.

Holiday Inn, Golden Mile, 50 Nathan Rd., Hong Kong, Kowloon $114. This is a good downtown location. Tel: (011) 85 22 369 3111.

Meridian Hotel, Pacific Hotel Tokyo, 3-13-3 Takanawa Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan. $145. + 19% / day. Phone (011) 81 33 445 6711. They had no accessible rooms.

Miyako Hotel, Sanjo Keage, Higashiyama-Ku, Osaka, Japan. $208 + 18.8% per night. Tel: (011) 81 75 771 7111.

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In summary, we did a lot of shopping. The temples in Bangkok and Kyoto were numerous and different. The people were more friendly and helpful than in other parts of the world. It was generally crowded in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Bangkok was not very accessible. Food in Japan was very expensive. Some of the hotel meals were very good. Away from the hotels they may be good, but between the language and culture differences you may never know what you ate. The cruise was a disappointment. The weather was bad. The food was only so-so and was the worst I have had on four cruises.

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