This is a blog about toilets, their variety and their quirks. No apologies for the subject matter, because anyone who has traveled a lot in less comfortable places will know toilets becomes a regular and acceptable subject of conversation.
But maybe I should add a disclaimer for the squeamish. Stop here.
Ranked from one to ten where one is dire, and ten, well perhaps we should rethink the use of toilets and expand the vocabulary.
1. Rural China – just over the border from Vietnam, in the south. Squat over a trough, with a foot on either side so it looks like an awkward game of tunnel ball. A trough that has an almost imperceptible slope, so that what happens at the top drifts down below everyone who is using the trough behind them.
Similar experience just outside Beijing. I asked (using charades) about a visit to the ladies’ loo and understood that the waitress would show me where it was. I walked back through the kitchen – fair enough, have experienced toilet off the edge of kitchens in Vietnam, but we continued through the back door, down the main street of the village to the edge of the village and to what was the public toilet. She showed me into the squatting trough and then squatted down beside me. Yikes! I’m cool with this, … this is awkward, no … I’m cool with this. Awkward.
2. India – my beloved Eden Gardens Stadium cops the second worst lot of toilets on my list. For work purposes I did an inspection of (almost) all the female toilets during a cricket match. This is a big stadium – with capacity for approx. 65,000 fans. The female loos catering to the cheap seats did have cubicles, but inside each there was nothing! You had to wee on the floor and then slosh it out with water. Presumably.
3. India – rural. Slightly to be expected. I havn’t done much travel in the rural areas in India but recently did a wee in the designated area behind a bit of tin next to a chai shop.
4. Vietnam – the espadrilles story still makes me laugh. A group of us were having dinner in a reasonably popular restaurant back in the day, in Hanoi. My girlfriend went to the bathroom, which was off the kitchen (see point 1 above). It was no surprise that the toilet was simply an empty room with a concrete floor and a hole in the wall at floor level. All ok, except that this time she was wearing French espadrilles. That tend to soak up liquids.
5. Mongolia – what it is about doors? We came across this in the Opera House in Hanoi as well. Adequate pedestal toilets, but no doors!
6. Japan – I worked in an (almost) all male office in Japan. I had a meeting in the head office in Sapporo and they only had a squat toilet. That’s fine and BTW my unsupported theory is that Japanese squat toilets face in a different direction to others in Asia / Europe. In Asia / Europe you face towards the door but in Japan you face towards the wall. Some may disagree. I managed to wee on the bottom of my trousers and then had to return to the meeting. I washed it off and brazened it out – mainly by sitting down quickly.
7. Australia – camping and the long drop. This may be a few different memories rolled in to one. I dropped my phone into what I remember being a long drop toilet up on the Gibb River Road in the North West. The phone is a true story, but not sure it was a long drop. The long drop is a hole in the ground where you sit over some kind of hole to do your business. Ideally there is some lime or some sawdust to throw in afterward, but that luxury mainly to be found at the ecotourism resorts.
Pictured here is ‘the Redback on the Toilet Seat’ version of the long drop. Only technically not a red back. Harmless but disconcerting for the toilet goers.
8. Managua, Nicaragua – pedestal toilet, tick. It had an S bend but didn’t have the flushing bit at the top. You have to throw a small bucket of water down afterwards. It’s a good tip if you are ever faced with this situation – just throw a bucket of water in and if there is an S-bend it will flush itself.
9. Chile – the bidet. Bidets are supposed to be French and perhaps they are, but I came across a bidet in my apartment in Chile. I must be honest and say I never used it for the purposed intended, but it was handy when I was sick. The end.
10. Japan – the flight cockpit. Anyone who has been to the bathroom in Japan can probably relate to this. I arrived in modest and modern hotel in Japan. Firstly, the seat is heated which I find a little strange. I do a wee and then get completely flustered because there are so many controls – you could fly an aeroplane with all the functions on the cockpit of a toilet in Japan. I start to press random buttons to flush the toilet, there is one that makes a flushing noise but doesn’t do anything else, there are others to control the volume of the noise of flushing water, there is one that blows warm air on your bottom, and others that adjust the strength of the blowing and the squirting. There are labels, but all in Japanese. There is one with a diagram of flushing water next to it so I press that and get sprayed in the face, and then believe it or not I press it again in case it was another button that I’d pressed and get sprayed again. Flummoxed I start to look further afield – around the bathroom and press light switches. Eventually I find the flushing button. The toilet seat lid was up, there is a huge button that you can’t miss – once the lid is down.
But yes I’d have to say once I solved the riddle of flushing, Japanese toilets are in a class of their own for comfort. There are many settings that you can try.
I don’t have any particular advice on best practise when faced with odd toilet situations. Carry some tissues is a good one. Don’t look down, is almost a rule I’d say.
What about when you wee on your trousers accidentally when you are using a squat toilet, wash it off to reduce the smell and are left with a big wet patch? Sometimes you just have to brazen it out and hope for a very dry room, or a strong wind to help in the drying process.
What about you? Any similar experiences? Ruth – you are not allowed to comment on this story because after all there are some things that should be left unsaid.
Thanks to D Krivtsov for pics of Japanese toilets; & Phoebe at email@example.com for the Mongolia pic.
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And thanks to espadrille-wearing girlfriend for Mongolia pic! (Or you have the exact same photo!) You didn’t mention the hostel in Beijing….
I’ve forgotten the hostel in Beijing! I found my Transiberian pics, but didn’t realise that was yours. I’ll update accordingly. The other one that I remember, but I don’t have it the Hanoi Opera house!
I have a very rude photo of the opera house but it’s not publishable. Laurence and Liz would kill you!!!
Hahaha 🙂 Yes, true some photos should remain unseen.
Oh please please please can I comment? If only to say that I totally remember the girl friend with absorbent espadrilles – it certainly made it drier and pleasanter for the rest of us afterwards. Very public-spirited, Phoebe! And yes, I too have the Hanoi opera house photo evidence! My weirdest experience (ref your 2nd China story) was in Hue, in Vietnam, where I was signalled upstairs to a room which not only had absolutely no plumbing in it, not even a drain or a gutter, but also was full of ladies happily squatting doing their laundry in plastic bowls who instantly vacated the room, smilingly, for me and shut the door behind them. There was no evidence whatsoever, olfactory or otherwise, that anyone had ever used it as a toilet before but, to my slight shame, I had to. In the corner. And it was only a wee.
Hahaha! Thank you for your discretion. Upstairs !! That is very unusual. I’m sure there is enough material out there for a second edition of ten toilets.
PS ‘The Girl with the Absorbent Espadrilles’ has a certain ring to it.
I am horrified by the thought of absorbent espadrilles! Ewwww. I have found, without exception, that facilities at ferry terminals are always the worst – the world round! Thanks for the insight into Japanese toilets – I am studying hard for our trip there later in the year
Hahaha! Re espadrilles – one of those things that you only find out when its too late! Agreed re ferry terminals. Enjoy the planning for Japan – it will be worth it. #farawayfiles
Phoebe | Lou Messugo says
They were at least high-heeled wedgy espadrilles says the girl with the absorbent espadrilles!!
hahah. I’ve just bought some new flat espadrilles and Scotch Guarding them was the first thing I did.
That was so fun to read! I can definitely relate to the Japanese toilet story. I had the same problem finding the flushing button when I first time used Japanese hi-tech toilet. 🙂 #FarawayFiles
Hahaha. Phew! I got away with it. I got a bit obsessed by ‘bodily functions, because there are so many near-miss stories and some unfortunately not missed. But all part of traveling. Glad I’m not the only one who was confused in Japan 🙂 Thanks for dropping by #FarawayFiles
Cool post! The featured photo reminded me of a toilet on a small isle in the Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands 🙂 The Mongolian one I would have a problem with 🙂 #farawayfiles
Cook Islands ! Very cool – my cousin recently visited and the photos looked amazing. But apparently the toilets are the same the world over ;). Thanks for dropping by #FarawayFiles
Sol Solntze says
One of the side benefits of having had the kids is that I am much more blase about bodoly functions and bodily fluids and publicly exposing all sorts of things which hithertoo did not get publicly exposed. Not feet though. The espadrills would be my number one…
Good call. I’ve just bought some protective spray for my latest espadrilles in case I’m caught in the same situation. 😉 and yes – I remember my brother saying he gave up any pretence of having a cool car when he had kids because of all the goo that got stuck to the seats. (not even bodily fluids!). Thanks for dropping by. #FarawayFiles
This post made me laugh out loud, and yes I agree that toilet talk is a must when traveling! We had a funny experience in Japan where the boys were so surprised when I came out of the loo in a national park and said it was the nicest park bathroom ever… I’d had heated seats and private cubicles in the women’s room the men’s s room only had holes in the ground… #farawayfiles
Annette, Four Acorns / Quatre graines de chêne says
This is one subject that rarely gets mentioned in travel writing, yet it is in everyone’s thoughts when travelling, isn’t it? Excellent and very funny post, I loved it! Weirdly enough, it’s the photos with a pretence of a toilet seat that make me most uncomfortable – lack of doors in Mongolia and that spider in Australia!??!
Haha. It is everyone’s phobia in Australia – to sit on a toilet seat with spider on or underneath it. There was a famous song about it when I was a child. Thanks for dropping by ! #farawayfiles
Erin Gustafson | Oregon Girl Around the World says
BAHAHAHAHAHA! Toilets are a remarkably cultural thing aren’t they! Fairly glad that they are pretty civilized in Denmark, although in the older apartments in town they are often situated in the same space as the shower to save square footage. I’ve always wondered about the multitasking potential. Ha! I’m used to the long pit at campgrounds around the States, but the pop-a-squat I’ve to have the honor to attempt. SUPER awkward peeing next to the waitress, I’m sure I’d have shy bladder on that one. Did she wait for you to finish and escort you back? GAH! Super hilarious post. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin
So relieved that noone (so far) is offended! The waitress incident was very surreal. I wonder how I managed to convey that I actually needed to go! I’m pretty sure that was not charades. Eerrk! Thanks again for hosting and for commenting. #farawayfiles.
I have clear memories of my bottom being stared at when I visited the giant trough toilet at Beijing train station. My little white bum felt like a celebrity!
Haha! Brilliant. Thanks for dropping by. #farawayfiles