Toilet Guide: South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam)

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“I felt I’d levelled up in using toilets.”


Ah, South East Asia. Just imagining myself there, I feel my jaw unclench and my shoulders drop. South East Asia is my spiritual home, and if I had any sense I would drop everything and live there. The 6 weeks I spent in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were the most relaxed I’ve ever been in my life, which meant I was in a good state of mind to face some pretty special toilets situations.

Note: We like Myanmar (and its toilets!) so much, we dedicated an entire blog to it. Find out why Myanmar is so special here!



Quick guide:

  • South East Asia is a BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper!) region. In the strongest sense of BYOTP. Toilet paper isn’t really a thing, except in traveller’s haunts. (Buying toilet paper is no problem… as long as you do it in advance!)
  • Bring hand sanitiser with you. Everywhere. Hand washing facilities can be limited, and you’ll encounter food that needs to be eaten with your hands.
  • Locals tend to use the bum gun, or the bucket in a bucket system, which we explain in detail here. Very developed parts of South East Asia might have Japanese style wash-dry toilets, such as the modern bit of Bangkok.
  • Any toilets found in rural or off the beaten track parts of South East Asia will likely operate a bucket in a bucket system.
  • Squat toilets are the norm. Guesthouses and hostels aimed at tourists will likely have sit-down, western-style toilets, unless you’re staying at super budget places. I stayed at places for $2 a night with perfectly adequate sit-down toilets.
  • Cafes aimed at locals will probably have squat-toilets, whereas cafes aimed at tourists often have sit-down toilets. There’s also a middle ground of places that have both options side by side.
  • Long distance buses do not tend to have toilets on board. Trains do have toilet facilities and running water for hand-washing.

Toilets you’re likely to encounter

Most hostels and guesthouses will have western style sit-down toilets. Phew. The same goes for cafes and restaurants aimed at a western audience, and generally anywhere a bit more upmarket on the backpacker trail.

However, when you get off the beaten track, into the small villages nestled in-between mountains and rice paddies, the toilets might start to look more like this:

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Image courtesy of the awesome World Wanderers

One of the first things you’ll notice about this lovely toilet (found near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand) is the green-looking water to the right. In many parts of South East Asia, water is used for cleaning, rather than toilet paper. In fact, most locals will consider you pretty weird for using toilet paper, and it certainly won’t be supplied in any public toilets unless they really are trying to draw a western crowd.

Never fear! We explain everything you need to know about using a squat-toilet and a bucket in a bucket here. Of course, you could just BYOTP. But there’s a third way…

I challenge you to try the bum gun!

The bum gun is commonly found next to nicer toilets across the whole region; in hostels, guesthouses, restaurants and cafes.

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When I think about toilets in South East Asia, I think about the bum gun. The little hosepipe mounted next to the toilet, posed and ready for you’re not sure what. And the bin. The smelly bin next to the toilet. Many travellers, on seeing this set up immediately pull out their roll of toilet paper and steadfastly ignore the water based option, contributing instead to the smelly bin situation.

But actually… the bum gun is probably better than toilet paper. It’s cleaner. It’s better for the environment. And just… more pleasant. I’ve had countless conversations with travellers who were bum gun sceptics until they tried it. Here are two genuine real-life testimonials:

I was scared to try the bum gun, until my friend explained it to me… and now I love it!”

I love the bum gun! Just…. [imitates spraying noise] … then you’re clean! No mess, no fuss! I want one at home…”

If you’d like to try it out, but you’re not quite sure how to use a bum gun, we have an (illustrated!) guide right here.

Still not convinced? Here are some bonus FAQs:

Q: Will water actually clean me properly?

A: Would a shower clean your body better than wiping yourself down with dry paper? Of course! The effectiveness does depend slightly on the force of the water, how long you spray for, and the angle you spray at. These are things you’ll figure out through personal experience. A bit of loo roll can always be used as insurance.

Q: Okay, so I’ve used the bum gun successfully. Now my bum is soaking wet. Do I have to sit here until I air dry?

A: You can use a bit of toilet paper to dry off if needed. Although in a climate as hot as South East Asia, you’ll dry pretty quickly. If you do dry with toilet paper, you still need to dispose of it in the bin, but it’s clean toilet paper! No smelly bin in your bathroom. You could also use your own bath towel if you have it handy.


Getting around South East Asia: toilets on public transport

Modes of transport ranked by toilet access:
1. Trains

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Some countries in South East Asia have well-developed train networks, especially Thailand and Vietnam. Train tickets are fairly pricey in Vietnam compared to buses (to clarify, that’s pricey by South East Asian standards, which is vastly different to pricey by Western Europe standards). However, trains usually have toilets on board, usually both sit-down toilets and squat toilets. Trains also have sinks with running water, and general comfort facilities such as pillows, blankets and food available to buy.


2. Slow boat

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This is an excellent way to travel if you’re near the Mekong river in Northern Laos. Comfy seats and a sit-down toilet at the back! Take a guess where the waste goes…

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3. Buses

Buses, minivans and coaches do not have toilets on board in South East Asia. Approach with caution for long journeys. However, in my experience they do make fairly regular stops at places with actual toilet facilities. Toilets you find by the road are likely to be pretty basic squat toilets, but hey, they work.


And finally, a tale of two toilets:
Squatting on moving trains; toileting on expert mode.

Confession: I am a massive train nerd. Paul Theroux once wrote “I have seldom heard a train go by without wishing I was on it”. Well, I wouldn’t go that far (have you seen rush hour trains in London?! Hideous.) But I do massively buy into the romanticised image of the sleeper train, just like Theroux describes in his book the Great Railway Bazaar. Being rocked to sleep in a tiny bunk bed whilst a train carries you through the dark night, then waking up in a new city filled with possibilities is hard to beat as a travel experience.

Vietnam is a great country to explore by train. The country is so narrow that the train tracks skim the coastline, offering glimpses of the sun setting into the South China Sea. I rode the rails from Ho Chi Min City, in the far south, to the northern capital of Hanoi, with a stop in Hoi An and a northern detour to Sapa. For each journey, the trains were comfortable, with a friendly vibe. Toilets were always provided on board – both sit down toilets and squat toilets.

The only problem was, I had stomach troubles in Vietnam. And I was so looking forward to eating the local food! Throughout Laos and Cambodia, I’d been hearing tales of delicious Vietnamese cuisine; the spicy street food, fragrant curries and sizzling soups cooked in huge woks. But as soon as I crossed the border from Cambodia, my digestive system started complaining. I felt well enough to start exploring the country, but food just… wasn’t appealing.

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Tired out by the constant onslaught of mopeds in Ho Chi Min City, I boarded the train north to Hoi An, 20 hours to the north. After a long sleep in my bunk, I was feeling pretty good. I was sharing my compartment with a friendly Vietnamese family, who had insisted on sharing their delicious picnic with me the night before.

As soon as I woke up, I needed to make a beeline for the toilet. Fumbling around for my glasses, I grabbed my toilet paper and hand sanitiser and climbed down awkwardly from my top bunk, pausing only to jam my feet into flip flops. There were 2 toilets at the each end of the carriage, and this far into the journey they were all pretty well used. Definitely…. broken in.

I found one free western-style toilet, but the pong emitting from it and a quick glimpse around the door was enough to drive me away. By this stage of my travels, I’d used enough squat toilets to be pretty comfortable squatting at floor level, and I reckoned using the squatter would be easier than hovering above a filthy sit-down toilet, trying to use the toilet whilst keeping a wide berth between me and everything else in the room.

The squat toilet may have been relatively clean, but 2 things immediately alarmed me about it:

  1. The hole was actually in the floor of the train; as in, I could see the train tracks beneath me, whooshing past.

  2. The whole carriage was rocking alarmingly side to side. And there was nothing to hold onto.

It was too late for doubts; when you gotta go, you gotta go. Squatting down, I planted my feet firmly flat on the floor, wedging my loose trousers behind my knees so they stayed well clear of anything gross. Channelling everything I knew about pilates, I tensed my core to stay stable, trying to roll with the movement of the train rather than against it, bracing myself for the bigger bumps.

Then I pooped through a hole in the floor of a moving train. Afterwards, I felt like I’d levelled up in using toilets.


Don’t let my tales of toilet terror put you off visiting this amazing region of the world! South East Asia is stunningly beautiful, and its toilet and hygiene facilities are improving rapidly. In all likelihood, most of the toilets you encounter will be perfectly pleasant. And, you may even find yourself a passionate bum-gun convert!

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Toilet Guide: Iceland – Road Tripping with Shewee & Peebol

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“You are not bringing that bag of piss into the rental car”


Intro to Iceland:

Usually, when we announce our travel plans, people ask us the same two questions:

“Where is that?”

Closely followed by:

“Okay… but, uhh, why would you go there?”

People never ask you why you’re going to Spain or France though, and equally people never ask why you’re going to Iceland. Instead, they often comment:

“Oh cool! I went there last year!” or “Ohh I really wanna go there!”

So Iceland doesn’t really need an introduction. You know where it is and why people go there. Chances are, you’ll probably go there yourself some time, so let us prepare you for their toilet situation!


Survival guide:

  • Toilet facilities in towns are consistently excellent, whether you’re at a cafe, restaurant or tourist hot-spot. Nothing to worry about here.
  • Out in the countryside, standards vary more. Whilst on road trips, we found some of the world’s most expensive public toilets, with excellent facilities, and also some pretty basic toilet shacks without hand washing facilities.
  • When you’re driving around off the beaten track (or as far off it as you can get in Iceland), there will be times when a nature pee is called for. We explore this in more detail below, and we also review 2 outdoor peeing aids we brought with us for trial; Shewee and Peebol.

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Road tripping in Iceland

Iceland is made for road trips. The countryside is so downright stunning that they print advice cards in the rental cars, reminding you not to stop your car in the middle of the road to take photos, even if is really pretty. And yeah, we did see another car do just that next to a particularly jaw-dropping glacier. The 6 of us piled in our huge 4×4 rental car, blasted out Wheels by the Foo Fighters and asked our friend Eduardo to park up every 5 minutes so that we could stand up and simply gaze open-mouthed at the wild beauty surrounding us.

However, the middle of nowhere is notoriously lacking in toilets. Here’s how we managed the toilet situation on our various road-trips:


The Golden Circle

The golden circle is a popular day trip from Reykjavik, taking you past an exceptionally active geyser, a gigantic waterfall and a rift valley. This can be comfortably done in one day (the golden circle is not to be confused with the ring road which goes around the entire island and is definitely not a day trip). Our first stop was the rift valley, a stunning landscape featuring excellent public toilets, although they were ludicrously expensive at £1.50 a go. However, Iceland is firmly in the 21st century and you can pay on card if you lack the correct change.

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At least £1.50 buys you an excellent hand-washing view:

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The next stop of Geysir had good quality, free toilet facilities connected to a nearby cafe and shop. For the price of walking through the gift shop, we found clean cubicles with locking doors, and toilet roll and soap were provided. The waterfall stop, Gullfoss, is only 10 minutes down the road from Geysir, so we had no need to seek out toilets there.


Northern Lights Hunting

To have any chance of seeing the northern lights in Iceland, you need to be in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. One place you rarely find toilets is the middle of nowhere.

We fashioned our own northern lights hunting trip, using the Icelandic Met website to track gaps in the clouds as we sped through the foggy countryside, chasing the tail of the elusive aurora. As soon as we spied stars peeking out between the clouds, we pulled over and lay down in a field, huddling together for warmth as we stared hopefully at the sky. When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back in the car and drove in search of the next gap, ever waiting, ever hopeful.

After a couple of hours of driving, we had a problem. I needed to pee, as did my friend Steff. Privacy & warmth were our primary concerns; there are few trees in Iceland, and the landscape in this particular areas was flat and uh, exposed. The only shelter we had was the huge rental car. Luckily, we’d taken a Shewee and some Peebols with us to Iceland, which were kindly sent to us by Shewee. I tried the Shewee “Extreme”:

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The Shewee allowed me to have a pee while standing up, and without pulling down my trousers, which was a great advantage in the freezing Icelandic night. It also felt much more private, which is handy when there are 5 people within 5 metres of you.

That said, using a Shewee is a bit of an art-form; it feels very strange to be standing up and peeing, and I think it takes a few tries to be confident using it. You will probably choose to still use toilet roll after using a Shewee, and it pays to have it ready in your other hand before you pee. The Shewee “Extreme” comes with plastic carry case, so you don’t need to worry about putting it back in your bag if you’re not able to fully clean it after use. I would suggest putting your used toilet roll in this case or in a sealable plastic bag, rather than leaving it on the floor. Because nothing is more disgusting than going to behind a rock to pee and finding a pile of used toilet roll.

The problem was, Steff needed to pee too. And we only had one Shewee with us, which really did need a wash before anyone else could use it.

“I’ll use the Peebol!” Steff decided, with determination.

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Peebol is a small plastic bag, containing absorbent crystals which turn urine into an odourless gel. We explained this to Eduardo. He held zero faith in the absorbent crystals and even less confidence in the plastic bag.

“You are not bringing a bag of piss into the rental car” declared Eduardo, taking his role as the driver very seriously.

Nevertheless, Steff gave it a go. She soon realised that figuring out a Peebol for the first time in the pitch black Icelandic night is quite a feat. Steff’s main concern was accidentally getting the cardboard top-section wet, and while she’d discovered the zip lock seal, she hadn’t found the additional sticky seal. That said, she peed into it very successfully and was pleased to have somewhere to dispose of her used toilet roll too.

The only problem is, you do have to carry the bag with you afterwards.

“It’s not even pee anymore, it’s gel!” explained Steff. “But umm, it’s really dark and I’m not sure I sealed it properly…”

“You’re not bringing that bag of piss into the rental car” repeated Eduardo.

We popped the Peebol in a large crisp packet by way of compromise and were pleased to report absolutely no spills in the rental car.

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We knew that our chances of seeing the aurora in this weather was very low, and indeed we didn’t manage to spot the elusive lights with our eyes… But, this photo Morgan captured (of some greenish shapes to the left) shows they might actually have been there all along, unfortunately just behind a lot of clouds!


The South Coast – On the road to Vik

Let’s get one thing straight: our South coast road trip crapped all over the golden circle. But being a less touristy route, there were fewer places to crap!
Toilet facilities at the key stopping points on this journey were free, but much more basic. Some stops lacked running water or toilet roll, as was the case at Seljalandsfoss, the first of two epic waterfalls on this route. So bring your own loo roll, and be prepared to queue if it’s busy – preferably before you gaze upon the mass of relentlessly flowing water.

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When we reached the isolated volcanic beach at Vik, the usual suspects (Steff and I) needed to pee. This time we swapped: I tried using a Peebol and Steff had a go with the Shewee. I found squatting to floor level was the most comfortable way for me to use the Peebol, and the shape of the bag worked well to avoid splashing. Of course, it was broad daylight and I was comfortably concealed behind some beach boulders with Morgan as lookout, so circumstances were pretty favourable. Carrying it with me did feel a bit odd, but once again the seals held and I at no point felt there was any risk of it leaking. That didn’t stop Eduardo grumbling about the piss-bag in the car thing, though. Luckily, Steff was preparing an article for her own crisp-based blog, so we had plenty more crisp packets to stick our Peebols in.

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Steff tried to use the Shewee at the beach but found she didn’t trust the shape enough to be able to go, so she ended up doing a traditional nature pee. Steff has used a disposable cardboard P-Mate in the past and reckoned their wider opening felt safer. Overall, Peebol was her first choice of peeing device, whereas I personally preferred the freedom of the Shewee.


Things we’d do differently:

In trying to pack fast and light, we broke 2 of our own key rules. We neglected to bring a head torch or antibacterial hand gel with us. Fools! Talk about not following your own advice. We had phones with torches on, but peeing outdoors is so, so much easier when you have both hands free. Antibacterial hand gel would have made us feel much cleaner, especially as some of the more basic toilets didn’t have hand washing facilities.

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Which peeing device is for me?

Pros

Cons

Shewee “Extreme”

(Note: “Extreme” is the version we’ve got, which comes with a box and an extended tube – Both worthwhile features! But you can also get a simple Shewee without them, or a version with only the tube: the Shewee “SOS Plus”.)

– You don’t need to remove your clothing or squat down – you can pee standing up, which increases your privacy. It also means you don’t need to expose your bum to the cold Icelandic winter.

– The extended tube takes the urine away from you, reducing risk of splashing.

– Can be difficult to use if you’re not used to it, especially since plastic Shewees are a fixed shape. You need to trust that there won’t be any spills. (Worth practising in your own bathroom first)

– You need to carry it with you, although the plastic carry case keeps it well sealed and inconspicuous.

P-Mate (disposable)

– No need to remove clothing or squat down.

– Flexible width.

– Lighter to carry with you and folds flat to take up less space in your bag.

— Recyclable.

– One-time use only.

– Needs to be carried with you after use, until you find a bin. You can use the packet it comes in for a bit of protection against the wet cardboard.

– No extended tube, so the pee lands closer to your body.

Peebol

– Large opening, very easy to get the pee in the bag.

– You can also dispose of used toilet paper in it.

– Zero risk of splashing your feet whilst you pee.

– Recycleable parts (all except the gel).

– Sort of re-usable, holds up to 1 litre.

– You can pee in a moving car or bus, and other situations without toilets or where you can’t normally pee. Ladies might want to use Peebol with a Shewee for maximum privacy in those situations. 

– You need to carry it with you until you find a bin or a toilet you can empty it down.

– Though the risk is very low, there’s always a chance of leakage from the used bag if you seal/store it badly (eg upside down & under pressure). Putting it in a dry bag would virtually eliminate any risk, and the the Shewee “Out & About” Combo comes with one specially.

– In practice, it’s pretty much one-time use only.

Simple nature pee

– No fuss, no equipment needed

– Risk of splashing your feet or legs with your own pee

– There’s no way to avoid bearing your bum to the world.

– What do you do with used toilet roll? Leaving it behind is pretty gross, unless you can bury it. The environmentally-conscious method is to take it away with you in a sealed bag.


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Overall, Iceland has excellent toilet facilities, so relax and enjoy your trip! We would recommend bringing some toilet aids with you if you want to get out and explore nature, as well as the regular toilet trifecta of loo roll, hand gel and a head torch; don’t get complacent and make the same mistakes we did on our Icelandic adventure!

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The call of nature: peeing in a bag in the Scottish Highlands

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By guest blogger Rachel Bicker


Somewhere deep in the Scottish highlands, 1000 meters above sea level in blizzard conditions, I harness the bravery of my Scottish ancestors, remove my many layers of mostly borrowed winter gear, and I pee into a bag.

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I ended up here, with icy, wind-whipped buttocks and a cringing sense of vulnerability, because I signed up for a weekend course in winter skills, encouraged by my friend Rina with the group Explorers Connect. Rosie and Morgan, my housemates and Go Go Guano creators, decided this would be a perfect opportunity for me to test out a “Peebol” in some pretty extreme conditions!

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As an ecologist who works outdoors for long periods of time, I am no stranger to outdoor peeing. I previously tried a Shewee in the Carpathian Mountains (without much success), and I was hoping to use something less likely to result in a stream of urine that could potentially whip back at me in a strong gust (otherwise called a ‘dirty wind’). The makers of the Shewee have come up with another option, the Peebol.

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But what is a Peebol, I hear you cry? It’s a small resealable bag, containing rapid performing, absorbent granules which convert fluid into a biodegradable gel. It’s very light and foldable, slipping easily into a small pocket. The top is reinforced by cardboard and has a ziplock, so it opens easily and closes again securely.

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So, how did it go with my own, personal wizz-bag?


Step 1: Find a good sized rock for shelter from the blizzard and other mountaineers…

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The chosen boulder

Step 2: Dig around in your backpack for Peebol bag, take off gloves to unseal the top.

Step 3: Last glance around, pants down, then all systems go…

Step 4: Come on, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up…

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Thinking of Scottish mountain streams

Step 5: Continue to enjoy the views /blizzard

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View from my boulder (and my group, a little too close for comfort…)

Step 6: Get distracted by wildlife.

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Ooh, a Ptarmigan!

Step 7: Think “Wow I drank a lot of tea today…”

Step 8: Zip the seal back and ‘sort yerself oot’ (under layer up, over layer down, under layer up etc.)

Step 9: Re-seal Peebol bag and leave for a few minutes while the granules work their magic. Replenish bodily fluids by drinking more tea.

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Step 10: Place in the top part of your rucksack (or if you fancy a home-made hot water bottle right there and then, simply stash in your clothing).

Rejoining my group, I realised I’d been a bit hasty in pulling up clothing in order to avoid the blizzard entering my undergarments. My thermals were still hovering low around my knees under my outerlayer, creating an unfortunate sort of John Wayne meets MC Hammer situation all the way back down the mountain.

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My Peebol verdict:

The Pros:

  • Very light and folds into a tiny packet (when empty)
  • Leaves no nasty yellow snow
  • No splash-back
  • Holds a surprising amount of pee
  • Contents can be disposed of down the toilet and all parts of the bag are recyclable

The Cons:

  • Must be used in good cover to avoid losing the bag in gale-force wind.
  • Bag-split paranoia when you stash it back in your pack

If you’re now thoroughly sold on the idea of peeing in a bag in sub-zero conditions, you can find Peebols and various other outdoor urination devices on Amazon. Shewees can of course be used in conjunction with the Peebol bags, but also work fine solo.


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Explorers Connect on Cairngorm Plateau

Bonus section: Cairngorms Poo Project

An important message for people out enjoying natural environments like the Cairngorms is to minimise human impact, ideally by leaving no trace of our presence on the mountains. Human waste is a big issue as this can build up quickly in popular areas, contaminating water and soils, ruining it for other people and for wildlife. Because of this, the Cairngorm Poo Project was set up in 2007 by mountain ranger Heather Morning. Hikers are encouraged to call in at the Ranger Base for biodegradable bags and a carrying pot, which is light-weight with a screw top to eliminate the risk of leakage or smell. The bags break down readily in the sewage system at the Ranger Base, where all parts can be returned. Not a bad deal, considering it’s free for all hikers!


And finally…

When she’s not peeing in bags, Rachel normally writes a blog about the wildlife around Gatwick Airport. This week is a Scottish special featuring the native wildlife and poop that can be found around the Cairngorm National Park – check it out here!

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Camping in Tanzania: my biggest ever travel freakout

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It all went horribly wrong as soon as I needed to use the toilet. Of course it did.

I’d held it together until then. I’d survived 2 months of solo travel through East Africa, having men shout at me and try to grab at me on the local matatu buses in Nairobi. I’d braved 2 weeks of living in a village without electricity or running water, learning how to draw water from a well and do all my business in a squat toilet. I’d volunteered for an NGO, working alongside inspirational individuals in harrowing conditions, every day exposing me to previously unimaginable levels of poverty. East Africa challenged me more than any place I’ve travelled before or since, and I was unable to shape my experiences into something I could understand. The knots of certainty that tied together my knowledge and expectations about the world had been shaken loose, leaving tangled strands of doubt drifting through my mind.

It wasn’t until the final few days of my trip, whilst on an organised safari of all things, that I finally came undone.

Determined to push aside my uncertainties and enjoy my final days in Tanzania, I’d arranged a trip to the legendary Ngorongoro crater:

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Rising at 6am in preparation for the long drive into the savannah, I’d held it together during the 7 hours we spent in a jeep without seatbelts. With nothing to hold me down, my head crashed painfully into the jeep roof whenever we went over a bump in the rough, unfinished road. I’d held it together as we drove past poverty-stricken villages, my stomach churning with guilt and helplessness as I imagined the conditions inside. I’d even held it together when we pulled up at our camp in the scorching sun, and I realised I was out of drinking water. Our guide still had several water bottles left over from our lunch, and I asked if I could have one.

“Err, no I don’t think so” came his quick reply.

I was momentarily stumped. He’d been freely offering out the same bottles earlier in the day!

“I’ll pay?” I tentatively offered. “Can I buy one?”

He declined me again. Mumbling vaguely, the guide started to walk away, taking all the water with him.

“Please!” I called out. “I’m really thirsty!”

He didn’t even turn around. Grunting in exasperation, I marched to my tent, only to hear the water man call after me, “Hey, just like, chill out… there’s no hurry…”

No explanation and no water came my way. I took a deep breath and continued walking, distracting myself by unfurling my sleeping bag inside my tent. Aside from the clothes I was wearing, I’d brought very little with me for the 2-night trip, so I had nothing else to unpack.

Storm clouds rolled in as the sun finally set, cutting through the heat of the day. We had a long, slow dinner in the simple dining hall, raindrops landing with dull metallic thuds on the corrugated iron roof. I’d finally been able to buy drinking water, and I was happily gulping it down as I chatted to a group of Mexican backpackers over dinner. We were excited, speculating about the animals we might see tomorrow as we greeted sunrise in the Serengeti national park.

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The only downside to finally being able to hydrate? I needed to pee. And I had foolishly not investigated the toilet situation before sunset.

Still, I was an optimist. It was only a few metres to the toilet block. And it was an actual toilet block! No peeing in the bushes for me, I thought to myself, as I navigated the falling rain with the dying light of my headtorch.

The dim bulbs swinging above the wooden dining benches were the only electric lights in the camp, and the soft glow emitting from these bulbs quickly faded as I took a few tentative steps away from the mess hall. Even the noise of my fellow travellers was quickly muted by the steady rain, obscuring my senses and making me feel quite alone in the dark night.

There was no path through the campsite, and my flip flops were slipping dangerously on the wet muddy grass. As soon as I came to a downhill slope, I slipped. It was almost comical. My feet skidded out from underneath me and I landed on my bum with a thud, scrambling for purchase on the wet grass. My head torch flew off, and as I lunged to grab it I lost my balance again, sinking my hands into the soft mud in a clumsy attempt to break my fall.

Soaked and filthy, my frustrations of the last 2 months poured out. I let rip a stream of expletives that would make a Hell’s Angel blush, as I desperately tried to leave this hellish incline. At last, I stumbled into the toilet block, shining my torch around the pitch black room. The beam of my headtorch illuminated the mud caking my hands and arms as I fumbled to turn on the nearest tap. But the tap was busted; not so much as a drop of water came out as I span the handle around again and again. I tried the next one, and the next… and they all came up dry. I dimly remembered overhearing something as I arrived at camp, preoccupied with the water bottle fiasco; the camp water supply had been interrupted. Not only were my hands, arms, face and my one set of clothes covered in mud, but there was no running water to clean myself.

I checked around the outside of the building for taps, and inside all the toilet cubicles, but the simple squat toilets offered no help. As I squatted down over the basic toilet facilities, my hair swung stiffly into my face, and I realised in dismay that even that was somehow caked in mud. And of course, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

After an interrupted night’s sleep, painfully aware of how much dirt I was transferring into my sleeping bag, I sheepishly approached the dining hall for breakfast. I’d tried cleaning my hands with antibacterial gel, succeeding in swirling the muck into strange patterns on my fingers and palms. I had already drunk nearly all my drinking water, and after splashing a tiny amount onto my hands, I’d panicked, imagining if I had more problems buying water today.

“This is how I live now.” I thought to myself, as I approached my group of Mexican friends, sitting at the same table as last night.

“I’m a feral mud-creature trying unsuccessfully to infiltrate normal society.”

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Everyone at the table looked annoyingly clean as they ate breakfast with their hands. Of course, there was no cutlery in this culture. Of course I would have to eat with my filthy mud-creature hands.

The group stopped eating and looked at me cautiously.

Are you… okay?” they asked tentatively, too polite to directly ask why the hell I was caked in mud.

Umm, yeah…” I mumbled. “I kinda fell over in the rain last night.”

“We heard. You sounded quite… unhappy?”

I was unsure if this was a polite euphemism or the result of a limited English vocabulary. If by “unhappy” they meant “disproportionately angry at the whole damn country”, they’d be right.

I felt my cheeks burning red as I imagined these mild-mannered Mexicans overhearing my furious tirade last night. Fortunately, the mud disguised my embarrassment, and I tried to laugh it off. In that moment, there was nothing to do but continue with life as usual. I pulled up a seat and broke off a chunk of chapati with my dirt-encrusted hands.

“2 more days,” I thought to myself, as a gentle coating of dirt fell from my hair and landed in my breakfast. “2 days until I can go home and try to make some sense of all this.” I desperately needed time and space to start sifting through the dense tangle of experiences overwhelming my mind, to draw together the horrors and the beauty I had witnessed into some sort of whole. But most of all, I needed a freakin’ shower.

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Toilet Guide: Myanmar (Burma)

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Mingalaba!

First off, Myanmar is a magical country, and we highly recommend travelling there. Yes it’s safe, and yes it’s wonderful. Myanmar sings with mystery and grace, and the Myanmar people blew us away with their kindness and hospitality. At this point, some of you are probably wondering where in the world Myanmar is. It’s not a small or insignificant country, but the name still confuses people (and for good reason, to be fair). Let us explain!

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Before we travelled to Myanmar, we referred to this land as Burma. People knew what we meant when we said Burma. Then we started our travels, and we continued referring to Burma the country, to Burmese the language, and to Burmese food and culture. We were swiftly corrected, multiple times by multiple people.

You mean the Myanmar food. It’s Myanmar food, made by the Myanmar people”

Friendly locals eager to educate us explained that the word Burma refers to a specific ethnic group within Burma: the Burmese. As there are well over a hundred ethnic groups in Myanmar, many locals object to the adjective “Burmese” being used generally, preferring to include the full range of different local peoples and cultures in their language. We’d previously associated the name Myanmar with the widely criticised military government,  who abruptly changed the name of the county back in the 1980s, and had assumed Burma was the preferred name. But as we so have so often found in our travels, the story the local people had to tell us was very different from the story constructed in the media.

So now we’ve established the names, let’s think about the toilets!


Overview

  • Myanmar is a BYOTP country. Be sure to bring your own toilet paper, soap and antibacterial hand gel with you when you’re out and about.
  • Always dispose of used toilet paper in the bin rather than the toilet, when a bin is provided.
  • Locals tend to use squat toilets and wash afterwards, using either the bucket in a bucket or a bum gun. Toilet paper is not widely used.
  • All guest houses had western style good quality toilets, except in the small villages we trekked through. In the cities, you shouldn’t need to worry about guesthouse toilets.
  • We didn’t see any public toilets when out and about. Some cafes will have basic toilet facilities, which may be a squat toilet or western toilet depending on the target audience and price range of the cafe. Basic cafes and street food stalls will not have toilets available.

Out and About

Cities

Street food is wonderful in Myanmar. You can barely walk down the streets of Yangon for the sizzling woks and grills, spilling off the pavements right into the roads. Street food vendors do not, however, have toilets. They might have adorable tiny plastic tables and chairs, they might even have table service and a menu. But they will not have toilets. Make sure you go before you leave the guesthouse. And bring antibacterial gel with you, in case you want to freshen up before you eat.

Inle Lake

On Inle Lake, all buildings stand on stilts above the water, and the only mode of transport is by boat. Like so:

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One little restaurant we visited surprised us with a sit-down toilet in a tiny shack above the lake. As you can see, instead of toilet paper, they provided the bucket in a bucket system for cleaning yourself with water.
Fancy a guess at where the waste ends up?

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Ngapali Beach

Although we stuck to street-food, or very basic cafes in the cities, Ngapali beach was different. Instead of wandering down the street for dinner, we wandered along the beach, being seduced by the string of seafood restaurants along the sand. Despite the friendly competition between restaurants, when we enquired about the toilet facilities the waiter directed us to walk through several neighbouring restaurants to the shared squat toilet behind the kitchens. Top tip: don’t forget your flip-flops. Seriously, I forgot to bring my flip flops to the restaurant one evening and had to beg and borrow sandals from Morgan so I could use the toilet.


Transport

We used a mixture of boats, planes, minivans, motorbikes, taxis, electric scooters, hiking and hot air balloon to travel around Myanmar. Let’s consider how these modes of transport compare in terms of toilet access: 

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Boats

Floating down the Irrawaddy River is a genuinely great way to get between the city of Mandalay and the temples of Bagan. The journey takes about 7 hours by “fast boat”, and you’ll have a fine selection of wicker chairs on board and lunch provided. There is also a good condition sit-down toilet on the boat, so you have no worries on that front.


Buses & Minivans

There is a fairly well-established tourist route through Myanmar, taking in the temples of Bagan, the bustling streets of Yangon and the quiet beauty of Inle Lake. A reasonable network of buses and minivans connects the main traveller destinations, and in our experience these vehicles do stop at places with toilets at appropriate intervals. Some of these toilets have a box allowing you to tip the cleaning staff, and more often than not are accompanied by amusing signs:

We never needed to ask the driver to stop for a toilet break, but the Myanmar people were so unfailingly polite, kind and helpful, we have no doubt they would have stopped and found a toilet if needed. And if they didn’t understand the request in English, they would have found someone to translate. And if there wasn’t a public toilet, they would have found a private toilet for us. We were constantly humbled by how friendly and kind the Myanmar people were.


Aeroplanes

Planes on domestic flights have toilets on board. Also a lovely poster about the work some domestic airlines are doing to gain international aviation safety accreditation. So… no worries on that front.

The internal airport we visited was also quite fascinating. It was small and only made incredibly laid back attempts at “security”. They had a metal detector and an x-ray machine for bags, and only after we cleared security did we realise the one toilet in the building was back on the “non-secure” side. The security guys apparently saw no issues with us running back and forth through the security gates to use the toilets by the entrance of the airport, and just shrugged and waved us through each time the metal detectors beeped at us again.


Trekking

Some of Myanmar’s more interesting toilets can be found along the delightful 60km trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Heading east out of Kalaw, the entire 3-day hike is spent cutting through woodland, hills, farmland and villages. Hundreds of bright red chillies sat drying amongst the fields, and crowds of children came to greet us as we passed through, shouting “Mingalaba!” (Hello!) with beaming smiles.

The accommodation along this route is basic. Wonderful, but basic. Both nights we stayed in wooden farmhouses, 6 of us huddling together in a single room with thin mattresses on the floor. There was no glass in the windows, so after sunset we pulled the wooden shutters closed, shutting out the cold mountain air and lighting candles in our wooden house.

The toilet was a simple squatter, in a roughly constructed wooden shack. It was also really, really far away, across the fields and out of sight of the main building. Getting there involved traversing a field of cabbages, walking away from the lights until even the sounds of the talking and laughter had faded away. The next part was tricky; the battery on my head torch was running low, and finding a dark shack in a dark field proved difficult. First time around, I failed at finding the fabled shack and went back to get Morgan.

I need directions to the shack… again.”

Well, Morgan mused. “It’s not that far… Did you walk diagonally through the cabbage patch?”

Yes!”

Did you turn sharp right after the big tree?”

Yes!”

Did you scramble through the ditch behind the tree before you turned left?”

Ah-ha! I had at no point gone into a ditch on my explorations.

We set off again, together this time, our twin beams of light bouncing off the white cabbages. By 9pm, all the lights were out in the village. The night was silent, the darkness absolute.

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I didn’t see the shack until right before I walked into it. Stopping abruptly, I shined my torch through the gaps in the walls. A basic hole had been dug into the soft ground. A bucket of water sat to the right of the hole, filled with fresh water for cleaning yourself. On the left, a small bin had been half filled with used toilet paper, relics of the backpackers that trod this route every day.

I jiggled the wooden door, lifting it over the threshold when it refused to open smoothly. Once inside, I lifted the door inwards again, scrapping it over the threshold to close it. A gaping hole remained where the thin wood had warped. Thankful for the cover of darkness, and that I had a head torch which allowed me to keep both hands free, I squatted down with my roll of toilet paper, arranging my clothing so nothing touched the dirt floor. I felt rather than heard the insects buzzing around my head, attracted by the feeble light of my torch.

Heading back to the main building, Morgan and I heard a rustling in the cabbage patch.

Is that an animal?!” I whispered, alarmed.

I don’t think so…” Morgan replied.

Suddenly, a crouched figure stood up.

Oh… hi guys”

It was a fellow trekker, making use of the facilities. They had also gotten lost trying to find the toilet shack, and rather than venture out alone, they had found a corner of the cabbage field to make use of. When I woke at 3am with a full bladder, I very rapidly came round to their way of thinking, squatting at the edge of the field under the cover of night. I’m pretty sure everyone used the cabbage field at some point that night, rather than brave the darkness.

The next day we spotted this incredibly neatly-stacked cabbage truck, and couldn’t help but wonder if the poor vegetables smelt like wee.

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So overall, Myanmar’s toilet rating is quite high but planning ahead is required when exploring. And if you’re planning on going trekking, you should be prepared for some fairly basic toilet facilities. 

Myanmar is a truly wonderful place, made extremely special by the people who live there. We also need to give a shout-out to the city of Mandalay, which is often left off of people’s itineraries but has the most downright friendly atmosphere of any city we’ve ever visited. In Mandalay, strangers will treat you like a long-lost friend, going literally miles out of their way to help you out.


For our own trip, we made extensive use of the Rough Guide to Myanmar and we’d highly recommend it! We always carry a guidebook with us on trips – We find it much nicer and more dependable than using your phone while abroad. This book was revised in 2015 and was super accurate as of our trip in November the same year. You can follow the link above to buy it on Amazon.co.uk. 

And if you found this post at all enlightening, don’t forget to follow us to get notified when the next one goes up! Just enter your email address in the box on the sidebar.

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Toilet Survival Guide: China

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Bathrooms in China are interesting in the same way that soups in China are interesting; each one is totally different and you never know what you might find in there. I’d been travelling around Asia for a couple of months before I went to China, so I thought I was pretty well prepared for any toilet situation. Nuh-uh. Nothing in South East Asia prepared me for rural China. I can still hear the confused bemusement in the diary entries I wrote in China:

“Another toilet without a door… just a line of women staring at you!”

Let’s jump into the details…


Quick guide:

  • Squat toilets are the norm in most parts of China, especially in more rural areas
  • Bring your own toilet roll and soap/ antibacterial hand gel with you everywhere, as these items will rarely be provided
  • Sit down toilets were available at every hostel and guest house I stayed at, except while trekking
  • In small, off the beaten track villages, toilets are a communal affair (doors optional)
  • Trains link most major cities, and they have squat toilets on board
  • Buses are useful when the trains are booked out; they do not have toilets on board, but they do stop at toilets during the journey
  • Learn which characters indicate male/ female toilet before your trip

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Welcome to China

I spent a month backpacking around China, and pretty much nothing reminded me of England. China was totally unrecognisable to me, and I found the culture, the people and the history endlessly fascinating. Outside of major cities, you might not meet another English speaker for days on end. I had a phrase book with me, and I spent a lot of time pointing at written characters and gesturing wildly. A particularly useful symbol to memorise is “men” and “women” in the context of toilets. Not all toilet signs have English translations, or those strangely proportioned stick figure pictures on the doors to help you out. Learning a few Chinese characters can prevent a seriously embarrassing misunderstanding.

Here are the most common toilet signs you’ll see:

chinaguide_signs2


Accommodation

I stayed at hostels and guest houses throughout China, and they all had western style sit down toilets. This even included one guesthouse in Shangri-La, Yunnan, run by a local couple who didn’t speak a word of English. I haggled for a room entirely by finger counting. They raised 4 fingers, asking for 40 yuan, or about £4.

“No way!” I communicated, by making a shocked face and shaking my head.

I raised 2 fingers to counter offer (without swearing at them!) and now it was their turn to play the haggling game. Shaking their heads and exchanging dismayed looks, I imagined what they were saying:

“20 yuan! For this delightful, high-quality room! No madame, that would be an insult, you must give us 30, that’s our very best price.”

Without actually saying a word they raised 3 fingers and we shook hands to seal the deal, all smiling again.

The toilets at this guesthouse were great, and they were clearly not used to accommodating English backpackers. As long as you BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper!) you shouldn’t have anything to worry about with guest house toilets. 


Trekking

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The only guesthouse I stayed at without a sit-down toilet was in the Himalayas, a simple trekking lodge in Tiger Leaping Gorge. This was a classic trekking squat-toilet situation, navigated thus:

  1. Check out our guide on how to use a squat toilet

  2. Find your head torch, soap, toilet paper and flip flops. It can be pitch black in the mountains after sunset, with no light pollution and very limited electric lights. Using a head-torch keeps both hands free for clothing rearrangement and toilet paper use. After a full day of hiking up the side of a mountain, the mere idea of putting hiking boots back on to walk to the toilet can be painful!

  3. Set off down the mountain, away from the small circle of buildings which make up the guesthouse.

  4. Find the outlaying hut which contains a toilet. It’ll probably smell a little, but not too much, because it’s cold in the mountains. This hut contains a small hole in the ground, which is where you’ll do your business.

  5. Close the door as much as you’re able to. In this case you could achieve about 70% privacy, leaving a large enough gap that if someone stood in just the right place they could see everything. Be grateful for the dark! Or ask a friend to stand guard if the guesthouse is busy. 

  6. Squat to use the toilet, throwing used toilet paper in the bin provided.

  7. Locate the cold water tap, or bucket of water outside the toilet for a hand wash (if the water is outside the toilet, it’s for hand washing, not bum washing)

  8. Look up at the sky before you head back towards the lights. Odds are the stars will blow your mind.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is also notable for the “world’s best view toilet”. Sure, a lot of places claim this title, but this is a pretty spectacular place to use a toilet:

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Getting around

When I told a friend I was going to China for a month, he looked slightly bemused.

“What are you going to do in China for a whole month?”

Well, as I told him, China is massive, and a month is nowhere near long enough to see it all. China also contains pesky mountains and deserts which make getting around quite a challenge. If you’re planning to travel around you’re likely to experience some long journeys, which is when you’ll have the least control over your access to toilets.

China does have an excellent train network, with several different comfort levels available, including luxury sleeper carriages with pillows and blankets. All trains have squat toilets and running water on board, so you don’t need to worry about lack of toilet access overnight. (If your bladder is the size of mine, lack of toilet access at night can be a major concern!) It’s best to bring your own toilet roll and soap though, as these are unlikely to be provided. Train toilets do tend to get pretty dirty a few hours into a journey, but that’s a worldwide phenomenon.

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Typical toilet on a Chinese train. Source: Wrightbus

Further train considerations…

Remember those luxury sleeper carriages I mentioned? In August, high tourist season for the rising Chinese middle class, I came nowhere near those fabled luxury sleeper carriages. The best I could do was “hard seat” class. Imagine sitting on a wooden park bench, squashed between one man smoking and waving ash around indiscriminately and another man who periodically spits on the floor. Now imagine sitting there for 12 hours overnight, because it was the only ticket not sold out weeks in advance. That was my repeated experience of train travel in China.

Of course, the toilet experience is the same whether you’re in a luxury private sleeper or a hard seat. I just thought you should know.

Long distance buses

The train network in China gets more sparse the further west you travel, so if you head out to more rural areas you’ll probably find yourself on a bus. In my experience, long distance buses and coaches don’t have toilets on board, but they do make regular toilet stops. Of course, unless you understand Chinese you’ll have no idea when the toilet breaks are coming or how long the journey is going to be, which can lead you to hedge your bets and get up to pee every few hours. Long distance buses have a reclining seat or a sleeping pod option. If you get the pod you can lie totally flat, but it’s such as small space that I didn’t fit in on my side, and I needed to wiggle in flat like a worm, then out, then in again every time we made a toilet break.

One more thing…

Outside the main cities, very few people speak English. When catching a bus or a train, you’ll need to walk around looking at the written Chinese character for the place you want to go, comparing it to the characters you see on the front of buses or trains, so you can jump on when you find a match. No, this system is not foolproof. At one point I got off a train at entirely the wrong station and didn’t realise for an hour. Totally oblivious, I got off my train and into a taxi, having recognised part of the Chinese character displayed on the platform. A taxi driver who spoke as much English as I do Chinese happily agreed to give me a ride, then drove round in circles for a really long time, before eventually dropping me off in the middle of town with a vague gesture at a building that might have been a hostel. It was after he’d driven off with my money that I realised I had no idea what city I was in. China is an adventure.

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Public toilet adventures

China has public toilets! Public toilets are not a given in many parts of the world, so this is a very welcome situation, especially for women. However, the quality of public toilets does vary hugely, and you can run into troublesome lack of door situations….

While in China I took a day trip to a small but fascinating village just outside of Lijiang, in the Yunnan province. Prayer flags fluttered between buildings and the local Buddhist monasteries were surrounded with prayer wheels, filling the village with good karma as they spun. After a day of exploring, I was on the look out for a toilet. I’d had street food for lunch, chunks of tofu fried up in unfamiliar spices, eaten out of greasy paper while wondering the streets. This was such a spicy and delicious lunch that it was difficult to identify the main ingredient as tofu, which should be the aim of all tofu-based cooking.

The downside of eating street food? No restaurant means no toilet access. So when I came across a small building with a separate entrance for men and women, I didn’t hesitate to check it out. It was busy inside, a crowd of women standing around waiting to use the facilities. I joined the crowd inside and was immediately met with an alarming sight. 4 long troughs had been carved into the floor, narrow grooves with a walkway through the middle. The troughs had a slight gradient to them, and each one was filled with a stream of urine running down towards the far wall, where it was funnelled out of sight. It looked like about 20 people could do their business at once, with no barriers of any kind between each person. A woman pushed past me to an available space on one of the troughs. Facing the back of the women in front of her, she positioned herself with one foot on either side of the trough, pulled up her skirt and started peeing into the stream. Another woman squatted down behind her, leaving a metre or so of space between them. No one was acting like anything out of the ordinary was happening; they were just getting on with it. 

“Just think of it like a urinal,” I told myself.

“A row of urinals like what men use all the time. But with more bums on display.”

Arranging my clothes for maximum privacy, I found a spot in the corner and squatted down to pee, keeping my eyes down in the hopes that if I couldn’t see anyone else, they couldn’t see me. Looking down, I saw small piles of turds along the trough, parting the urine that flowed around them. I quickly looked up again. A child was staring right at me. So was her mum. At least they weren’t pointing and laughing. I stood up and rearranged my clothing as quickly as possible, trying desperately not to show anyone my white bum.

As I got on the bus back towards Lijiang later that day, I thought about how embarrassment is culturally relative. If all those women use trough toilets every day without acting awkward or self-conscious, then that must mean it’s not actually embarrassing… right? And anyway, how embarrassed can you really be in front of people you’ll never see again? I just hope I’m not remembered as the only tourist crazy enough to use the trough.


Let’s end on a positive note:

China is currently in the process of upgrading its toilets and sit down toilets are becoming more common. In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai you might well not encounter any squat toilets at all, let alone a trough. And if you do encounter squat toilets or a trough… well, consider it a cultural experience.

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Toilet Guide: Morocco + Trekking in the Sahara

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Friend of the blog Mark recently returned from a month-long road trip through Morocco, and naturally the first thing we asked him was “how were the toilets??”

Being a normal person, Mark answered in one sentence and then tried to tell us about some of the other things he’d done in Morocco. We then asked him 50 follow-up questions about toilets, until he thought we were super weird. As it turned out, he’d already prepared us an excellent step-by-step photo-guide on “How to Poop in the Sahara”, which was basically the best thing ever! He also provided all the rest of the photos you see in this article, and you can check out more of his amazing work here:  http://www.mdleaver.com

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I also visited Marrakesh myself in 2012, and am pleased to report I only encountered good quality, Western-style toilets there. Marrakesh is extremely well set up for short city breaks, and the facilities are excellent.

Quick guide

  • Towns on the main tourist trail including Fez and Marrakesh have Western-style toilets readily available.
  • Locals often use squat-toilets, particularly in rural areas.
  • Homestays will probably have squat-toilets.
  • If you’re staying in towns and cities, you will likely have good access to toilets at your accommodation and restaurants.
  • When travelling between towns, coaches will generally make stops at places with toilets. You’ll be pleased to hear trains have western-style toilets on board.

Accommodation

In the main traveller destinations such as Essaouira, Marrakesh, Rabat and Fez, your guesthouse or hotel will generally have a Western- style sit-down toilet. It’ll probably provide toilet paper too, but it’s always smart to bring your own.

When you get out into more rural areas, you’re likely to encounter some squat-toilets. Locals use a water based cleaning system, the sort that involves a bucket of water next to the toilet rather than a bum-gun. Curiously, they do not always have the bucket-in-a-bucket system that many places adopt; it’s often just one bucket filled with water. If you’re not happy using this, you’ll want to bring your own toilet paper with you. Everywhere. And be sure to pour some of this water down the toilet to flush it.


Out and about: self-drive

Morocco has public toilets! Even in very remote places, you’ll come across handy little roadside buildings like these:

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Which is great news if you’re road tripping. Although of course, if you have your own vehicle you actually have quite a lot of control over your toilet stops, compared to being on public transport. When driving, you can stop whenever you need and find a private bush. Even up in the Atlas mountains you’ll find some public toilets, although they become further and further apart as you travel to move remote places.

Out and about: public transport

Trains do have Western-style sit-down toilets on board, which is excellent. Although like train toilets in most of the world, they can get pretty dirty pretty quickly, and the toilets may well be overflowing by the time your train pulls into its final destination. Best to go at the beginning of the journey if you’re concerned about the cleanliness factor.

Although buses tend not to have toilets on board, if you’re going on a longer journey the coaches will make regular toilet stops. These coaches are pretty comfortable, and yes, they generally stop at places which have toilets. Morocco isn’t a huge country and the main cities are connected by a good road network, so you’re not likely to do any really long bus journeys. 

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Hammams

Hammams are the Moroccan equivalent of spas. At a hammam, you can get scrubbed, steamed and scraped until you’re pretty sure you no longer have any skin left. Then they scrub you again, and massage you in that special, “I don’t know whether this is really great or really painful!” kind of way. Whatever your take on a hammam, there’s no denying it’s a traditional Moroccan experience, and you’ll feel super clean afterwards.

Hammams tend to have the bucket-in-a-bucket system in their toilets, which is probably a good indication of what city-dwelling locals use.


How to Poop in the Sahara

Multi-day camel treks across the desert will present some toilet challenges. Depending on which trip you book, you may or may not have toilet access at your camp for the evening. This is definitely something to clarify before you start your Lawrence of Arabia reenactment. There’s a full range of tours available and I’m sure some of the more upmarket tours set up camp at places with excellent toilet facilities. On the other end of the spectrum, you may end up sleeping out under the stars with no toilet facilities whatsoever, which I did in India.

Many Sahara tours stop at homestays and nomadic houses. These do often have western style toilets, with the only catch being there’s no plumbing. Rather, you’ll find toilet bowls placed over deep pits which collect the waste. This makes no difference from a functional point of view. You can use a pit toilet just as you would use a plumbed toilet (although someone will need to fill in the pit when it gets full, dig a new pit nearby and move the toilet accordingly. But that someone is very unlikely to be you!)

But what if you need to go during the day, when you’re out in the middle of the desert? In the middle of the desert, however fancy your tour is, you will not find a sit-down toilet. In fact, you might be greeted with a vista like this:

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This is not a good place to go to the toilet.

Don’t panic; the Sahara is not a homogeneous landscape. Sooner or later you’ll find a scene more like this:

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This is a much better spot. Shade, privacy and a nice gradient too.

Well, maybe not total privacy…

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Once any curious camels have moved on, you’ll want to prepare your toilet roll.

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Sticks can provide a convenient toilet roll holder. Sand is pretty useful too, as it makes it easier to dig yourself a hollow in preparation.

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You’ll want to face uphill, so your waste travels away from you. When you’re done, the ideal thing is to burn your used toilet paper. If this isn’t possible, you’ll want to bury it fairly deep so no one else finds it. This is quite easy with soft sand, especially if you already did some digging in preparation. You can also buy small folding spades to help you dig your wilderness hole, there are plenty of good options available on Amazon*. Although in the desert, you can easily dig enough of a hole by scrapping sand aside with your shoe. 

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You might even have one of these little guys to help with the clean up…

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Morocco is a fascinatingly exotic land, just a stone’s throw from Europe. Whether you’re trekking through the Sahara, exploring the markets or relaxing at a hammam, be reassured that the toilets shouldn’t cause you any problems. Enjoy your adventure!

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All photos in this article were provided by Mark Leaver and if you haven’t already, you should definitely go check out more of his excellent work (including more lovely Morocco pics) at www.mdleaver.com!



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