Shooting Rabbits in Laos

IMG_20160312_153625831My Lonely Planet guide warned me about the lack of public toilets in Laos. When traveling (it said) Lao tour guides use the phrase ‘shooting rabbits’ for men and ‘picking flowers’ for women, to indicate relief stops by the side of the road.

I’m glad to say that this is no longer true. During our ten day road trip through Laos I had ample opportunity to experience toilet facilities and it was always in private. Mind you, it was always on the opposite end of  our Tokyo experience but it was never so crude as to be unusable.

Access to public toilets is due to the preponderance of road building. Across northern Laos we were constant victims of roads under construction or repair. Roads beget automobiles, auto’s beget gas stations and gas stations beget public toilets. In Canada and the US there is nothing filthier or more vile than a gas station washroom. So when my guide originally suggested stopping at one, I seriously thought about ‘holding on’ for another four hours or ten. However, I was unexpectedly surprised.

Laotian toilets have:

Photo by Chris Feser via Flickr
Photo by Chris Feser via Flickr

1. A no contact squat design. The ceramic squat pans are either inserted into raised platforms or raised up high on low platforms.  They are normally housed in cubicles behind gas stations and roadside noodle houses. The rooms are never lit,  so the first order of business, before doing your business, is latching the door and adjusting to night vision. The second order of business is putting your camera, cell phone and loose change into a bag and hanging it on the nail hammered into the wall or door frame. This to avoid any unpleasant foraging for dislocated articles during your third, most important  order of business.

2. A bucket and pail flush mechanism. It wouldn’t be fair to say there is no plumbing.  It’s just that plumbing is for the faucet dispensing water into a large bucket beside the toilet. In the bucket there is a pail. Use the pail to bail water, clean yourself and ‘flush’. Don’t think too hard about where the effluence is being flushed, particularly if you’re on a mountainside beside a tributary to the Mekong  river.  Or worse, in a long boat on the Mekong river.

3. No toilet paper. It is necessary to bring your own toilet paper. For the toilets where there is a 2,000 kip charge you can usually expect a strip of toilet paper. In any case, be prepared to bring it with you and even more prepared to take it out with you. Do not deposit paper into the toilet. It won’t flush (Refer to #2) and even if it did, it will certainly bugger up the works for the next poor soul.

4. No Smell. This was the biggest surprise. Despite the crude and rustic appearance, despite the sometimes rough and tumble terrain to access,  the rural toilets were always clean and odor free.  I found this out on my first try, after gamely holding my breath through  #1, 2 & 3.

Western tourists have an on-going fear and fascination with Eastern toilets. Maybe because of the diversity of options and the intricacies of use. On the Internet there is certainly a lot of information to explain away the mystery. For example see

On the flip side, consider  the Eastern practitioner’s first encounter with ‘conventional’, western style toilets. “Where the water bucket?” they may ask  or “Why the squat so high to climb?” and “Aiyo, couldn’t the steps be a bit more wide!”

Laos.  March 2016


Tokyo Conveniences – Part 2

A post on Tokyo conveniences would not be complete without a blurb on toilets.

The first time I visited Japan in 2009,  I was startled by the toilets.  Almost as much as I was by the Beijing toilets, but in a totally different way. Whereas the Chinese squat toilets forced me to get reacquainted with the basics, Japanese toilets scared me with their advanced electronics.

Japanese toilets are decked out with heated seats, water sprays, air dryers and music. The heated seats are kind of nice, especially in winter and after you get over the first-time shock.  The water sprays are  mysterious – they’re automatic sprays to wash your netheregions. How they work I’m not sure – I’ve never been brave enough to look and risk a facial.   The air dryers are practical, in theory.  The music is just wierd.  Apparently some Japanese like their privacy so much, they play music to distract eavesdroppers.   So make that two notches on the weird scale: toilet music and eavesdroppers.

My Japanese has not improved much over the years and my experience with new and improved toilets was interesting.   Normally the buttons are labeled with instructions and graphics.  Rarely are they written in English. In my recent visit, I was bewildered by additional new buttons.  My problem was I couldn’t tell which was to flush.  On the up side: one of the buttons was a speaker phone to get help.

Toto is the leading maker of Japanese toilets.  They have a Tokyo showroom which we’d attempted to visit but didn’t because they’d changed addresses and we were hopelessly lost.  I wish now that we had tried harder.

Photo credit to Digital Trends web article
Toilet Bike Neo

Apparently they have  a poo-powered motor bike on display.  Despite its design, the Toilet Bike Neo is not actually powered by human waste.  The three-wheeled 250cc motorcycle runs on a biogas fuel, which is fertilized, purified and compressed from livestock waste and household wastewater. Toto revealed the bike in a 2012 media release (see DigitalTrends article here) but didn’t share its general production plans.

I didn’t see any on the streets of Tokyo.

Tokyo, January 2016


School District Wall

Flower-Market-3195Along the boundary of Saigon’s Flower Market there’s a long blue wall topped with a wrought iron grid and nasty metal spikes. Red and yellow signs are liberally placed every five feet.

My handy dandy mobile Google app, translates the signs to: “School Districts. Please do not spend money”

Our real life guide Reggie, gives us the actual translation: “School Districts. Please do not pee on wall.”

Ho Chi Minh City, March 2015