S01 E01: Toilets
Peter is joined by tourism guru and author, Doug Lansky, to discuss the fascination toilets have for travellers.
And to share their tales of WCs on the road – both good and bad.
Doug Lansky has been described as having a bottomless taste for the absurd yet remains one of the most respected figures in the tourism industry today.
He is the man behind the wildly successful Signspotting books for Lonely Planet, collating weird and unintentionally funny signs from around the world.
He is a highly respected speaker on the tourism circuit, setting attendance records for a keynote speaker at ITB Berlin and presenting a funny and insightful talk about saving travel at TEDx Stockholm.
Doug recently launched a YouTube channel, Destination X.
Doug’s official website | Buy his books on Amazon | Watch his Tedx talk
Before each episode we ask you, the listener, to send your related tales of mishaps and misadventures to feature on the show.
Sadly, not of all them can make it. You’ll find the best of those that didn’t below.
From Rhonda, a Kiwi living in London, England
“Back in 2000/2001 I lived in Seoul working as an English teacher. Sometimes I would have time to kill between jobs, so I would go to an Internet café to catch up with friends online, maybe do a bit of work.
One day I had had some particularly spicy kimchi for lunch, and as I was typing away it became clear that I urgently needed to go to the toilet.
I went up to the counter, squirming, and said ‘hwajangshil’, the Korean word for toilet.
He produced a key on a big tag and pointed out the door. The Internet cafe was in a block of businesses/offices and the toilets were on the stairwells between floors.
I found the toilet, fumbled with the key, getting more and more desperate. It was a squatter, so I backed myself in, just in time and let go, sighing with relief.
When I stood up, I was mystified to see there was nothing in the bowl. Then I noticed the mess I’d made over the thing you press to flush and all over the back and up the wall.
I had squatted over the toilet the wrong way round!
There was nothing to clean it up with so I quickly locked the door and took the key back to the man.
Needless to say, I never went back to that Internet cafe. “
From Lisa in Port Macquarie, Australia
“I was in Pondicherry in India with a dodgy stomach, and badly in need of a lavatory.
With nothing in the way of public services, I walked into the nearest restaurant and asked if I could use their facilities.
I was taken out the back into the kitchen, with its dirt floor, thick haze of smoke and free-range chickens and shown to a corner where a rusting metal box, that had once been an oven, had been fashioned into a toilet cubicle.
I was desperate to go so I ignored the dead rat in the corner and the brown streaks upon the walls.
But when I started to remove my trousers and looked down, I noticed the floor was moving with a thick carpet of cockroaches and maggots.
I nearly pulled my trousers to walk out. But realised that what needed to be done, had to be done or there would be dire consequences.
It’s amazing what you can endure when there is no alternative!”
From Diane in Melbourne, Australia
“It’s my first time in Kathmandu. 1994. I’m desperate for a wee. I find an ancient toilet that looks like it’s hundreds of years old and hasn’t been cleaned in all that time either.
It’s a squat toilet and it’s tricky to manoeuvre, especially with my new money converter gadget in my hand. I’m trying to hang on to it without it touching anything but, of course, I drop the converter and watch it sink down low.
There’s no way I’m putting my hand down to get it. So I just hitch my pants up then grab the rusty. It’s stuck, of course, and when I pull it but my hand slips and my finger is cut.
There’s one hundred years of germs in my finger now. I feel a bit panicked. The word amputation leaps into my mind but I try to keep calm. I’ve only been in Nepal for three days after arriving from Australia.
I hurry back to my room in Freak Street and disinfect my finger with iodine. Is that enough? I have a candle on the small table. I light it. Look at it. Look at my finger. Then think of the month I’m going to spend here. I light the candle and cauterize the wound trying not to scream and startle anyone.
I still have the finger. Thank goodness because it’s been very handy. “
From Hugh in Jimboomba, Australia
“My most memorable travel toilet stories involve a trip to Egypt on coach with faulty toilets stopping at roadside facilities without paper, but with a smiling local offering sheets of the good stuff for a few Egyptian pounds.”
From Lisa in Worcester in the UK
“A story from October last year…
Whilst travelling across the Tibetan Plateau in our ‘tourist vehicle’ broke down and we had to flag down another passing tourist vehicle to get to the next town. Along the way we stopped at a gorgeous spot to take photos and I took the opportunity to go to the loo.
Having been in China and Tibet for a week or so, I knew the public loo would be a hole in the ground. But I was pleasantly surprised to see metal squat toilets– at least you couldn’t see the pile of stuff that you knew was underneath.
As my eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness, I felt a strange squish under my right boot and quickly realised what it was. Yes, that. A big one. All over the boot. Someone had clearly missed the target badly.
So having done my thing, I then had to spend ages in the toilet block trying to wipe it off with the bit of tissue I always keep in my pocket. I hoped the Canadian couple we had jumped in with weren’t in a rush.
Then having done my best, I spent a few minutes walking around in the gravel, doing a sort of ‘twist’ dance to try and get as much as possible off before I had to get back the car. The Canadians must have thought I was a bit mad!
I spent the rest of the journey that day tentatively sniffing the air for traces of ‘squelch’ and keeping my feet well and truly out of the way of the various water bottles and snacks kicking around in the floor.
From Louisa, originally from Walsall, now living Rotorua, NZ
“I took my mother to Bangkok on a shopping trip and wound up in one of these seedy markets.
That’s when my mother decided she needed to go to the loo.
Of course, the only loo available was an Asian hole-in-the-ground one, my mother’s first, with a shower curtain with holes offering a modicum of privacy.
The exchange went something like this:
Banging, clattering, then a screech.
‘There’s no toilet paper!’
‘You have a water pipe there, use it!’
‘Welcome to Asia!’
From Nick in Ripley, UK
“My then-girlfriend-now-wife and I went travelling in Egypt for a few weeks and decided to sail up the Nile on a felucca with a local crew that like a smoke, shall we say.
We stopped overnight next to a field, a few miles upriver from the nearest tourist site.
Having eaten dinner on the felucca with the crew, we both got a bad case of the runs. We hurriedly asked the crew where the nearest loo was, only to be met with glazed stares and a shrug.
The locals onshore were more helpful, directing us to a hole in the ground next to someone’s house. We ran as fast as we could to the hole, in the pitch dark.
The next morning we discovered that all the other feluccas stopped overnight at a tourist site which had pristine western toilets.
The only reason we didn’t stop there was because our crew wereworried that they might get hassled by the police for smoking lots of weed.
They still had the brass neck to ask for a tip as we left the felucca!”
If you’ve got an amusing, horrifying or salutary tale about toilets tell us in the comments below.
And while you’re at it, why not check out the list of our upcoming episodes?
If you’ve got a tale to tell about any of the topics we’ve got coming up, send it to us using the form on the page for the chance for it to be read out on the show.