Need the loo? A guide to the world’s worst toilets

Dodgy toilet

Appealing? A pretty good restaurant, Luang Prabang, Laos

Ask most people who don’t travel outside of  mainstream destinations what scares them about more adventurous travel and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some will mention terrorism, others a fear of foreign food and others still will be put off by the heat. But there is one thing that turns so many people away from treading lesser worn paths, and it can strike fear equally to those who travel constantly: the hole in the ground toilet.

Top of the pile in crap toilets is undoubtedly the communal walk-in shed. No more than a hole in the ground with a wooden housing lifted on top, you approach it and the smell hits you before you even open the door. The very thought of closing the door and entrapping yourself in a miasma created by an entire village’s month old poo is enough to make you wretch. On the other hand you know that others use this routinely, and you can’t show disrespect by running out of the box in tears. I must admit to avoiding these like the plague (maybe a bad choice of words) and will normally make a stop on the roadside to enjoy the fresh air.

Hole in the ground

Hole in the ground, Belarus

And yes, I know us guys have it easy. It’s one time when all men are pleased to be men, and the females just wish they could pee as easily as men do.

I have stayed in several homestays and also relatives’ homes in Poland and Ukraine where the set-up is the same and the smell is only marginally better, having been the product of only one family. I think I have perfected the technique of holding my breath for the duration, but it’s not a foolproof method and you can occasionally breathe out by accident, causing your nostrils to fill with the nasty stench. Some sheds have built in ventilation, and if there’s two of you it’s possible to have one person stand guard while the other does the business with the door open. As far as preludes to romantic evenings go, it’s hard to beat.

A word of warning with these dark pits. If you’re going to be drinking heavily make sure you become familiar with the layout while you’re still sober. I almost learned the hard way when invited to a party in a gypsy neighbourhood of Bucharest some years ago. After many beers and well into the night, I made my way uncertainly across the garden to the little room. I opened the door, put one foot forward and it hit thin air. I stumbled and managed to grab the walls of the hut and hold myself up, retrieving my foot before it made contact with anything unsavoury. A very close call, and as a way of sobering up quickly it was very effective.

There are ways to minimise the trauma of a bad toilet experience, and without doubt the facilities should not prevent you from visiting some of the world’s great places. But just remember; stay sober, or getting sloshed might take on another very unpleasant meaning.

Hold, your nose,  it is as gross as it looks, lol on Twitpic(An honourable addition goes to Mike (@Chinamike1410) who shares this picture of a Beijing toilet, inside a fresh fruit and veg market!)

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Freelance travel writer

8 Responses to “Need the loo? A guide to the world’s worst toilets”

  1. Looks like another job for the pink funnel called the “Go-Girl”. I wrote about this dignity saving device on my blog. It’s a funny, but necessary tool for allowing us girls to “stand up and pee”. Imagine! It’s foldable and washable. You could possibly encourage your girlfriend’s participation in more off the beaten track jaunts, if she has the right “tool”. 😀

    February 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm
  2. There’s nothing quite like living in a place with an outhouse. At my volunteer placement in a mountain village of Nepal I shared the outdoor toilet with a couple of huge spiders that I came to know very well. After all – I was using their home to pee in.

    February 24, 2010 at 10:56 pm
  3. Thanks Cheryl – the Go-Girl does indeed sound like an interesting contraption. I have so many strange questions that I just don’t want to ask… I think I saw it featured on UK TV on Dragon’s Den (a show where entrepreneurs look for rich celebrity business people to invest in their big idea).

    Sherry, it’s funny how spiders are attracted to these places. Obviously no sense of smell (or just a weird taste in aromas!) Lights in outhouses are best avoided, and should never be used to look down. I have seen grown women scream in terror at the discovery of maggots in the pit. I’ll stop now. A grim topic…

    February 25, 2010 at 11:58 am
  4. It’s funny how many travel stories, end up around this subject. The worst I’ve seen (and used) was a ‘Goan Pig Toilet’ in India back in the early nineties. Wasn’t even sure wikipedia would have any details on it, but there is a line or two, and a few links…

    Love the Blog Andy….

    May 28, 2010 at 2:49 pm
  5. That is disgusting Jason. Thanks for sharing! :-)

    May 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm
  6. Worst one I’ve ever seen was at a “bus stop” in Rural China. Two holes over the ground- feces piled no lie, 5 feet up to the top of the hole. Didn’t stop anyone though and it looked like it had been overflowing for months. Revolting.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm
  7. My most interesting if not disgusting experience was in the Samburu National Park when I went into the long-drop loo in the campsite at dusk, checked for spiders etc – all OK. Then I inadvertently shone the torch down the hole, where a whole colony of bats was roosting! They all flew up between my legs… to screams of ‘there are bats in the bog’ as one part-dressed woman scrambled into the open. Not my most dignified moment.

    June 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm
  8. Sounds horrible Melissa. I can only imagine the fear of those bats, carrying who-knows-what on them, flying around you in a small confined space. The stuff of nightmares!

    June 5, 2011 at 10:29 am