Mar 18 2015

Five things Laos: Lao bathrooms

If you’ve read my mom’s piece on the toilet at the Green Latrine, you’ll know that Lao bathrooms can be, um, challenging.

Note: I’m not really speaking to the men, here. I’ll use whomever’s toilet is most expedient—men, women, or unisex—so I have some perspective, and dudes: really?! YIKES!

So I’m not that concerned about the niceties of men peeing.

Nope. This post is for the ladies.

I must first say that by and large, the peeing situation in Laos is not that bad. In fact, we peed in some lovely Lao bathrooms! My favorite toilet in Laos was this one, found at the Phou Khoun Restaurant, located on a mountain-top about half-way between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, on National Road 13:

Lao Bathrooms: Best toilet in Laos

Phou Khoun Restaurant: voted Best Toilet in Laos

The drive getting here is gorgeous, and if you don’t mind twisty mountain roads, quite pleasant. But it is a long drive, and arriving at this place was like finding a forgotten pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer that you’d forgotten…. Never mind.

Where was I?

We also enjoyed some downright respectable bathrooms, like this one at the Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel, in Vientiane:

Lao Bathrooms: Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel bathroom

Luxury in Vientiane

But somewhere between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, our Noble Guide, Lloyd Coleman, sent us all a message:

Here Be Dragons

Actually, what he really said was: “We are now entering the land of the Traditional Lao Toilet.”

Lao bathrooms

CC Image courtesy of Petr & Bara Ruzicka, available here.

For reasons that should be self-evident, bathrooms/toilets are called “happy rooms” throughout most of Asia. Sometimes, though, they are just not such damned happy rooms at’all!

I won’t bother posting photos of any of the gory details. And really, I’ve seen worse. (The interior of Zaïre had some particularly gruesome examples.)

What this means is that women may sometimes be better off a) holding it; or b) learning to deal with it.

Unfortunately, at some point, the former just isn’t viable. So without further ado:

First: Always carry your own tissue paper. Always. And carry extra, because inevitably, someone (me) will have forgotten to bring theirs, and they (I) will be grateful to you for life (Marilyn, Rhoda, Trish, Leigh, Becca, Elaine, and every other woman who helped me out on this trip: thank you!!!)

Second: Do consider your attire as you set out in Lao Bathroom Land. A short skirt and a thong will be the easiest to deal with. If your fashion sense (or sensibility) doesn’t stretch that far, shorts that allow you to easily step out of one leg will be a big help. Wear tight jeans, and you’re on your own, kiddo!

Third: Mind your pockets!! And your phone! Consider carrying a light-weight sac to stuff your stuff in–there isn’t always a place to put your phone. Or hang your pants, for that matter.

Fourth: Which direction? Frankly, it doesn’t really matter which direction you’re facing. Be flexible–figuratively and literally! Some situations call for gymnastics.

Fifth: Read this great article by Brooke Schoeneman. She provides some helpful advice on technique, and provides even more links if you’re truly obsessed.

Finally, you might consider buying one of these before you go. It’s definitely on my shopping list! (And yes: if 7.3 million of you order this item from Amazon, I will be a rich woman!)

{Note: when researching this topic, I innocently Googled “peeing in Asia.” (Hey, I like to keep my search terms simple!) I don’t recommend replicating this search. Really. Apparently, it’s a thing. I’m… god, it was awful.}

  1. Rhoda

    I commented on FB about my recommendation for which direction to face, but here I will make an observation about the advantages of some women carrying rolls of toilet paper while others only have cell phones in pockets and purses. This creates a wonderful, and most likely early-on, bonding experience between sisters. I mean, how else can complete strangers become so intimate so quickly? All you have to do is shout out, “Does anyone have any toilet paper?” and within a split second, at least one, if not several, women already in stalls or waiting in line (which men don’t have, I might add) happily come to the rescue. Voila! Life bonds are formed. Personally, I love it . . . and I always carry extra t.p. wrapped around a smashed cardboard roll, in a baggie. Those of you are dropping cell phones out of pockets when squatting, keep doing that, too. Sisters forever!!!

    1. Kim Life

      Rhoda, you’ve nailed it! I was in a bathroom once, found there was no paper, put out the distress cry, and was almost instantly handed paper–from both sides! Sisterhood, indeed!


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