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In Praise of the Vietnamese Toilet

By: Tim Russell Posted: September-07-2009 in
Photo Credit - Fred Wissink
Tim Russell

Today’s letters page in Thanh Nien contains a highly amusing tribute to Vietnamese toilet facilities from one Michael Smith, an Australian living in Saigon.

Yes, he says, Vietnamese toilets can be bad, but the problem is by no means confined to Vietnam, and in the cities at least, one can relieve oneself in international-standard facilities.

I have to say I agree with him about city toilets - most bars, cafes & hotels in Saigon have more than acceptable bathrooms. It’s when you get out of the cities that the problems begin. I’m not talking about rural fish toilets (as seen in the film Slumdog Millionaire) - whilst these may be uncomfortable, they’re eco-friendly and generally hygienic.

I’m talking more about those attempts to create western-style toilets by people with zero knowledge of plumbing, and seemingly no cleaning equipment either. Highway rest stops are the worst. The worst toilet I’ve seen in Vietnam was at a rest stop on Highway 1, about 3 hours south of Nha Trang. More of a nature reserve than a toilet, it consisted of a fetid urinal which was home to more varieties of insect life than the average square mile of Amazon jungle, and next to it a plastic dustbin full of murky water, in which floated a dead rat. Just above the urinal, a scorpion looked on in mild amusement, ensuring that no-one lingered too long over their business.

And yet this, for all its horror, was nothing compared to some of the toilets I encountered when travelling in rural China a couple of years ago. As this is a family blog, and some of you will have just had breakfast, I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say these festering middens made the aforementioned Vietnam rest stop loo seem like 5* luxury.

And as westerners, we have no room for complacency. Go into an English pub toilet towards closing time on a Friday night and you’ll know what I mean. And anyone who travelled throughout France and southern Europe in the 80s & 90s will have a rich database of lavatorial horror stories.

So let’s not be too harsh on the humble Vietnamese toilet, for it is not the worst in the world by a long chalk. Just cross your legs next time you’re travelling up Highway 1…


Toilets in Viet Nam

Sounds like you have it better than we do here in the Philippines. While most all restaurants, bars, banks, and other businesses have a public toilet available they do not not furnish toilet paper. Even at our largest shopping malls one must buy small packets of TP in the restroom or carry your own with you when going out.


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