Many Travel Articles deal with Food, Transportation and Accommodation but few dare to deal with what really concerns many travellers.
We all get caught short at times. If you are travelling in Africa or on the Indian sub continent then you might get caught short quite often. We have all heard horror stories of travellers having to go into plastic bags in front of gawping locals when the bus driver refused to pull over. We have all walked into cubicles and then walked right out again. Most countries public toilets are actually getting better. Even France has improved. You might have to bring your own toilet paper and there might not be any soap but you can usually find somewhere that's not too bad in most big cities - but not always.
Here is a top five list of the world's worst public toilet destinations:
5. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki might come as a surprise to most readers. The Scandinavians are generally clean, organised and efficient, and the Finns are no exception. They have been included in this list for one simple reason - almost all the public toilets charge you a euro! They even charge you a euro to use the toilet in McDonalds after you've just spent 90 cents on a coffee! If two of you are visiting the city for a day, then this can quickly add up. One consequence of this general policy is that most of the back alleys in Helsinki stink of stale urine. Fortunately, most of Helsinki's residents have only contempt for this petty profiteering and will happily hold the public toilets door open for any other users who happen to be approaching. Still, one euro a time does seem excessively steep - seriously taking the piss.
4. The Inca Trail, Peru
The Inca Trail is a popular three or four day mountain trek from near Cuzco to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. I traipsed up and down this route in the early nineties when nearly all the tourists had been scared off by 'The Shining Path' (the revolutionary communist guerrilla group who had almost brought the country to its knees). Even then, the lack of any public toilets had been a problem. As there were no designated areas to go, people just went anywhere. There were only so many secluded areas to be found amongst the bushes. Whenever you found a promising looking opening amongst the branches, it would inevitably turn out be littered with cheap pink toilet paper (amongst other tourists' offerings). Now that relative stability has returned to Peru, and Machu Picchu is once again crawling with mainly American visitors, the lack of proper conveniences along the pathway has become a real environmental concern. The whole of the Inca Trail has now become one big, scenic toilet.
3. The Indian Sub Continent
India and the surrounding countries have been included in this list for completely different reasons. In India the public toilets are often simply fields. You shouldn't expect free toilet paper or soap, and privacy is far from a priority. The proper public toilets in large cities are often far worse and can often be smelt from several hundred metres away. When everything is covered in concrete and there are no public toilets at all then it is worse again. All of the people living on the streets have to go somewhere and they will. Fortunately, as a tourist you can always just walk into a hotel or restaurant, order a coffee, and then use their facilities.
2. Kenya (during water shortages)
As a tourist you might think that the public toilet situation needn't be too much of a problem when you can easily gain access to quite reasonable conveniences in restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. When water shortages occur in developing countries, then it is often only rich people's houses and luxury resorts that are left with running water. After a few days in hot, tropical weather, this can become not only extremely unpleasant but also a real health hazard. Even the toilets in hotels and guest houses will soon be filled to the rim. If you want to wash at all you will need to buy expensive bottled water and sparingly pour it over your potentially most smelly parts.
1. China The outright winner of the world's scariest public toilets has got to be China. If you are lucky enough to be in a major city then there might be a two feet high division between the 'cubicles'. A single running stream will carry your neighbours' number twos from his cubicle to yours, and ever onwards. Everybody gets to have a good look and comment on your diet while squatting down to do their business. If you are in the countryside then it can be much, much worse. Privacy is not a major concern in rural China. Neither is hygiene. Both men and women will often line up in huge wooden sheds, squatting over shit splattered holes between the filthy, deep stained planks. Down below, huge bristling pink pigs waddle around, slurping up the contents of the peasants bowels. Even if you thought you really needed to go, you would soon change your mind - opt for Lomotil and nappies every time.