I can't think of a better way to begin my travel reviews than by introducing you to the toilets of southeast Asia.
Many of you know that, for Westerners, toilets in China can leave something to be desired (such as a place to sit, a dry floor, toilet paper, and soap). But you may be wondering how other countries' water closets stack up. Here are my rankings:
1) Hong Kong. I realize Hong Kong is now part of the PRC, but from a bathroom standpoint, it is in a league of its own. Clean, modern, well-stocked bathrooms everywhere I went. No squatties.
2) Thailand. Thailand earned its second place ranking because I spent most of my time at the Duangtawan Hotel, where our restroom had all the necessary amenities AND A SHOWER CURTAIN. YES. We could shower without flooding the whole bathroom -- sometimes rare in Asia.
3) Vietnam. The restroom on the overnight train stayed pretty clean for the whole 15 hour trip -- better than I've seen in China. I also enjoyed that particular WC because there was a tree in the washroom. Yes, the new year was around the corner and people decorate their homes with trees. Need to stash one on the train? Why not just block a sink or two?
4) Cambodia. The first toilet I saw in Cambodia was a sort of raised squatty that combined the worst of both worlds -- if you stood on it, you teetered, but if you stepped outside the footrests your feet were spread too far. Most of the rest of the toilets I saw were regular squatties or Western-style. You flush them by ladling water directly into the bowl from a tank on the side -- nifty.
Cambodia also provided this great sign to remind you of the things you ought not do in the WC: squat on a Western toilet, use the sprayer to wash your feet... or your head...
5) Malaysia. My first day in Malaysia, I picked up a newspaper in the airport. It had an article about how foreigners think Malaysia needs to clean up their loos. How fitting! The restrooms seemed perpetually wet, perhaps due to an overuse of bidets and sprayers. It's no fun to have to stand in a puddle in a rather pungent john.
On the whole, the best restrooms were in malls and airports, the mid-range restrooms were in our hostels, and the sketchiest restrooms were at the bus stations by the side of the road. Remember that the keys to success in any Asian country are to always have your own Purell and TP on hand. Thus concludes your toilet tour.