Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Angkor Wat, Cambodia and the worst toilet

It may not be the sort of thing that comes up in everyday conversation but everyone has a toilet story and this is mine.
               A pre-dawn arrival at Angkor Wat is by no means essential but it would certainly enhance the experience. Myself and three friends had fully intended to rise early the previous day but we only arrived back at the guest house from the night out before as everyone was making preparations to leave. We were suitably admonished by staff and guests alike and trailed off to bed.
               The next day we were up early and made the short journey to the Angkor Wat site by pedal rickshaw. After paying $20 for a day pass our driver/guide took us to the main temple site. Having seen lots of temple ruins on my travels i must admit that i'm not usually that easily impressed. But Angkor Wat really was worth the pre-dawn departure. The main temple looked quite stunning as it took shape in the still light of another dawning day. It's mirrored reflection on the small lake in the foreground was quite breathtaking.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring the endless supply of temple ruins at the complex. There was so much to see but, to be honest, by midday, as impressed as i was, i was feeling pretty much "templed out". The early start and the rising temperature were beginning to take their toll on everyone. Our helpful driver suggested that we take a break in a small restaurant,where he was obviously on commission, as it turned out to be all the way back at the main temple.  However, we couldn't depart immediately as one of our party had a slight problem.  The poor lad had been "caught short" as they say. Our driver indicated a cluster of buildings about 200 yards away across some scrub land. We decided to escort our friend as he looked to be in real trouble. This also increased the chances of one of us stepping on a landmine but "when you've got to go"!     By the time we got to the buildings he was clutching his stomach and having difficulty standing upright. The place was deserted and worse still, the toilet block was locked up. After some time(an eternity for my friend) a monk appeared and demanded $1 to unlock the door. My friend hurriedly thrust a $5 bill into his hand and started to hop from one foot to another while the monk casually fumbled with a bunch of keys.   I remember laughing and feeling quite glad that it wasn't me. Well, just 45 minutes later, it was!
                            Our driver dropped us at a makeshift restaurant,constructed of bamboo and rusty tin. I wasn't really hungry but respite from the heat and a cold drink were most welcome.  I had just cracked the seal on my plastic water bottle when, from nowhere, i was hit by a searing pain across my lower abdomen. Sweat burst from my forehead in a torrent and i was filled with a feeling of dread. I knew i had only a matter of moments before the unthinkable would happen. I snatched the last remaining piece of tissue from the holder on the table and ran towards the kitchen. Not stopping to ask for directions i blundered through the bamboo cane curtain. My path to the rear was blocked by racks of vegetables and pots and pans which i sent crashing in my wake as i raced frantically against my body clock. Luckily, the back door opened outwards or i'm sure i would have demolished it. The area behind the kitchen was filthy but i hardly noticed as my attention was taken by the small tin shed that was obviously the toilet.
                          A loop of dirty frayed string served as the door handle. As i yanked on the string the door opened allowing daylight to penetrate the dark interior. The toilet itself was of the "squat" variety. It was located in the centre and set into a square concrete block. The block was tiled with cracked and broken ceramic and was at a height of about 8 inches above the ankle deep water that covered the rest of the floorspace.   The sudden shock of daylight sent frogs, at least 1 snake and various other creatures scuttling for the darker recesses. I removed my flip-flops and hung my shorts and shirt on the rusty nail that stuck out of the back of the door. As i began to wade towards the centre, the door swung slowly shut behind me plunging the shed back into darkness. I stood as motionless as my stomach spasms would allow and i didn't have to strain my ears too much to hear all the creatures venturing back out into the body of the room with darkness fuelled confidence. I reached behind me and eased the door ajar once more. Again, the shaft of daylight sent the toilets inhabitants scurrying for cover. I was drenched in sweat. The temperature inside the tin box was off the scale.  I looked down at the pathetic piece of sodden tissue in my hand. It was inadequate for the task before. It was now more than useless! I cursed the fact that i had taken so much amusement from my friends desperate plight just a short while ago.
                                                     I wedged the door open with a flip-flop so that just enough light came in to deter the critters inside and still preserve a little privacy.   I won't bother to describe the next few minutes in too much detail but you can be assured that they will live in my memory as one of the worst experiences of my life on the road.
                                  Angkor Wat and its surrounding temple ruins is a must see if you go into Cambodia. Over the next few weeks we travelled around the kingdom and saw some incredible things but my abiding memory of Cambodia will be my brief visit to the rusty tin toilet.


  1. I really felt for you there Tom Yam. There is a lot of talk these days about mindfulness and living in the moment; when you have the squirts though there is no future and there is no past – there is only now. We get a taste of what it feels like to be enlightened but we are in too much discomfort to care :-)

  2. Hi Paul,
    I can't really say that the word "enlightened" has ever sprung to mind in a desperate toilet situation!!

  3. Luckily I haven't had to make any 'urgent' trips to the loo while on holidays. Without going into detail, as a woman, I have double troubles with sqaut toilets. After several trips abroad I finally realised I was facing the wrong bloody way!

  4. Hi Snap,
    Like i said,"We've all got a toilet story".

  5. Tom Yam thanks for a very very funny story, I can imagine exactly what you were going through but thankfully I've never been there myself. If I had seen the snake, for me it would have been game over anyway.