I would assert that Bangkok is the gateway to SE Asia for Europeans, and therefore your memories of the place are usually pretty strong.
If you’ve got colitis, you’ve got a wider spectrum of personal concerns than those who don’t, if you forgive the generalisation. Especially if you’re travelling. Especially if you’re travelling for the first time in a foreign continent. Especially if you’re travelling for the first time in a foreign continent to a place that whispers, softly but sternly and directly into your face, “Diarrhoea”.
I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the quality of life in Bangkok, it’s a great and mental city, but fuck me, the place is an absolute citadel of the shits for people like me. I splashed out on a decent hotel in Sukhumvit for the first couple of nights, as a kind of cultural decompression chamber I suppose. It was all towelling robes, white slippers and cheese sandwiches. I bathed in the rooftop pool and thought, like you do at the start of any decent trip “This holiday isn’t going to kill me, so that’s a positive”
We expanded our horizons. Walking the streets, food from stalls and roadside cafes. Fierce curries and SangSom rum. You know where I’m going with this.
I remember the first time I saw a squat toilet. It was in a hectic shopping mall, where I had recently commenced an impulsive and increasingly sweaty hunt for a bog. There was no joy in the adventure, no thrill in the new sights and sounds, just a low-budget treasure hunt for the little toilet sign with the little guy on it, stood tall and calm, increasingly distant from how I appeared and felt. I walked like a penguin around the many floors of this place, regaining the illusion of composure on the escalator in front of people who, quite understandably, thought I might be a smack addict on a downturn.
So I found the toilets. Squat toilets with just a sheet of laminate between them. By this point however, I would have shit into the Pit of the Sarlacc and happily fallen into it afterwards.
These bogs became my companions, they had to really. It’s like joining a new school and you end up playing Heroquest at dinner time to try and make friends with the nerds – eventually you get excited if you get to play as the Elf.
Some of them were situated in basements in bus depots, with, alongside the toilets, big vats of what I can only describe as dark ‘fluid’ in them. If you remember the final scenes of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in Buffalo Bill’s house, then you’re there. I still mull that over, I believe it was like a cistern, you were supposed to scoop out some fluid and wash it down the toilet as a flush. I didn’t touch it though, fearing that some kind of claw would breach the surface and pull me in, where I would be enslaved by all these fucked up little monsters who lived in there.
The night train from Hua Lampong down to the islands, a trippy, sleepless experience if there ever was one, where you have to poo into a hole directly onto the tracks at 70mph. The food on the train was boiled rice and a dome of pink gel.
For some reason, on the islands, they thought squat toilets were a shit idea and dished up the regular, familiar bogs. Anecdotally, if you were staying in a hut on the beach, you had to contend with the sounds of splashing in the toilets at night made by rats making their way from the septic tank and up through the pan. 8 feet from your bed. All this seemed normal by this point. I liked the little soda water bum gun they give you instead of toilet roll though. We could all learn a lot from this.
Our little ferry broke down in the Andaman Sea and I went for a poo on it. Just out of boredom really. Part of the engine came up through the toilet floor and it stunk of diesel. No wonder it broke down, I thought. People were being sick everywhere, it’s quite funny to see that after you come out of the toilet after a poo because it flashes through your mind “Is that because of me?” Singha beers were a quid each and we had a great time.
Don’t get me started on the wildlife you find in the island toilets. If I was shooting a nature documentary, I’d just set up a camera next to the sink and narrate “Look at the size of that fucking spider!”
I suppose that’s that; I’ve a million memories of the glories of Thailand, the amazing food, people and beaches, but no-one should give a shit about those. I might tell my kids. I might skip the visceral details I’ve shared here, no one needs to hear that.