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Saigon, Hanoi (Almost) Bottom out World Ranking of Public Bathroom Coverage

Vietnam’s bountiful abundance of street eats and hip cafes might satisfy even the pickiest visitors looking to ingest delicious things at any price range, but even its biggest metropolises would struggle to provide for the most low-maintenance tourists when it comes to public bathrooms.

In a recent ranking reported on by Nikkei Asia, both Saigon and Hanoi are down in the dumps when judged based on their public toilet availability. QS Supplies, a toilet retailer, compiled this report by looking at the number of public toilets per square kilometer across 69 cities in the world in order to help travelers plan their trips.

With just 0.01 public bathrooms per square kilometers on average, both cities in Vietnam nearly bottomed out the list and are only better than Cairo. Johannesburg’s toilet figure is also 0.01. The Nikkei report does not elaborate on the methodology behind the contentious ranking, but these figures mean that there are almost 21 communal toilets in Saigon for 9 million inhabitants, a statistic that might shock even native Saigoneers, because… there are that many?

On the other end, the world’s top 10 toilet performers are mostly in Europe with Paris clinching the No. 1 spot impressively at 6.72 toilets per km2, nearly doubling that of the runner-up, Sydney (3.64). Tel Aviv and Taipei are the only Asian representatives on the list.

Compared to many of the list’s contenders, Vietnam is plagued by a dearth of public parks, parking areas, toilets, and other civic spaces. Even when a few bathroom projects manage to get off the ground, they are often ill-maintained and unsustainable in the long run due to lack of funding, as evidenced by this distressing photo feature by Thanh Niên. Public amenities have long been relegated to the back end of policymakers’ priority list, so finding out that two cities in Vietnam have shat the bed regarding public restrooms is not that surprising.

The Nikkei Asia feature frames the toilet discourse around how it will hamper Vietnam’s tourism opportunities, which, while not untrue, leaves out one of the major demographics whose quality of life would vastly improve with better bathroom coverage: gig workers like shippers and app-based drivers.

Tourists have the financial means and motivation to pay for better bathrooms at restaurants, hotels and cafes — we, by the way, have a list of Saigon’s best bathrooms to poop at here — but it’s Saigon residents that are always on the road who are most shafted by shitty public restrooms. Where to go to the bathroom while out and about is one of the most frequently asked questions on forums for app drivers and veteran workers often exchange lists of locations for resting and free trips to the facilities.

Complaints about Vietnam’s chronic lack of public bathrooms have fallen on deaf ears for years, but perhaps by shifting the discourse to tourism-related missed opportunities — where the money lies — we might finally attract the right kind of attention to fix our toilets.

[Photo by Nhật Thịnh via Thanh Niên]

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