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Bottoms up for gold

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaA man's toilet is his castle, especially on holiday.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Hong Kong's gold toilet

Hong Kong gold toilet: nothing but the best for your bottie

THERE IS ONE GREAT thing about saving up for that big beach resort, flying for hours, enduring the avarice and caprice of taxi drivers who assume anyone dumb enough to visit their city and sit in their cab is a moron. We all know what that is. The toilet. For one, it is an unaffordable luxury at home. For another, when that blazing sun turns your Tommy Bahama tee to mush and wilts the last remaining strands of hair on your head as you walk through a wall of water at 98 percent humidity, there's nothing more invigorating than an orderly retreat to that bastion of care and comfort - the public loo. And this is where you can tell the difference between a great hotel and a wannabe.

For many, the best thing about beach resorts is the blazing sun. For me, the worst thing about beach resorts - unless they are in Greenland - is the blazing sun. Growing up in the baking plains of north India, the sun was not quite what we were taught to seek out as we hunted down the coldest ice-creams under the largest patch of shade and befriended the richest girls, not just for their well shampooed locks but for the guilty pleasure of their air-conditioned cars and industrial strength Westinghouse home coolers. That was luxury.

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Beach resorts love energy-saving "green" devices like open sided lobbies and open corridors where HOT breezes incessantly blow while that tiny cocktail in your hand garnished with a small paper umbrella attempts to create the fiction of cool. ISO-certified this that and the other means, a "hot" resort is just that - HOT. And there is no escape. There's pared down "spa food" that will help you live healthier and longer, but you have to squint to catch the peas and wisps of shredded lettuce. Perversely, as the food intake comes down, the bills go up.

There are "nutrition sommeliers" who blend tongue-puckering concoctions that people willingly drink but flat out refused when their mothers attempted the same thing some 20 years earlier. There are "rice gurus" who pick your carbohydrate combinations and “crystal healers” who balance your aura but never quite as vigorously or as permanently as when your schoolmaster administered the cane to your wayward bottom.

The safest refuge is the toilet. It's private, dependable, chilled out, quiet - except when a conference comes to town - and the water is free once you figure out how the latest hi-tech works. It can be entertaining too.

{At Starhill mall in Kuala Lumpur the toilets resemble the Pharaoh's revenge on an archaeological dig... dark and disturbing if whimsical

Hong Kong has its gold toilet, the pet project of jewellery nabob Lam Sai-wing who constructed a Swiss suite in 24 carats complete with a glittering solid gold potty. A huge Mainland visitor draw, the initial six tons of gold, once wordily touted as "The World's Most Expensive Gold and Jewelry Sparkling Environmental Friendly Washroom," has steadily shrunk as the company jewellers sensibly melt it for use in the manner God and wealthy tai-tais intended. The resplendent toilet remains - for a while.

The Sultan of Brunei attempted this on RBA planes at one time before cattle class crooks started chipping away at the shiny stuff.

The Peninsula Hong Kong prides itself on hoary tradition but not in the penthouse Felix Bar restrooms where vertiginous views await the legless as they attempt to empty bladders in full view of the city below.  Very chic, and terrifying, in an open-minded contemporary sort of way and just the spot to gather your wits before you pop the question.

The egalitarian Sheraton Sanya has a baby diaper fold-down table in the men's toilet while the Raffles Hainan at Clearwater Bay offers electronic Japanese potties to pamper and preen your behind to perfection. Not to be outdone, the Kempinski Haitang Bay has the snazziest public loos with double height glass panes and long purple gauze drapes.

The Oriental Residence in Bangkok has double height windows on the meetings and events floor with amazing green views where toilet trippers can take their time; a civilised way to beat the curfew and the sporadic street protests.

At the understated Amandari Bali, outdoor bathtubs await where you can shampoo your hair and wait for the monsoons to arrive. At St Regis resorts the butlers will draw the bath for you because we all know that rich people are unaware of inventions like the tap and the drain plug. But, wherever you go, the bathrooms are cool and beckoning.

In Japan, toilets sing, chirrup, vibrate and produce all manner of sounds to mask your true intentions. "What are you doing in there Bob?" "Why I'm withdrawing money from the ATM". "Oh, I thought I heard a waterfall and Vivaldi's Four Seasons..." Japanese toilets are spotless. And that's how Singaporeans like it. So much so that Japanese toilet inspectors visit every once in a while to hand out awards to the cleanest public loos.

At Starhill mall in Kuala Lumpur the basement toilets are accessed via a darkened foyer with small pinpricks of light as you wander into the Pharaoh's revenge - a narrow angular corridor that brings you to the central vault. It’s like an archaeological dig into a pyramid with a few fairy lights thrown in. Very dark and disturbing if whimsically wonderful.

In Phuket, a feisty new attraction, Baan Teelanka (near Siam Niramit), is an upside down house that charges Bt200 for a visit to have you “dancing on the ceiling.” Yes, the toilets are upside down too. Can you use them? Well… We're still exploring, gingerly, for the best spots for quick relief in India but had the opportunity to sample a new Air India B787 aloft. It was a flight from Hong Kong to Seoul. The fare is half that of Cathay's, the timing excellent for business travel, and the spacious seats offer that most elusive of airborne commodities - knee room.  The flight was on time, the plane brand new, so, smiling, I visited the toilet. Umm. Er... Never mind.

We were talking about beach resorts, right?

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