Butterfly park

The day we visited the waterfall, we also went to the butterfly park nearby. The park has been created by a Dutch couple.

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Clipper.
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Paris peacock.
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That butterfly was so hard to get still. I had to make several shots to get a good one, luckily.
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Female striped blue crow.
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Common tiger.
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Great Mormon.
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Cruiser.

Kouangxi waterfall

My friend Zarah advised me to take a look at the big waterfall near Luang Prabang, at Tat Kuang Si. We took a tuk-tuk and up we go.

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It was a nice trip through the Lao countryside.
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We had to cross multiple wooden bridges like this one.

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Scooters of course, looking forward to pass in front of you.
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Our driver made a short stop at of the little shops near the road.
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Just chilling.

A little bit further down the walking trail in direction to the waterfall, you can find a bear sanctuary. Those bears were saved from those horrid bile farms. If you are interested in helping them, please take a look at: www.freethebears.org.au

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He's better of here than in a small cage for sure!
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A nice tree.
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Waater!
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You can also swim in it.

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The waterfall 🙂
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Araldo decided to walk higher to look at the waterfall from above. I am really scared of heights so it's a nope for me.
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On his way up, he met some crazy dude on a bike who fell several times on the slippery trail.

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Would you like some fish?
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Back to the guesthouse.

Wat Xieng Thong

After a little break, finally our series of blog posts continues once again. Hopefully we manage to keep it up this time. Enjoy!

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It was a warm and sunny day in Luang Prabang and we decided to visit the Wat Xieng Thong or the Temple of the Golden City. It’s a Buddhist temple (Wat) near where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers join. The construction took place between 1559 and 1960, by the Lao King Setthathirah. The Lao kings used to be crowned there as it was the royal temple, but it was until 1975 that the Wat was under the patronage of royal family.

Typical Laotian art and craft is represented as well, like carved gilded wood depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, decorations made out of glass mosaic.

Because of wars and neglect, major projects of restoration took place in the fifty ‘s and sixty’s, including the notable help of the french who participated in the share of the cost. 

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The entry of the Wat
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The Buddha inside.
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Details on the door.
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The Tree of Life.
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Outside you can see small shrines with beautiful details on it.

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Daily life pictured in beautiful piece of mosaic.

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Bus ride from hell

Although we knew beforehand Vientiane wouldn’t be that interesting, it is the place where most international flights arrive. But after two nights we saw more than enough of it. We couldn’t wait to leave this depressing place and go to somewhere more interesting.

Luang Prabang is about 220 km to the north of Vientiane and is the place to be for tourists. To get there we could take a local plane, but the only airline that goes this route, Lao Airline, is not famous for its safety record. Furthermore, when going by bus or train you get to see a little bit more of the real country. As there is literally only a few kilometers of rail in the whole of Laos, we opted for a ten hour bus ride via Vang Vieng.

Early in the morning we where picked up from the guesthouse with a still empty bus, but we ended up with a full mini bus after a short tour through the city with mostly Asian tourists and one German guy. It went slowly at first due to heavy traffic and often horendus road conditions, such as big holes in the tarmac, or large deep pools of mud, but after an hour or so the roads were mostly empty and the road conditions improved to acceptable levels, maybe even better than Belgium roads. The driver took this as a sign to speed up a little (much). Either he must have thought he was Schumacher or that the road was disappearing behind him. Overtaking other vehicles on the twisting and winding road in corners without any visibility of oncoming traffic was no exception. Adrenaline was pumping nonstop through our veins, every corner thinking, “if someone is coming now, we will either crash into it or have to avoid the heads on crash by driving into the 100m deep ravine. Either way, we’ll die”.

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Escaped from the busy traffic.
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Cows had to run for their lives.
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Nice scenery.

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Amazingly we survived the first halve of our trip and arrived in the backpackers mekka Vang Vieng, infamous for drunk partying tourist and dangerous entertainment like tubing (going steerless on the river in a car tube). Interestingly, many signs over here where written in Korean. Apparently the city attracts many South Korean tourists because a famous movie (to them) was filmed here. Except for the German guy everyone got off here, but we had to change busses to continue. Unfortunately, a guy took our bus tickets when we left in Vientiane and we didn’t have any proof that we bought a ticket all the way to Luang Prabang. Much confusion among the tour operator staff when we tried explaining the situation to them in english, which they didn’t understand too well, but after a while we got hold of someone that could translate our predicament. A few phonecalls later, to the guesthouse that sold us the tickets and we were cleared to go with the next bus that was due to leave in an hour. When we drove through the city our ideas about this place where confirmed and we were happy we skipped it altogether.

The next leg might be the most exciting drives I had ever experienced. But not in a good way, as the driver was even more crazy with his overtaking behaviour, and we started to come in the mountains, with dangerous ravines right next to the road all the time. Especially nerve wrecking was a part of the road that had apparently vanished in a landslide earlier. They where trying to rebuild the stretch of 1 kilometer bumpy and slippery mud with a bunch of machines, but they had some work to do yet. One part of the ‘road’ with bumpy uphill mud was very narrow, but we had to pass it to reach our destination. The driver didn’t hesitate, took a run-up and we just bounced past the deep ravine to the other side. That piece of road was even more narrow after we had passed it, as part of the edge of the mud road had slide into the abbys. Our hearts where racing, it must have been at least 200 beats per minute, but we where happy we survived this ordeal.

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Landslide ahead!
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The edge of the 'road' giving away.

After taking in the views from the mountain pass, we continued and arrived safe and sound, close after sunset, in Luang Prabang. Dropping us at our hotel was an imposibility, so we had to hike a mile to the hotel with 20 kilos on our back before settling into our relaxed Vietnamese-run guesthouse with a cold beer. Next time we prefer to play Russian roulette as bus rides in Laos seem to be a little bit too much excitement for us.

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Taking a break at the top with our Asian friends.
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Cool views from the top.

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I never looked so relieved.
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Finally, our rewards 🙂

Vientiane temples

After visiting the arc, we walked back to our hotel and passed a bunch of temples. They are totally different from anything we saw in Japan and South Korea. The Laotian people seem to be especially fond of gold. In contrast to the temples in Japan and Korea, where every part of the temple has high quality details, the temples in Laos looked very beautiful from a distance, but up close it looked like it was rushed and painted by a three year old that can’t color between the lines yet.

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First we had to risk our lives again by crossing the road during a non stop tsunami of motorcycles and taxis.
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The guard at the entrance of a pavilion next to the What That Foon temple.
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The pavilion itself.
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On both sides of the altar in the pavilion where sitting monks that looked very real. Only after we figured out they were sitting in an glass box without any holes to breath, we concluded they must be fake. Unfortunately there were only explanations in gibberish.
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The actual temple.

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Another temple called Phat Tich. Some people were looking at us like, "what the hell are you doing here, get lost". We felt unwanted and quickly left after take a few snapshots outside.
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:p
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Back at the guesthouse. What a magnificent view of the construction site next door 🙂
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In the touristy part of Vientiane we had dinner. Of course we had to try spring rolls in south east Asia. And we have to say, they were among the best we ever had.
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On our way back from dinner we tried to find the night market. But we didn't really find it (or maybe we did but in that case it was soo insignificant and loaded with rubish that we didn't bother to have a look). We walked back along the Mekong river and could see Tailand at the other side. A statue of Chao Anouvong, the last king in 1805, was the only nothworty thing to see on our way back. He led the rebellion against the Thai monarch Rama III. After losing, recapturing and losing the capital again, Rama III ordered the destruction of Vientiane with the exception of one important buddist temple and put Chau in an iron cage in Bangkok until he died at age 61.

Vientiane, the continuing story

It was a sunny day in the capital and we decided it would be a good day to see the arc the Triomphe called Patuxai (literally meaning Victory Gate). It’s a war monument built between 1957 and 1968, dedicated to the people who fought for the independence of the country against France. We had to cross some roads which was pretty much an adventure in itself (as it is in most country’s in South East Asia). We were lucky enough to find that the frangipani trees were in blossom and I could pick up one and sniff its delicate smell.  

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Loose tile on the sidewalk? Call your local government. Not in Laos
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No drugs and no smoking. What a boring place.
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Behold. The magnificent arc.
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Under the arc all kind of beautiful details could be seen.

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For a small fee we were allowed to climb the arc. The only things inside were some local entrepreneurs with loads and loads of overpriced souvenirs. Still the view from the top was worth the climb.

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One of the corner spires.
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Again lots of nice details everywhere.

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After a little bit of people watching in the adjacent park, we continued to visited some temples, which will be the topic of the next post.

Buddha park

On the second day in Vientiane the wheater was much improved, bloody hot and sunny instead of hot and raining. We decided to visit the Buddha park, a 1 hour tuctuc drive out of the of city. We found a taxi driver that looked like a nice guy and negotiated a little about the price. We settled for 200000 kip. A fair price was 180000 according to our friendly hotel owner. When you remove four zeros you will get the euro amount, so it was about 20 euros. Not bad for a 1 hour return drive, where the taxi driver waits for one and a half hour for you to visit the park. It was probably still too much, but we were happy with the price and he seemed to be happy as well, a win-win situation. Although we thought we would go by tuctuc, he told us the tuctuc would take much too long and he took us in a regular taxi. A missed opportunity…

The entrance of the Buddha park was 5000 kip plus a fee of 2000 kip if you wanted to make photographs. What the heck? Well, it is only 0.70 euro per person in total, so we didn’t complain.

The park was littered with Buddha’s, most of them in a bad state with broken limbs and heads and such. Also has its charms. There were two main sculptures.

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There was a huge "reclining buddha", or lazy buddha as we called it.
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The other end of the sculpture featured its huge smelly feet.
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The other big sculpture was a building in the shape of a ball. Entrance through this creeps mouth.
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The inside was even more creepier, with lots of scary looking buddha statues.

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At the top of the giant ball.
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View from the top, Sanne for scale reference.
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The rest of the park was a seemingly random collection of strange and funny looking buddha sculptures. Nowhere an explanation whatsover. Here is a selection, use your imagination.

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"Want an arrow through your head?", "Yes please"

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Neatly folded banana leafs as an offer for the gods? They probably will be very happy with this useful present.
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A perfect match.
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Besides Buddha's there were also a lot of pretty butterflies.

Luckily the taxi driver was still there to get us back in one piece. In fact, we later discovered it was one of the safest drivers we encountered in Asia, but that’s something for another story.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic

10 October 2015.

At the end of the afternoon it was time to leave South Korea and move on to our next destination: Laos. Or in full, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Very democratic really, with an amazing number of parties to vote on. That is one. With an average GDP per capita of about 1600 euro it belongs to one of the poorest countries in Asia (many African countries are much worse BTW), so we expected a lot of misery.

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Flying over one of China's metropoles.

When our plane arrived in Vientiane, first we had to go through the usual hassle of going through customs and pay for our fine (also called Visa). We where standing in line at the customs and I was called forward, when I almost tripped on something. It appeared to be a piece of woman underwear, a string, lying just in front of desk of the customs. We almost could not help laughing out loud, but managed to keep a serious face. Of course we didn’t dare to take photographs at the customs, they usually have little sense of humour and don’t like that sort of stuff. After paying 30 dollars each for our precious stamps, we got into the country in a record time, so it seems there is really no reason to bribe the customs with a string between your passport to get into the country. From disembarking to collecting our bags and going through customs took only 15 minutes or so.

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The local time now is half past eleven in the evening, so we where a little anxious to arrive safe at our hotel so late at night. Luckily they had a way to make it reasonable safe. At the airport it was possible to get a pre-booked taxi with a reputable driver. So we just ignored the armada of taxi driver scum that probably would robe you, rape you and left you for death in some unknown ally. The taxi was a whopping 6 dollar and extremely efficient. Just before a traffic light he would dive into an ally on the right only to appear on the other side before all other traffic. It was as he was driving in a game of Grand Theft Auto. In no time we were at our guesthouse, in which they were aware of our late arrival. A boy showed us our room, and we slept like a charm until late in the morning.

When we arrived it was raining and the next day was not any different. We decided to take our umbrellas and go for a walk to the COPE museum. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. What they do is help people with physical disabilities and give them free access to things like prostetics and rehabilitation. The most interesting thing in the museum were the documentaries about the terrible things that happened during the war and what is done at the moment with the help of volunteers to recover from the mess they are still in due to the 270 million (!) cluster bombs which America dropped on Laos (what they denied BTW). Laos is still littered with unexploded bombs and much of the land is unusable because of the dangers. In one of the documentaries it is shown how Australian military try to teach the locals to dismantle unexploded bombs. The sad thing is that when a bomb in a village is found, the villagers actually do not want the bomb to be taken away or destroyed, because for these people the bomb has much value for its scrap metal that they can sell. They appear to be totally unaware of the dangers, risking their lives for a few tens of dollars.

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Cluster bombs.

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After leaving we were a little depressed and in a sad mood. A girl looking creepy at us at a shop where we had some noodles, as if we were the ones that were responsible for the bombs, and a little boy with only one leg at the side of the street didn’t help to improve our mood.

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Dentist anyone? We passed.
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On our way back we came past this temple. We quickly moved on, as it was starting to rain heavily again.

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Almost back at our hotel at the landmark is called That dam.

We had dinner at the That Dam Wine house, a luxurious restaurant nearby, but it was full of loud noisy drunken people in a room with lots of echo in it, the airco was set on minus fifteen degrees and it featured "ongezellige" TL lighting, as is the norm in Asia. A fitting end to a somewhat depressing first day in Laos.

Gyeongbokgung Temple

Although we already saw so many temples, we were told the temple complex Gyeongbokgung was not to be missed. So on a late afternoon when the worst of the brutal heat was gone, we took the metro from Seoul station. We were fortunate enough to run into the changing of the guards, which is performed twice a day.

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Changing of the guards.

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Nice matching colours.
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Beautiful paintings could be found on the ceilings of the entrance ports seen on the previous pictures.
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People watching. What's the boy up to?
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Contrasts.
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Afterwards we found ourselves lost again in a labyrinth of smaller temple, courtyards, gardens and the like.

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We had to wait a long time to get this tourist free shot.

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This part of the temple complex was closed. Still, we managed to peek through it to the other side.

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My monkey imitation: the likelines is quite good.
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However, my sheep imitation might be even better. Not really a big surprise considering I am a sheep in the Chinese zodiac.

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Many buildings had these five animal figures on the edge of the roof. They are the protectors of the palace.

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Close to sunset the Korean propaganda speakers told us to vacate the premises (about a hundred times, no exaggeration). For us this meant we finally had the opportunity to take a few pictures without the crowds.

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So colourful (Sanne of course :))

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Peek-a-boo!

Poop museum

An hour from Seoul by metro we went to the poo museum (officially called the Toilet Museum), in Suwon City. I discovered it on 9gag a few years ago and since that time I dreamed to go there.

Sim Jae-duck aka Mister Toilet was the mayor of Suwon City during the 1990’s, he was then well known for promoting and beautifying South Korean public toilets, one example of it was during Word Cup 2002 where he improved the city toilets.
He also helped found the World Toilet Association, which is dedicated to improving sanitation around the world. The head quarters are now in Singapore.
His passion grow so much that he redesigned his house of 30 years into the shape of a toilet seat.
He passed away in 2009, the house was than donated to Suwon City, who converted the building to a museum which opened on the 4th of July 2012.

Going to the toilets is still a taboo in many societies. Yet it is very important in our daily lives because what goes in goes out (even for us girls, our farts don’t smell like roses and we don’t poo glitter ). Think about how disgusting it was in the middle ages in Europe, throwing it away through the window making everything dirty and propagating many illnesses.

Here a few facts about how important sanitation is : (Source: World Toilet Association *)

-The 2015 goal to halve the proportion of people living without sanitation is running 150 years behind schedule. 1 billion (15 % of the world population) still practice open defecation.*

1000 children died per day from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation in 2013. These deaths are preventable.*

Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a $4.3 return in the form of reduced health care costs*.

If you want to learn about this cause : http://worldtoilet.org

WARNING !!!!! DON’T READ WHILE EATING !!!!

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Let the poo party begin!
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Inside you can see different toilet signs from around the world
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Top view
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Thanks to science I can pee like a man. Oú comme dans la chanson de Giedré http://youtu.be/Xrh91gmh3_s "pisser debout"
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The boyfriend demonstrating how to shit in some old fashioned way . He didn't want to let go the trousers even if I told him it would look more realistic.
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Roman style, because you can shit and have a talk about the weather with your neighbour.
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Paper check! I'm all set.
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As you can read, these tools were used to fertilise the fields. The carrier was highly respected even if he had to smell bad because of his job.
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Jeju style: Part 1 of 2. First of all you go to the little stone hut, pants down, sqautte and push and the magic happens..
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Part 2. Once you did your thing, pigs came and ate your stinky brown production.. yummy right?
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Warning the 2 next pictures can shock. Couler un bronze!
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It's still warm
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Nothing beter than a good old rope to clean those harsh stains of your butt.
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Best game in the world
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Public toilet for kids in the garden
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Good bye Toilet Museum! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I take full responsibility for the dirty comments and god bless the throne.