Toilet Talk: The Realities of Eastern vs. Western Bathrooms

Asian Bathrooms
Asian Bathrooms

Among all of the wonderful, enriching surprises you can experience in travel, one standard problem seems to always creep up: Where can I use the bathroom, and what condition will it be in when I get there?

At home, the extent of this usually involves being able to hold it long enough to make it to the next thruway rest stop, and putting down one of those lovely, provided seat covers. In Asia (at least in the Southeastern areas we've been traveling in) it's that, and this mildly terrifying list below. Because having to use the bathroom in Asia is a game of roulette. You may have restroom standards, but they go out the window when that ball lands anywhere on the spectrum of bathroom possibilities. Not to mention, the region is known for its spicy food and propensity to throw off digestive systems ("Bangkok Belly" is real and strikes at the worst possible time). This is your warning.

In an Eastern bathroom, you will find a number of scenarios:

1. You may or may not have toilet paper. I realize this is pretty standard and happens in many restrooms, but it is vastly more common to find yourself without it here. See #4 for more information.

2. You may or may not have a toilet. (Yeah, I couldn't believe it either.) See #5 for more information.

3. You will never be provided a paper seat cover. (Unless maybe you're staying at a five star hotel, in which case you're probably not traveling like the rest of us and can probably ignore this whole post.)

4. You may encounter the "bum gun" which is basically a bidet that comes in the form of a hose with a sprayer, similar to the one we use to do dishes in the kitchen. This will likely be presented in lieu of toilet paper, leaving you cleaner than if you had only used paper, but much damper (and probably confused). The Holy Grail is the bum gun/toilet paper combo. Very rare, but typically a pleasant experience.

5. You may encounter the "squat pot" which is nothing more than a toilet bowl very close to, if not completely in the ground. There's no sitting on this. Please don't ever, under any circumstances try to sit on a squat pot. Per the name, you're going to work those hammies and squat. Which, according to recent internet articles, is the most healthy way for humans to do their business. Which probably was due to evolution not taking clothing into account. And on that note, beware loose articles and long pants in this scenario. (Many have come to the conclusion the locals must remove them for this. This theory has not been confirmed.)

6. You may find water on every inch of surface area in your stall due to a shower head placed directly above the toilet/squat pot. This is not reserved just for hostels and hotels; you may find this in airports, restaurants, etc. because who wouldn't want to shower in a public restroom?

7. Your chances of having soap to wash your hands with are about the same odds as having toilet paper.

8. Your chances of having a working sink to wash your hands with are only slightly higher than having soap.

9. You may find a large tub or bucket of water with a plastic scoop next to the toilet/pot. This is for flushing. There may not be instructions the first time you encounter this so let's make it simple. You pour as many scoops of water into your bowl as needed to make it all go away. See #11 for why you should always make sure it all goes away.

10. You may see an obnoxious amount of signs (usually in broken English) explaining that you absolutely, under no circumstances, should not flush anything other than what came out of your body.

11. You may encounter smells you didn't know existed. Do your part to try and not perpetuate these smells.

12. If you're not already paying for something in the vicinity of a bathroom, you'll probably have to pay to use it. Always bring change.

This list is not meant to scare, but to help prepare! You are the master of your own bathroom destiny.

A noteworthy solution: baby wipes. Not only do they work to clean you up, they are great substitute for a proper hand (and feet and whatever else might need) washing. Just don't flush them!

I also recommend that, as a human, if you've never "bathroomed" in the woods, you should try it in a comfortable, prepared setting. This goes beyond travel prep. It may seem primitive, but this skill has saved many in times of peril.

To close out this poo poo pow wow, our advice is as follows: when tackling bathrooms, preparation is the name of the game.

Good luck out there.