So here you are, enjoying Thailand for all that it has to offer. You’re walking around in a Thai part of town, or maybe you’re on a long trek, when you realize – oh no! – that pad graprow you had for lunch was a little too spicy. You need a toilet, and you need one right now. There’s no time to get back to your comfy western-style hotel with that familiar looking toilet.
You open the door, but – oh my Buddha! – it’s a squatter (cue ominous music). “Now is NOT the time!” you think. But then you take a deep breath, and remember to just follow a few simple steps.
First, you have to get into position. If you’re new to this, we recommend you take off everything below your waist, including your shoes and socks. If you have rubber flip-flops (or they are provided for you, as they often are), put those back on. Otherwise, barefoot on the toilet is totally okay. In time, you’ll figure out your own system for staying dry and clean, and you won’t have to strip all the way every time. But these things take practice.
Turn around so you are facing the door, and step backwards on to the textured steps on either side of the toilet.
Crouch into a nice, deep squat, with your weight back on your heels. Your knees should be pointed up toward the ceiling. Go ahead and hug them if you want. You should NOT be up on the balls of your feet with your knees pointed towards the door – you’re pooping, not catching for Roger Clemens. Professional squatters may be able to read the paper or send a text message or two. You may need your hands for balance.
Relax, and enjoy one of the easiest and most pleasant evacuations of your life. Humans were made to move their bowels this way, and squatting promotes the relaxation of the necessary muscles in your colon. Research has shown that it’s healthier to use a squat toilet, and that you run a lower risk for developing nasty conditions like diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.
So now that you’re done (wasn’t that great?!?), you look around and think, “What do I do now?”
Now, friends, comes the best part of the Asian bathroom experience. You are about to leave the bathroom feeling cleaner and more refreshed than you ever have in your entire life. “Tell me more!” you say, “How is that possible?”
It’s quite simple, really. You are about to
USE YOUR HAND
“Ewww” your Western-trained brain is thinking. “But I can’t touch myself back there. That’s a dirty place. I need a tiny layer of tissue paper to make me feel safe.” Well, that’s where we disagree. Cleaning your butt with your hand and a lot of water is the most natural and most hygenic way possible. Every human on Earth cleaned his or her dériére this way until the 1900s, and billions still do.
In most bathrooms, there will be a bucket of water with a scoop. Fill the scoop, and grip it firmly with your right hand. You are about to supply water with your right hand as you wipe with your left hand. The key is to get a good flow of water to your butt. When you get it right, your hand doesn’t even get dirty – everything is just washed down into the toilet with the water. I recommend cupping your left hand just under your butt, filling it with water, and rubbing until the water is gone. Rinse, and repeat.
In many bathrooms (including many bathrooms with a Western sit-down toilet!), there may be a sprayer provided, which makes the job a lot easier. The general idea is the same, though. (Note: try not to get the walls and ceiling wet… some of those bidets are pretty high-powered).
Entire wars have been fought over whether to spray or throw water from the front or the back. Unfortunately, ladies don’t have much of a choice (I’ll explain in a minute), but more than a few men have had relationships turn south after discovering that a friend was in the other camp (“I thought I knew you, man”). Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each method:
Water from the Front, Wipe from Behind (shown above)
This is the only method that women should consider, and is the prefferred method for many Thai men. For women, it is important to pour or spray from the front, and wipe from front to back, to keep any dirty water away from the vagina. Going the other way can cause yeast infections or worse.
For men, pouring from the front is more of an advanced skill, since there are a few obstacles in the way. The big advantage is that you get a more wholistic cleaning (especially nice on those sweaty April days), but with just a bucket, the proper throw is tough to master without getting everything soaked. Give it a try, but you’re definitely going to want to hang up your pants somewhere across the room.
Water from Behind, Wipe from the Front
A favorite of expats everywhere, this one is pretty easy to master, since you have gravity on your side. A nice controlled pour down the crack will bring water exactly where it’s needed, and your waiting left hand can scoop and rub with ease.
Other Notes on Wiping
Don’t be shy. Really get in there and get yourself clean. Just remind yourself that this is how Louis XIV cleaned his butt, too.
Use a lot of water. Use more than you think you should. The next step is going to be flushing, so it doesn’t really matter how much you use to wipe.
Now that you’re nice and clean (not so bad, right?), you have to get dry. If there’s no paper around, then just stay squatted for an extra minute, and gravity and evaporation will do its thing.
If there is paper around, or if you were forward-thinking enough to bring some, then use a square or two (you don’t need any more!) and pat yourself dry. If the paper is covered in poo, then you didn’t do a good enough job with the water. If it really is just a sheet or two, go ahead and put the poopy paper in the toilet. Many sanitation systems are not designed to handle paper, but a square or two per flush is okay. MORE THAN THAT IS NOT.
If you did a good job with washing, then the TP should come away almost completely clean, and you can toss it in the provided waste bin. In many touristy areas, these bins are absolutely disgusting, because many travelers don’t know how to wash with water. However, go to a bathroom in a real Thai area, and you’ll find them pristine. The key is to CLEAN, then WIPE.
Now you’re ready to flush. Don’t forget to Leave No Trace! Use as much water as you need to in order to get everything down the toilet. This is also a learned skill. You may want to start with a high pour directly into the hole, followed immediately by more water into the front of the toilet for a smooth, powerful flush.
Most bathrooms with a squat toilet are “wet everywhere” bathrooms, so don’t worry about getting some water on the floor. Be sure to clean your footprints off the toilet if you left any, and if there’s a brush provided, go ahead and get that squatter spotless (you’ll find it’s much easier than cleaning a Western toilet).
Finish up by washing your hands with soap and water, and if you really hate germs, follow with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, like Purell.
You’re done! We hope you enjoyed your first encounter with the squat toilet, and that there will be many more in your future. Believe it or not, many longer-term expats get so attached to the water-cleaning method that they have bidets installed in their homes when they return to the States or elsewhere. You’ll wonder what sort of primitive country you grew up in where you tried to get your butt clean using scratchy paper that falls apart in your hand. Trust us – this is the enlightened way!
Interested in going on an adventure? Check out our Introduction to Rock Climbing!
Interested in learning more about Thai Culture? Find more Cartoons on our Thai Culture Page!