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The Squat Toilet

An Introduction to Asian Toilets

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A typical Balinese squat toilet, with water-filled Mandi--water is scooped out of the Mandi for cleaning, flushing and bathing. Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.
Sheldon Levis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Perhaps not the most glamorous of subjects, but necessary: You will most likely have plenty of encounters with the dreaded squat toilet while traveling in Asia.

Asian toilets can range from wet, nightmarish affairs with no privacy to the famed Japanese toilets with heated seats and more buttons than your TV remote. Squat toilets exist somewhere near the bottom of the toilet lineup, just slightly above outdoor latrine trenches.

Although more and more Western-style toilets with seats and even flushing mechanisms are turning up in tourist areas around Asia, you'll still find squat toilets in markets, local restaurants, temples, and even a few shopping malls. Cambodia's famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat, even has humorous signs instructing people not to stand on the seats of the Western-style toilets; some visitors have never seen a seat on a toilet!

If you encounter a squat toilet on your travels, don't panic. A large portion of the world's population uses them daily without personal injury or lasting psychological effects, you can do the same.

An Introduction to the Squat Toilet

Some new travelers needlessly fear the toilets in Asia more than getting lost, sick, or pickpocketed. Instead, approach using squat toilets as a cultural experience and even perhaps with a little sense of humor -- didn't you leave home to see and learn new things in the first place?

While in the West we are encouraged -- sometimes even with music and reading material -- to take our time, squat toilets are only good for one thing: taking care of business and then getting out!

Aside from the obvious benefit of being more sanitary (you don't have to have physical contact with any surface while doing your business), using squat toilets is purported to have actual medical benefits such as preventing hemorrhoids, hernias, and lower intestine contamination.

Squat toilets are by no means an Asian curiosity; you'll find them in the Middle East, Europe, South America, and all over the world.

See 5 myths about asia travel.

Rules for Using a Squat Toilet

  • Rule #1: Never, ever, ever throw paper or anything else, no matter how biodegradable you think it is, into Asian toilets. Ancient sewer systems are not designed to handle paper products; putting paper into the toilet creates a serious problem -- and expensive repair bill -- for the establishment later and may encourage them to close the toilet to travelers.Instead, put toilet paper into the plastic bin unless you are certain the place you are visiting has modern sewer systems (i.e., Singapore, Japan, South Korea, etc).
  • Rule #2: Always keep toilet paper handy. TP is rarely provided out of fear that you will break rule #1.
  • Rule #3: Flush. Some squat toilets lack tanks or plumbing and have only a dipper and bucket of water beside. Even if using the slimy-handled scooper is icky, do so out of courtesy for others. It is also considered courteous to refill the water bucket with the tap if you used too much water.

Squat Toilet Tips

  • Not all squat toilets are free. Keep a few coins handy at all times in case you are in a hurry.
  • Take your shoes. Some businesses require that you leave your shoes at the door before entering, however, many squat toilets stay perpetually wet with an unconfirmed source of moisture. One exception is Japan where you may be provided with communal toilet slippers. Read about Japanese table manners.
  • Finding soap or a towel for drying your hands afterward is as rare as finding toilet paper. You may want to carry hand sanitizer.

Why No Toilet Paper?

In many cultures, the left hand takes over the duty for toilet paper and is then washed with the hose near the toilet. Handing someone something or eating with your left hand is often taboo in countries where this is practiced.

As mentioned, ancient sewer systems are not designed to properly break down toilet paper, so many businesses mitigate the risk of blockages by not providing any paper at all!

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