Travelling Tip: Toilets

Kath McGuire has recent an excellent and insightful post about how to use toilets in Asia. Most recently Kath spent the summer in Thailand as the Country Coordinator for our Summer volunteers and found that a lot of volunteers were worried about using squat toilets. Kath has travelled and lived in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand for different amounts of time and is now an expert on mastering the squat toilet, check out her tips and advice below!

Toilets in parts of Asia are a bit different from those generally found in the west. And they’re a bit different in Sri Lanka and India from Thailand.

A very useful poster in the German Bakery, Kovalam, Kerala

They are generally squat toilets. They are a hole in the ground (a porcelain, plumbed hole in the ground usually). In Thailand they tend to be raised on a little platform. In Sri Lanka and India they are usually flush (pardon the pun) with the ground.

I find the Thai ones a bit worrying, I keep having images of me trying to step onto (or off of) the platform (it’s not very high, just one step) and slipping on the wet porcelain and ending up in a very, very unfortunate position. I am pleased to say that this has not happened yet. I did wobble a little bit on one occasion but found that doing it barefoot rather than in sandals was easier (I then wash my feet with lots of water).

Now when I was in Thailand, I discovered that several of the volunteers hadn’t used squat toilets before and were somewhat apprehensive about them. I found myself, on a few occasions demonstrating how to use them. In bedrooms, staff rooms, the hotel foyer.

The German Bakery is a restaurant in Kovalam in India. It has a sign up that explains about how to use them. I think it’s a pretty cool description. Though it does leave out a few essential points.

So here are Kath’s instructions for using a squat toilet.

  • Make sure your mobile phone (or anything else of value) is not in your back pocket.
  • Roll your trousers up as well as down (it is easier to clean your legs if there is any splashing than to clean your trousers).
  • I usually run the tap so that the bucket fills up (so that there’s enough water for flushing) and so that the sound of the running water can mask any other sounds (like my singing) that might be happening.
  • I tend to put one foot slightly in front of the other (left in front since my left hand is used for cleaning). I then sit back on my right foot. My right foot isn’t flat on the floor (my ankles are not that good), my weight is going through my right leg and I’m not hovering or asking too much from my thighs. But I suspect that position is a matter of style and personal preference.
  • In Sri Lanka and India toilet paper is rare. In Thailand there is often paper on sale at public toilets. In most cases in all three countries, you shouldn’t flush paper down the toilet. In Thailand there will probably be a bin that you can put it in.
  • Since you use the water (spray gun or bucket) to clean yourself, the toilet paper (if you use any) will be for drying purposes. So the toilet paper will be wet but clean (ish). So you may wish to take a ziploc bag that you can put the toilet paper in and then dispose of both bag and paper as soon as you next find a bin. Wet wipes can also be useful things to have to make you feel that you are adequately clean and refreshed.
  • You may not use toilet paper at all. This may leave you feeling somewhat damp (you will be clean). But given the heat and humidity, dampness is a given anyway and may not be noticed.
  • Talcum powder can help with dampness if it is a problem.
  • The water supply: bucket, tap, spray gun, etc will be useful for cleaning the whole place. I use some of it to pour over my hands to clean my hands (the first cleaning) and to flush the toilet. Use lots of water. You can wash down the whole area. If you are a bit worried about the cleanliness of the toilet when you go in to use it, then you can slosh several buckets of water around to ensure things are clean before you start.
  • I then find a tap with soap and wash my hands thoroughly.
  • I then use antibacterial alcohol gel to clean my hands again.

What you shouldn’t do is avoid drinking or avoid using the toilet. Neither of these things are very healthy. You should make use of ‘nice’ toilets whenever you find them since you may not know what the next one will be like.

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