Backpackers, tourists and travellers share some pretty funny stories when they meet. They will brag about the crazy adventure in Malaysia with some weirdo guys who plied them with free booze (wink) or the trip down the mountain in a ute through torrential rain with a drunk driver and two friends getting drunk in the back tray (double-wink) or that time they clambered over a landslide in Laos through a small village and then picked up a local bus that screamed around the mountain corners in the dark to Vang Vieng (triple-wink). But the most common stories seem to be those that involve toilets, bowel movements or vomit….why is that? Is it that we can share those experience and realise its not just us struggling with something? Or is it that we just love to out-gross each other?! I’d say the latter….we really are just kids when it comes down to it.
Some of the funniest stories or outrageous comments come from people not knowing how to use the facilities in developing countries. Squat toilets in particular are confronting and confusing; Which way do I face? How close to that toilet do I put my bum? What happens if I fall over? There’s nothing to hold on to?! WHY?! But squat toilets are very clean (even if some are in mud huts), and I would argue cleaner than some regular upright toilets you come across. There is the hygiene factor – no part of your bum touches the toilet seat which is very different to western toilets…who knows what bum has been there?!
But like them or not, we all need to go and overlooking some of the designs, facilities and outright strange things in toilets will make your trip a lot better. At the end of the day, when you have to go, you have to go. If you want to go through Asia and other developing countries, you don’t have other options. If you want an “off the beaten track” experience, squat toilets, no toilet paper and no running water are just going to be part of that experience. And even if you aren’t going off the beaten track, you will no doubt have exposure to these things along the way.
Squat toilets are simple to use once you have mastered the art of squatting. According to Wikipedia, users should stand much like a baseball catcher – knees bent sharply and buttocks suspended near the ground. For the use of a toilet, you will need to put your feet on those nifty feet indicators, back facing the wall (note – this is the opposite to Japanese squat toilets) and lower yourself down and you can give your leggies a nice hug to stabilize yourself.
Once you have done your business you may notice that there is no toilet paper….NO TOILET PAPER?! OH GOD!? THE HUMANITY! But this isn’t always the case for squat or regular toilets in Asia, but it is pretty common. And I would have to say its pretty common in public toilets back home too! If you are in the know, then you will remember to take along a little package of tissues with you or you can make do with either the bucket of water or the nifty bum-gun that will be in that bathroom with you.
Also known as the bum sprayer, bum hose, bidet spray and probably a hundred other nicknames throughout the world, this little guy is your saviour. When you first come across it you no doubt will be horrified at the thought of spraying your bits with a hose, especially a high pressure hose! And even if you were to use it, how the hell would you be able to do it without getting water and other matter everywhere!?! But you will soon learn that its easy, and refreshing to use! Bum guns are found in most bathrooms in Asia, however I have noticed in ritzy bars or hotels that they are missing…whats with that?
The first thing to do before using the bum gun is to test it. Some are mere trickles of water, others are high pressure and there is potentially a shocking experience ahead. Test the trigger into the bowl before using it on yourself and just spray away. Its not revolting and disgusting, its cleaning and refreshing! You wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom, so why wouldn’t you want to clean your bits too?
To use it you can go in from behind or from the front, depending on personal preferences and of course whether it is being used with a squat toilet or an upright toilet. Some people like to use their hand as well to make sure they are extra clean, others prefer the spray-from-a-distance routine. Practice makes perfect! Just give your bits a spray and then juggle to dry and away you go. Toilet paper is used for drying yourself off, not wiping the muck like us westeners are used to.
The other thing about the bum gun is it can be used for other purposes such as cleaning feet (very common use for us), filling buckets of water, washing shoes or even cleaning that grubby item with high pressure water. So many things!
Water is all part of the fun in Asian toilets, and for good reason. Its used to flush, its used to wash hands and its used to clean yourself off. In many developing countries, the lack of running water is a huge problem for health and hygiene that backpackers and tourists seem to forget about. The way to deal with this issue is by providing containers of water in toilets for the use of wooshing, washing and flushing.
If you need to use the water for cleaning yourself, you will need to flick the water up onto your bits and it would be advisable to use your hand as well if needed. To flush, just pick up the little bucket scoop (that will no doubt be floating around in the clean tub of water) fill it up and sloosh it into the toilet, repeating until clean. If using a squat, it is good manners to woosh the dirt left on the feet-stands with the water too. I usually pour the water over my hands too at this point to give them a clean just in case you leave the cubical and there is no hand wash facilities and use some wet-ones and/or hand sanitizer.
Toilet paper is a big issue in SE Asia. Many places have signs saying “no paper in the toilet” to indicate that you should be disposing of all paper waste in the bin…and a lot of people ignore that information to their detriment (or the detriment of the cafe/restaurant/guesthouse owner). It is a safe bet that probably 90% of all toilets in SE Asia should not have anything put in there except human waste. Everything else, and I mean every thing else, should be put in the bin provided.Toilets in Asia are generally speaking not designed for toilet paper and will block up – I’ve seen it many many times and it is especially horrific in busy bars and clubs…. The exception to this rule is big-name hotels who probably have some kind of special system installed to deal with the paper.
Using the toilets in a roadside bus stop or market or restaurant in Asia doesn’t have to be a big scary experience, even if the rest of your trip is. They aren’t filthy and diseased and (always) dirty, its just a different way of doing things. Of course all this information can be taken with a grain of salt. As more and more tourists and expats are attracted into the region, facilities are upgraded and for some travellers they won’t ever be faced with a squat loo.