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The Traveler's Guide to Toilets around the World
So, you might consider yourself a true traveler at heart. You’re always eager to try new experiences, sample the local food, and immerse yourself in the local culture. But how about trying the local toilets?
That’s probably the one thing you’re not excited about when traveling to a foreign country. But don’t worry — I’m here to help you out. Here is a complete guide to all the different types of toilets you may encounter during your travels, and how to use them.
Table of Contents
The Western Toilet
The Western toilet is also known as the porcelain throne, because that’s how you’re supposed to sit on it — like a king on a throne, with a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other, taking as much time as you need, ignoring the desperate pleas of your kids/spouse/housemate/cats outside the bathroom.
This type of toilet is widely used in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Most major cities in Asia and Africa have also started using it to accommodate Western visitors.
To those of you born and raised in the West, the Western toilet may be the most civilized and most comfortable option in the world, and you probably can’t imagine how anyone could think otherwise.
Well, you may be surprised to know that some Asians actually feel more comfortable squatting, which is why you may sometimes find this signage in public restrooms in Asia:
Do bear in mind that although some of the countries you visit may have Western-style toilets, not all of them can handle toilet paper.
The plumbing systems of most Asian, Latin American, and African countries simply cannot process toilet paper. Flushing it down the toilet can result in backups and clogs. That’s why most households and public restrooms put a trashcan next to the toilet — for toilet paper disposal.
The European Bidet
While European toilets are the standard Western type, they usually come with an extra fixture: the bidet. It looks like a very low sink, placed right next to the toilet seat. Invented in France in the late 1600s, the bidet is now widely used in French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese homes.
How to Use the European Bidet
- Turn on the water and adjust the temperature.
- Straddle the bidet in the same direction as you would sit on the toilet.
- Cleanse yourself using soap and water, adjusting the angle of the spout if you need to.
- Wipe yourself, get up, and turn off the water.
I remember when I first saw it in my Portuguese host’s house, I thought it was a sink for the disabled.
Now that I know what it is, I still think the bidet is a waste of bathroom space, when everything could be done on the toilet seat. Sorry, Europeans! And that brings us to the next type of toilet:
The Toilet with A Spray Hose
I may be biased but this one is my personal favorite. It’s the most common type of toilet in my country Malaysia, especially in urban areas. The only difference between this toilet and its Western counterpart is that this one comes equipped with a water hose, a.k.a. bidet shower or the bum gun. It serves the same purpose as the European bidet, but occupies a lot less space.
Toilets with bum guns can also be found in Indonesia, Brunei, and Middle Eastern countries. I notice that they are the most common in countries with a predominantly Muslim population. This has something to do with the Islamic teaching that requires you to clean your nether regions with water after using the toilet.
I don’t consider myself particularly religious, but I was so used to the water hose that when I traveled to a non-Muslim country for the first time, I had to bring an empty bottle with me to fill with water at the sink and use it to wash my bum.
How to Use the Spray Hose a.k.a Bum Gun
- Once you’re done with your business, take the water hose with your right hand, and bring it closer to the area you want to wash.
- Press on the lever/button to release the water. Be careful — sometimes the water pressure is set on high.
- Once you feel that the water has washed away most of the
pooexcrement, you can use your left hand to make sure that you’re really clean. Keep the water running when you do this.
- Release the button, put the hose back on its handle, and dry yourself with toilet paper. You may find that some toilets lack toilet paper. You can either learn to make do without it, or always remember to bring your own.
Note: The water hose is almost always on the right-hand side so that you can hold it with your right hand and use your left hand to wipe your butt. This is why Muslim people do not eat, shake hands, or give/receive anything with their left hands. It’s considered an insult.
Remember, the water hose is for washing your anal and genital areas. It can also be used to help mask the sound of a big turd splashing into the water. What it’s NOT for: Drinking or taking a shower. Please do not do any of these:
The Squat Toilet
Ah, I assume this is what Western travelers dread the most when they travel abroad. I dread it too. The squat toilet is commonly known as ‘the Asian toilet’. But that doesn’t mean it’s only popular in Asia — it’s also widely used in Africa and apparently some rural parts of Europe.
In most big cities in Asia and Africa, public restrooms usually have both Western toilets and squat ones so that people have a choice. The toilet doors will have signs on them indicating whether they have porcelain thrones or squatty potties inside.
So, why do people love the squat toilet so much? isn’t it uncomfortable? And doesn’t the bucket of water make everything messier?
Well, most Asians prefer the squat toilet to the Western type because they feel it’s more hygienic. The idea is that with a squat toilet, you don’t have to put your naked bum on a surface that has touched hundreds, or maybe thousands of other naked bums before yours.
Plus, the squatting position is scientifically proven to be healthier. It naturally releases pelvic muscles and makes it easier to eliminate waste, especially for people with digestive problems. In fact, they are even selling ‘toilet step stools’ on Amazon now so that you can mimic the squatting posture while sitting on the toilet seat.
How to Use the Squat Toilet
- Face forward and let your pants down to your knees (roll them up so they don’t touch the floor).
- Place your feet on the grooved footrests on either side of the toilet, and do a full squat. Aim for the toilet hole. Don’t miss your mark!
- For balance, try to keep your feet flat, lean slightly forward, and rest your upper arms on your knees.
- Once you’re done, take a scoop of water and splash it onto your anal/genital area (from the front). It will take some practice to get it right. Repeat as many times as you need. You can also use your left hand to help clean the area.
- Wipe with toilet paper (if you have any) and stand up, taking care not to drop your pants to the floor. Use the bucket of water to flush.
Squatting definitely needs some time to get used to. I’m Asian, but living in the city, I’ve never had a squat toilet at home, so I’m still not very good at it, to be honest.
PRO TIP #1: (Very, very important) Make sure you empty your pockets before using the squat toilet. Don’t learn this the hard way.
PRO TIP #2: Most Asians don’t wear shoes at home. But they usually have bathroom slippers because the bathroom floor is often wet. These slippers are only to be worn in the bathroom. Do not wear them in other parts of the house.
The Combination Toilet
In India, they have come up with the combination toilet (a.k.a. Anglo-Indian toilet) that allows both sitting and squatting.
It’s just a little more precarious than the normal squat toilet, but still safer than squatting on a Western toilet. At least, this one has wider platforms for your feet.
If you choose to squat, make sure you clean your shoe prints from the toilet seat before leaving.
The Indian Public Urinal
I think this type of public urinal is unique to India because I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Then again, I haven’t been to every country in the world, so please correct me if I’m wrong.
The public urinals in India are not in an enclosed bathroom. Instead, they’re standalone structures out in the open. I believe the picture above needs no further description. Due to overpopulation, sanitation has always been a massive issue in India, both in the urban and rural areas.
The public toilets aren’t any better. Forget using one. Even walking within a 10-meter radius of them is unbearable. If you’re in India, your best bet for a clean public toilet would be in the more expensive restaurants, provided that you dine there.
The African Pit Latrine
A pit latrine is a type of toilet that collects human feces in a large hole in the ground. This hole is typically at least 3 meters deep and 1 meter across. It may be connected to a toilet seat or squatting pan for users’ comfort. But sometimes, it may just be a concrete or wooden slab with a small drop hole.
How to Use the African Pit Latrine
Use it the same way you would use a squat toilet. Except that for a dry pit latrine, you use toilet paper (or leaves, or newspaper pages) to clean yourself with, instead of water. Here is a video I found on how to use the African pit latrine:
Just be extra careful because the slabs — on which you have to squat — are sometimes shoddily built and have a risk of collapsing. South Africa is in the process of eradicating pit latrines in the country following the deaths of several schoolchildren who fell and drowned in the pits.
The Japanese (and Korean) Smart Toilet
I think we can all agree that the Japanese people are simply out of this world. Their toilets come with a side panel that has more buttons than your regular washing machine.
The most basic ones will allow you to control water pressure and temperature, as well as the angle of the water so that it cleans both your rear and your front. With the more advanced ones, you get a button that can play artificial flushing sounds if you need them, and one that releases a deodorizing spray. These can be especially helpful in public toilets.
Not a fan of sitting on a cold toilet seat in the middle of winter? Don’t worry, the toilet seat can preheat itself for you. And when you’re done, you can dry yourself with the bum dryer. No toilet paper required.
Most of these buttons are labeled in Japanese but they have simple illustrations that give you a basic idea of their purpose. The smart toilet has also been spotted in South Korea.
The Natural Toilet
Last but not least, we have the organic, all-natural toilet. No matter what type of toilet you prefer from the list above, be it the Western type or the squat one, you’re going to have to abandon them when you go camping/hiking in the wilderness. And you have to learn to embrace this one.
PRO TIP: Make sure you do it at least 300 yards away and downwind from your campsite.
Have you tried all of the toilets listed in this post? Which one is your preferred option? Comment below.