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A Traveler's Guide to Toilets Around the World

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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.

Western toilet - Traveler's Guide to Toilets around the World | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Shutterstock

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 not squat on toilet seat sign | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Express.co.uk

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

European bidet - traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
The European Bidet. Credit: TravelSmart Woman

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

  1. Turn on the water and adjust the temperature.
  2. Straddle the bidet in the same direction as you would sit on the toilet.
  3. Cleanse yourself using soap and water, adjusting the angle of the spout if you need to.
  4. 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

Toilet with hose - Traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Two Fish Traveling

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. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Press on the lever/button to release the water. Be careful — sometimes the water pressure is set on high.
  3. Once you feel that the water has washed away most of the poo excrement, you can use your left hand to make sure that you’re really clean. Keep the water running when you do this.
  4. 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:

Traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?

Traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?

The Squat Toilet

Squat toilet - types of toilets around the world - Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Indonesiaful

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 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.  

Toilet Stool | Ummi Goes Where?
Toilet Stool. Credit: Amazon

Click HERE to see it on Amazon.

How to Use the Squat Toilet

  1. Face forward and let your pants down to your knees (roll them up so they don’t touch the floor).
  2. 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!
  3. For balance, try to keep your feet flat, lean slightly forward, and rest your upper arms on your knees.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Anglo Indian Combination toilet | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Snapdeal

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

Indian public urinal - traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
Source: Emily Polar

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

African pit latrine - traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: BBC

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

Japanese smart toilet - traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Pinterest

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

Shovel toilet - traveler's guide to toilets around the world | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Pinterest

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.

Posted in Travel Tips

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43 Comments

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  2. Umiko

    Coming from Indonesia and now live in the US, I hate it when using the toilet in the mall and water is all over the floor. I agree with you that the bidet is a waste of the bathroom space. Hopefully I don’t have to use the public urinal in India or Africa. I better use the natural toilet. Anyway, I do that when I’m out on the trails. Haha..

    • ummi

      Hahaha heavens forbid that you have to use the Indian public urinal. You’re right, I’d rather use the natural toilet instead. But I did have to use the pit latrine in Africa. I don’t know how to describe it – it was not pleasant, but not as bad as I imagined. At least it was dry. 😆

  3. Agnes

    Such a funny and exciting post! And a lot of useful tips about toilets around the world. I still remember the public toilets in India. And combination toilet, where I had to squat because it was so dirty.

    • ummi

      Ugh.. hate dirty toilet seats. But I remember toilets in decent Indian restaurants were actually pretty clean. Anyway, glad that you enjoyed reading this article! 😆

  4. Clarice

    This is an interesting read but I agree with you that traveling allowed me to encounter different toilets. I am horrified to use the pit latrine and would definitely avoid places with this.

    • ummi

      I remember Couchsurfing in Rwanda and the only option I had was the pit latrine. Tried to avoid it as long as I could but had to admit defeat at last. It wasn’t so bad, but I wouldn’t want to repeat it 😆

  5. Arnav Mathur

    One of the most unique articles TBH. One correction, the reason you’ll find bum guns in India and South East Asia, is not because of any religion, but it’s kind of the logical thing you do. When you do your job, washing it is always the hygienic option as compared to using Toilet Rolls. It’s an unnecessary waste of Paper. The Japanese Smart Toilet is something that i’m eager to experience.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Arnav! I suppose you’re right, it’s the most logical thing to do – I can’t quite grasp the idea of cleaning something without water 😄. It’s just that I often find toilets with water hose in predominantly Muslim countries, like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. I may be wrong but in Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, etc, I remember some of their toilets didn’t have water hose.

  6. Jamie

    Wish I had read this before some of my travels – I always find the various bathrooms around the world to be super fascinating. I ran into some of these on my travels and as a westener did struggle sometimes with the squat toilet. But needs must and I figured out how to use it on the fly – this article would have prepared me better though! My favourite was the South Korean Smart Toilet though, that was fantastic, and ours was heated seats as well which I enjoyed in a cold Korean winter.

    • ummi

      You’re definitely not alone, Jamie! Even as an Asian living in Asia, I still have problem with the squat toilet.

      The Korean/Japanese smart toilets are the best, for sure. Love the heated seats, although the first time I sat on one, I thought the heat was from somebody else who had just sat on it before me 🤭

  7. Adele Gee

    Ahoy fellow Malaysian – Well, I love how you took the toilet topic by the horns! How marvelous and oh so important. I am one who really dislikes to use public toilets – but it is unavoidable and good to know how to use the different types in different regions. When using a clean toilet , I still prefer the ones with the hose or spray that we grew up with in Malaysia. I feel much more in control and cleaner using this method. Also , no need to hoard toilet papers in times of Corona!

    • ummi

      Oh I dread using public toilets too. And like you, my favorite is still the toilet with bum gun. Took me awhile to get used to the ‘dry cleaning’ method when I first started traveling outside of Malaysia. I’m better at it now but it still doesn’t feel clean enough and I usually end up using too much toilet paper 😞

  8. Yukti Agrawal

    I think, I am reading the most unique most now. Never thought of this, but toilet is really a crucial thing and during travel it is very difficult to adjust to different style of seating. We Indians do have have habit of toilet roll or tissue paper, so always look for spray hose or jet pipe for cleaning which I rarely find in western countries. Loved reading all comments and all toilet experiences with this post.

    • ummi

      Hey, Yukti! Thank you for your comment. Glad you enjoyed this article. Like you, I also struggled learning to use only toilet paper to clean myself. No matter how far and wide I’ve traveled, I think I will always prefer the toilet with a spray hose. 😄

  9. Raksha

    This is such a funny and important post. I feel it is one of those things that we struggle when we travel around the World with different styles of toilets. I find it so hard when I am on the road with dirty toilets such a turn off. But yes these tips help and I generally like the squatting toilets when I am traveling as there are less chances of getting any infections.

    • ummi

      Ya, squatting toilets are definitely more hygienic, but despite being Asian, I still can’t get the hang of it. Don’t know how to aim properly or how to clean myself without making a huge mess 😆

  10. Subhashish Roy

    Wow what a beautiful post. On something no one writes about. It’s really informative and useful.Toilet seat is perhaps the biggest worry when it comes to sharing toilets.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Subhashish! It’s true, toilets are something I dread when traveling abroad, unless I’m in Japan or South Korea. 😄 I hope you found the article useful!

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  13. Sis Lin

    Ada lagi ke ek orang duduk atas mangkuk jamban tu? adoii dulu kecik-kecik yaa, jakun mula bila abah tukar yang duduk, so pi cangkungnya atas tu, kemudia dah tau oooo salah rupanya hahaha.. tapi Sis lebih selesa guna yang cangkung.. cuma susah nak jumpa kan, rumah Mak Sis aje ada, satu duduk satu cangkung..

    • ummi

      Ada lagi sis orang yang cangkung atas tandas duduk. Kalau tengok tandas di shopping mall besar pun kadang2 nampak kesan tapak kasut pada mangkuk tandas. Agak memalukan la kalau pelancong luar tengok. Tapi biasanya tempat-tempat awam di Malaysia ni ada sediakan kedua-dua jenis tandas untuk keselesaan semua.

  14. Zharif Azis

    Nice write up ! I hate the bidet. Hahaha. I was living in the US for 6 months and i had difficulties when it comes to pooping. The first two weeks was very hard for me but as the time passed by, i get used to it. But still, i prefer the traditional toilet where there is water hose next to it. Hahaha

    • ummi

      Same here, Zharif! Although I’ve tried all of the toilets listed above and gotten used to some of them, I still prefer the one with water hose! 😀

  15. farhana jafri

    My first time see a combination of western and squat toilet. I’m super comfortable using squat toilet. I only use western type at my house bcs I cannot change the design but if I’m at the mall or elsewhere, I prefer to hold it till I found squat toilet haha

    • ummi

      Oh, then we’re the complete opposite, Farhana. I grew up with a Western toilet. Never really got used to the squat one. And it’s a pain to get up from the squatting position. Hahah. Perhaps age is catching up on me.

  16. bae roslan

    paling lemah pi oversea sebab bidet tu. haha sebab dah biasa ada hose kan. india and africa tu serammm haha. and PALING best of course natural. i paling suka bila camping sebab sungai tu sebagai toilet. puasssa rasa muahaha

    • ummi

      Hahaha, Bae! Setakat ni pengalaman saya guna natural toilet tak best sangat. Sebab takde air. 1st time, masa kat atas gunung Rinjani, 2nd time kat padang pasir, 3rd time kat savannah Afrika. Haha. Air minum pun kena jimat, so terpaksa la pakai toilet paper je.

  17. Rawlins GLAM

    I would say that the one with the hose is the best toilet. And I will be dreading going to the toilet if I’m in Africa or India.
    And I always bring bottles of water when I go to the toilet anywhere outside Malaysia – just in case

    • ummi

      I agree, Rawlins. The one with a hose is always the best. And I dread just thinking about the ones in India and Africa. All these toilets that we encounter abroad make us appreciate Malaysia more, don’t you think?

    • ummi

      Memang seram, Nadia. Tapi bila dah travel kat sana, nak buat macam mana, kan. Terpaksa la guna jugak, kecuali yang public urinal tu. Lalu dekat pun tak sanggup.

  18. Kitkat Nelfei

    Using toilet is also an art when we travel around the world kan.. aduiii, i can’t imagine how to use some of the toilet aduiii… even kat Malaysia pun, i only go for toilet ala2 Korea and Japan gitchew! if not i sanggup balik rumah dulu haha…

    • ummi

      Hahaha, sama la actually, Kitkat. At some places, mmg rasa tak selera nk guna toilet dia, i would rather just hold it in till I reach home. But when traveling, you don’t really have a choice.

  19. ienaeliena

    Menarik article ni ..baru tau toilet toilet negara lain..kite jarang travel..kalau thai yg iena pernah pergi dekat tandas petrol station takde waterhost..korea best toilet dia kan hehe

    • ummi

      Ya, Iena. Saya perasan kalau dekat Southeast Asia ni, di negara2 bukan majoriti Muslim selalunya tandas diorang takde water hose. Toilet paper je. Yg Korea dan Jepun tu memang best.

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