Thailand, Travel Advice

Pee Pee Island – A girl’s guide to the Asian Squatty Potty

15 Comments 27 January 2007

Welcome to public toilets in Asia!

Welcome to public toilets in Asia!

All of the guide books make reference to it; the Asian toilet a.k.a. Squatty Potty, but no one from Lonely Planet is telling you how to use it. There is no diagram or map, they just let you figure it out yourself. So for all of the ladies out there that are planning to travel to Asia, read on. When I was in Northern Thailand trekking through hill tribes our guide, Hay, would use the term “Going to Pee Pee Island” when he or someone had to go to the bathroom on the trail. Fitting since there is an island in Southern Thailand called Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee).    I have affectionately decided to start using the term…it just seems a little nicer than #1 and #2 – don’t ya think?

My experience of learning to pee in a squatty potty came over much trial and error (and wet shoes and pant cuffs unfortunately – ewwww). After much practice in various countries in Asia, I became somewhat proficient.  Here’s a few tips that I gathered.

First, no matter what kind of toilet you encounter in Asia, carry some sort of toilet paper in with you at all times. In a real squatty potty situation, and even in most western public toilet situations there is never toilet paper provided.  I have no idea why.  The only reason I can come up with is the plumbing can’t handle excessive paper usage, so one way to control that is to not provide it. Or maybe Thailand just has a shortage of paper products, as evidenced by their tiny napkins.

Ok, now down to the details.  I will start with the western toilet in Asia

This toilet looks familiar, it looks like ours; a throne to sit on.  You may be excited to encounter one of these as they are in the minority in Asia.  As you are sitting ‘doing your business’, you survey your surroundings and notice, there’s a toilet paper holder (but no toilet paper of course – hope that you brought your own as I had advised), there’s a large bucket of water beneath a water spout, and there is a small trash can. The bucket will have a smaller scoop/dipper floating in it. toilet sign.jpg
All of these items are important.  They aren’t just there for looks as I had once thought.  Don’t be fooled by the western looking toilet! Sure you can sit, however the plumbing in most of the areas is not very good.  Therefore, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the flusher actually works.  Instead, once you have completed your business and dug your own toilet paper out of your pocket,  don’t throw it in the stool.  You are supposed to throw it in the little trash can.  Then you go to the bucket of water and use the ‘scoop’ floating in the water to fill up and pour down the toilet.  Do this 2 or 3 times (you can use your own judgment on this) and this creates a ‘natural’ flushing mechanism; thank God for gravity! If you are really polite, you should take note of how much water is left in the bucket and if it’s low, turn on the spout and fill it up for the next person.

You have now mastered the Asian Western toilet. Granted, in nicer hotels you don’t have to worry about this.  These types of Asian Western toilets are mainly public toilets or in budget hotels/hostels.

The other situation…the true Asian squatty potty:

This toilet is basically a porcelain hole in the ground raised up off the floor about 4 inches. There is no plumbing/flushing mechanism associated with this.  You will once again find the typical spout, bucket of water and ‘dipper’ to flush (see above), and a little trash can.  The squatty potties are not meant to have toilet paper put down them, so definitely use the trash can!  Upon first entering the foreign abode, you will be confused.  Do you stand over the hole?  Do you squat over the hole?  How do you not ‘splash’?  What if you are wearing flip flops?  Where do you stand exactly?  So many questions; I have experienced them all!  

The first thing to know is you should stand on the place where there are ‘foot rests’.  This is normally signified by little foot platforms on the porcelain structure itself.  I’ve made the mistake of putting my feet outside the edges of the porcelain structure and it just doesn’t work as well, trust me.  Instead, you stand on the porcelain foot rests.  Try to get your pants out of the ‘drop zone’ as best you can. 

Next you have to know how to squat.  I honestly learned this through trial and error.  I first tried squatting a little bit; kind of like working out at a gym and doing squats with your trainer.  However you’ll quickly find out that this still leaves about 3 feet between you and the actual toilet which directly effects the splash factor.   Just use your high school physics; the longer the drop, the more the splash.  You don’t want to come out of the bathroom with your pant legs all wet.  Or worse, your shoes all squishy.  It’s not fun, I’ve been there.  You’ll want to reduce the distance between you and the toilet.  The best way that I have figured out how to describe this is to get in a catcher’s stance, just like you are Jorge Posada, ready to receive the pitch from the mound.  Now if you are actually standing on the right spot on the squatty potty (on the porcelain footrests) and you are looking like a major league baseball catcher, then you will look down and realize you are in the best possible position to pee. 

After your done you use your own toilet paper that you brought and put it in the nearby trash can.  Then you scoop water out of the nearby bucket and pour it down the squatty potty a few times.  Before I had mastered the catcher’s squat, there were a few times I poured a scoop of water over my feet!

Finally, I know you are all wondering, what about #2?  I call it Poo Poo Island.  Simply assume the catchers stance again, make sure you bring your toilet paper, and know that you may have to refill the bucket for your manual ‘flushing’.  It takes a few more scoops of water for natural flushing.

You may be wondering how I became so smart in the ancient ways of the Asian squatty potty?

I still remember the day that I finally figured this all out.  I was at a bus terminal in Chiang Mai.  I bought my toilet paper for 3 baht, and went into the public toilet.  I decided to try the catchers stance for the first time; it was then that I noticed it.  In front of me, on the stall door there was some Thai writing.  It was right at my eye level while I was in the catcher’s stance.  Eureka!!!!  I had found the sweet spot; they put writing here because that’s where your eye level is supposed to be! I was so damn proud of myself I wanted to burst! I came out of that public restroom a new woman feeling successful!  At that time I also decided that I could probably make a little diagram for westerners and sell it outside of the public toilet for about 10 baht.  Who knows, maybe that will be my next big business idea; Squatty Potty Cliff Notes with diagram.  I’m sure you would all buy it – wouldn’t you?

There it is, the instructions Lonely Planet never gave you.  Hopefully this info came in handy.  It’s the least I can do as it took me about 2 months, many wet pants legs, and shoes to figure this out.  Most of all, I hope this avoids you from having the ever so common ‘Asian travelers constipation’ (fear of going in the squatty potty).  Happy bowel movements to you all!

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Marcy says:

    Sherry, perhaps including a diagram directly on the toilet paper that you plan to sell to tourists could double your profits! Happy peeing :-)

  2. Danielle says:

    I totally needed this before we went to Asia. I had no idea how to “prepare” my 8 and 11 yo daughters.

  3. Chase says:

    After being in Taiwan for over 9 months (plus a quick trip to Thailand) I have effectively avoided the Squatty Potty — mostly out of fear of getting it wrong.

    Thank you for showing me the way. I’m not afraid anymore.

    I will say, though, I’ve learned the BYOTP trick through unfortunate trial and error…

  4. jk says:

    actually for alot of asian countries, their toilets come with this small hose that i had no idea what it is for, even though im a singaporean (which is very westernised in this sense). U can use the hose and squirt ur butt to clean it w/o toilet paper.. or just use the pail and bailer to clean ur butt. Takes a while to get used to, and make sure u wash your hands properly with soap! if not, water and hand sanitiser thereafter

  5. admin says:

    @jp – Great point! I forgot to talk about the spray hose! I live in Vietnam now and that’s what most of the toilets around here have. I have to say, I have a hard time giving up the tp…but when in a bind…you gotta do what you gotta do!

  6. Marc says:

    I’m a convert to the hose although I do still find the bucket and water scoop a little unappealing; on the rare occasions that I find myself back in the West or in a western loo I’m always disappointed to find loo roll and no hose! After all, to get your hands clean you would rather wash them than simply rub them with a tissue wouldn’t you? For me the ideal combination is a western flushing toilet with a hose.

    Enjoyed your post and the very nice site which, by the way, I found via a Tweet of yours retweeted by Travelfish and I have now retweeted it myself! (This Twitter-speak is getting so complicated.)

  7. tt says:

    I came across this article and just want to point out:
    You use the term “Asia” but the situation described here is not universally applicable in all of Asia. The case in point is the availability of Western style toilet. In big cities, at least, most of toilets are western with western style plumbing. It’s definitely not “rare”. One can definitelt manage to avoid squat toilet if he or she wants to. I grew up in Taiwan and I never used squat toilet in public until when I was … in Milan (at the train station)!

  8. Priyank says:

    hahaha that was a fun post Sherry! They say squatting position is ideal for poo poo land. In fact, if you grow up squatting, it feels very weird and uncomfortable to “sit”. btw, the water is also used for washing and maintaining higher hygenic standards (a paper can only clean so much!) Use your left hand please.

  9. William says:

    Good post, though I have to say the best advice I can give concerns the “drop zone:” my misconception on trying to use one of these for the first time in Japan was that one should still pull their pants all the way down. That decidedly doesn’t work. Luckily, a diagram set me straight in time to avoid the long line for the Western toilet while on the bullet train: you only pull them down to the tops of your thighs! I have to say, it was quicker and easier than the Western toilet, even while rocking back and forth going half the speed of sound. 😛 I didn’t use a Western toilet again until I was back in the States.

  10. Lisa says:

    thanks ! I really needed to know that in Thailand at the mo.

  11. C says:

    Hi i just wanted to share, i grew up in manila and had never used a squatty potty until i went to guangzhou or shenzhen for a trip. a ‘western toilet’ is the norm in the philippines. however if you go to a very remote rural area you might find something similar to the squatty potty. but still, most beach hotels (even the most economical ones) would have the regular toilets. the water hoses have recently (5 years or so) been installed in public toilets because it’s quite common that people have them in their homes. one would normally wash with soap and water after doing number two at home. it used to be just a dipper for water present in the bathrooms, now there’s the ‘bidet hose’. personally though, i’d rather not use the public bidet hoses and would use tissue paper instead. :)

  12. Travel Ria says:

    When I came to Japan airport for a transit and i badly need to use the toilet. i held my pee and took a line in the ‘normal’ toilet instead of the squat one!

    I just cant do it

  13. NinaLucas says:

    This form of squatting to go poo is actually the original healthy way of doing it…our western sit down toilets are not a healthy way to do our business. I squat at all times.

  14. Bill says:

    I don’t know about other Asian countries, but I have traveled extensively in India, and have been instructed by locals in the proper use of the water bucket.
    First off, nobody uses toilet paper, that’s why there isn’t any. Instead, you scoop up water from the bucket with the little dipper and hold it in your RIGHT hand, then pour a little water at a time onto your LEFT hand to clean yourself. The locals always pointed out that this leaves you much cleaner than dry paper. After you are done, you flush with the WHOLE bucket. You want to use enough water to transport the entire business way down the pipes. Then, you fill up the bucket for the next person.
    Because you use your LEFT hand to clean yourself, this is considered the “dirty” hand. Keep this in mind when in India. Don’t give or accept gifts, or pass bread at the table, or do other “clean” things with the “dirty” hand.

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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