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Why Squat Toilets Suck

It’s time for me to gripe a little. I generally like to keep the blog positive, but this particular issue has been weighing heavily on my mind as of late and I think it’s time for me to release the burden (no pun intended…?)

Squat toilets suck. But you could have guess that, right? – because it’s waaay less comfortable to squat while doing your business than to sit, right? Well, here’s the thing: the squatting part isn’t so bad; it’s actually an amalgamation of unfortunate Thailand bathroom characteristics that make the experience truly harrowing.

The American public bathroom that we know and love includes some basic necessities like toilets and toilet paper in addition to “amenities” like soap, hand towels or hand dryers, and a usually a mirror. Strip it down. Take it all away and you have a squat toilet situation on your hands. There will generally be a porcelein bowl of sorts with a place for your feet during the squatting process and a bucket immersed in a bowl of water that you are then expected to use as a form of manual flushage. You may have a water squirting tool (something akin to that squirting thing that comes with kitchen sinks) affectionately known as a “bum gun” for wiping purposes. Toilet paper? HA! This is a bathroom for godsakes, what were you expecting?? There may be a sink, but there definitely won’t be any soap. Definitely no way to dry your hands. There probably won’t be a mirror.

squat toilet
America, please meet The Squat Toilet. (Not my photo. http://www.aero.com/photo/blakeh/Bali99/Life05.htm)

There is so much water and so few forces of drying involved when using a squat toilet that you might as well find the nearest tributary and dunk under for a quick pee. And remember: the tributaries around here are basically unmanaged flows of sewage. Yes, you will feel that dirty and wet after using a squat toilet.

But not all toilets in Bangkok are of the squatting variety. In fact, most of them aren’t. Allow me to paint a new picture – perhaps a less extreme one – of the average public bathroom in Thailand: there is a toilet and it has a flush. There is a sink and a mirror but there still isn’t any toilet paper or any way to dry your hands whatsoever. And usually there still isn’t any soap. Although these bathrooms are far more manageable (and functional for that matter), they are still missing the REALLY IMPORTANT drying forces. Bum guns may make you feel cleaner than toilet paper does (“like a shower for your bottom”) but they just make you wetter than you were to begin with! What in the world…? I don’t understand!!

soaking wet when you use a squat toilet
Me after running home in the pouring rain. You will feel this wet after your squat toilet experience. Except this photo represents a clean, wet feeling (even though Bangkok probably rains down acid) whereas you will feel dirty-wet after your time in the squatter.

So you walk in to one of these average Bangkok bathrooms and find every surface – the floor, the toilet seat, the wall, the ceiling (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit) – covered in water because people are careless with the water squirting tools. Unless you brought your own TP, you’re just going to get wet. Then maybe you’ll rinse your hands (but no soap, remember?) and be…wetter…

You can use the toilet paper you brought with you to dry your hands. See how well that works out for you. (Note to all of Thailand: toilet paper is in no way, shape, or form a substitute for paper towels! Never is this the case! They just don’t work the same way.)

So, like I was saying, the squatting part of the squat toilet really isn’t so bad.

That is, the squatting itself isn’t so bad but you must consider the completely anti-ergonomic squatter design that seems to prevail in this country. How could they mess up something so natural as squatting? I mean, this is something humans have been doing since humans have been doing, if you know what I mean.

Do not squat on a regular toilet
I see this sign a lot in bathrooms with toilet bowls. Could you really confuse a bowl for a squatter, though?

But, alas, they have found a way to make squatting completely impossible by designing these raised porcelain platforms with an oblong bowl in the center and two foot grips on the flanks. If you really try to imagine yourself squatting on one of these you will quickly understand that your feet need not be at the same elevation as your bottom – in fact, this placement makes it nearly impossible not to spray your legs and clothes and everything else with your pee stream. (Sorry if this is getting graphic. I’m on a rant now and I can’t slow down.)

Sea slugs potty humor
I thought this would be a hilarious time to insert a photo of sea cucumbers for sale as FOOD in Chinatown. Would you eat ’em?

The fact of the matter is: the actual design of the squat toilet is completely non-ergonomic. It would be easier to pee into a hole in the ground than these things.

Speaking of which (and this is my last point, I promise), if you’re going to take the time and resources to install a porcelain fixture into the bathroom, WHY NOT MAKE IT A REAL TOILET BOWL SO WE CAN SIT DOWN?? It just seems like it would take just as much time, effort, and money to put in a real bowl (it doesn’t have to flush! It can be ones of those water bucket-flush toilets I see around every now and then!) as it does to put in a squat toilet.

I feel lucky that there’s a special Teacher’s Bathroom at my school of the aforementioned average Bangkok bathroom variety. Otherwise I would be stuck trying to figure out how to squat in the bathrooms that the kids use in my knee-length work skirt. I’ve adapted, albeit slowly, to bringing my own toilet paper wherever I go. And, lucky for me, there’s probably a 7-11 across the street where I can buy a roll if I’ve forgotten. Now there’s something convenient and comfortable…


    • mishvo says:

      I’ve heard about the toilet situation in India from my friend Liz. She completely adapted and uses the bum guns here like it’s no big thing. But yeah. The whole thing makes me feel pretty dirty. I generally try not to think about it.

  1. Laurey Kawalek says:

    Oooo, my face is very twisted while reading this. Yuk! I must admit I am and will always be a squatter in a public bathroom – no matter how clean. Can I send you some purell?

  2. Vaughan Merlyn says:

    Great post! Very well written, if a little unpleasant to read!

    It’s strange given the Thai culture and general cleanliness that toilets tend to be primitive. Still, in many ways the Thai approach seems more palatable than that in India, where people always eat with their right hand because they use their left hands for… well, you get the point!

    • mishvo says:

      Yes yes yes yes YES. I do feel grateful that I’m not expected to use my hand. It is strange that they still have toilets like this around…It seems not to bother them too much though since they have all been doing it since they were little. Maybe? I don’t know, I wish I could ask them.

  3. DaveO says:

    When we went on a river rafting trip on the Middle Folk of the Salmon River in Idaho, we thought the Privies were hard to deal with. But the squat toilets make them seem like the bathrooms at the Ritz Carlton !

  4. Elizabeth says:

    haha this made me laugh out loud! Spot on and written so eloquently! oh bum guns are so wet, i don’t understand how the Thai people can’t figure out not to get water everywhere!

    • mishvo says:

      I know right? Sometimes they will have “no sex” and “no farting” signs in the windows of taxi cabs. Can’t decide if I think it’s a joke or not…
      But the no squatting on the toilet bowl sign is definitely not a joke. I guess some people have a hard time suppressing their squatting tendencies.

  5. Great post! Beautifully written, if a little unpleasant to read! It’s strange given the Thai culture and general cleanliness that toilets tend to be primitive. Still, in many ways the Thai approach seems more palatable than that in India, where people always eat with their right hand because they use their left hands for… well, you get the point!

  6. Ruth says:

    Hahaha. Nice rant! I actually don’t mind the idea of a squatter toilet (apparently it is more physiologically correct), but I agree with your rage at the lack of washing and drying materials. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve had to hang out for awhile and “drip dry” – not nice! And what is it with people hosing down THE ENTIRE BATHROOM?! This is even worse when its a western toilet and the seat is soaking. I think that the worst part of the whole mess is the lack of soap, especially when you’re in a restaurant! And the indignity of toilet paper to dry your hands…

    whew! And there’s my own rant! Great post 🙂

  7. Elizabeth says:

    This was a funny read. When I was here in 2000 there were a lot more squatters than I see these days. One hilarious thing from then that I don’t see anymore was the popular brand of toilet paper ironically named, ‘sit and smile’. Clearly it should have been called squat and smile. However disgusting, one good tip I learned from my own trial and error is that facing the hole diminishes the spray factor. Good luck.

    • mishvo says:

      I haven’t seen any “sit and smile” yet I don’t think but now I’ll be on the lookout for it…
      I’m desperately confused about the logistics of using the squatters. I’ve tried facing both ways; I’ve tried getting all the way down on my haunches and I’ve tried getting not so low. I really can’t figure out how people do it with so little effort.

  8. Ruth says:

    Reblogged this on The Facetious Farang and commented:
    Don’t worry, my little friends. I’m not going to suddenly start inflicting my thoughts on you every day. I just read this post by a dee-lite-full fello Bangkokian blogger, and I wanted to share it with you. She discusses a topic that is near and dear to the hearts and bowels of most farangs, and it is one that I will probably never cover, because:
    1) Squatty toilets warm the cockles of my Indian heart, and;
    2) Squatting is one of my best talents. The following has been said many times around my home town: “That Ruth may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but MAN can she pop a squat.”


  9. Andrea says:

    I used to dread squat toilets with my entire being, and now, I find myself preferring them in public spaces because it’s easier to avoid unwanted contact. They’re definitely designed for petite Thai people, but luckily with my small stature I find it easier to squat than accidently embrace the toilet seat while hovering. The bad part is, as you said, squat toilet bathrooms are consistently disgusting and neglected by any type of cleaning service. The “bum gun” too has grown on me, but only in the privacy of my home when 1) you can dry off and 2) you don’t have to think about how many hands or worse have touched the hose right after using the toilet (ew!) Always carry around tissue and hand sanitizer, and sooner than later you won’t even flinch over them! PS: You know you’ve mastered the squat toilet when you can do it in heels!

    • mishvo says:

      Ain’t that the truth! Haven’t even attempted in heels, I’m still wondering how it could be possible in jeans! Ugh, I don’t know…I think I need someone to sit down and show me the correct technique (pun intended!)

  10. Lani says:

    555 I just wrote about a similar experience: Where to find a toilet in Thailand!!! But alas, yes, the squat toilet is very daunting at first. I actually now like the choice: throne vs. squat because when a place is exceptionally nasty, I can squat and not touch the seat!

    Besides carrying my own TP these days, I have found a new love for capris! Gotta avoid long skirts and pants when using those toilets! 😛

  11. ty says:

    miss mishvo,

    having foie gras as Food is no less weird than having sea cucumber if not more.
    i dont encourage to take that both as food but i think you have to be more respectful to other culture in your words.

    • mishvo says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ty. I think you bring up an important point. I’ve always felt that I approach other cultures with open-mindedness and curiosity. My interest in learning about different cultures was a motivating factor in my move to Asia.

      I think I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I didn’t recognize and address these cultural differences (be they food- or bathroom-related) from my own unique perspective. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything interesting to read about on my blog!

  12. chompy says:

    Personally, I prefer squat toilet, especially in public places, since it’s more sanitary. Something I don’t like in America is that there are only sitting toilets in restrooms. Because I have to check carefully that there is no marks of pee (or blood, etc) left on the seat from someone that used it earlier every time I am about to do my “business”. It disgusted me when I did find something left on the seat. Plus, I grew up with using squat toilet and really think it helps make bowel movements more easily. But I also believe it is a trouble for those who have knee problem.

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Chompy! I do think a lot of the discomfort associated with squat toilets comes from not being familiar with them. When you’ve been raised to do something a certain way (and therefore you are physically better prepared to do it in that way), of course you’re going to prefer it! I mean really, when it comes down to it, I recognize that the squat toilet and the bowl toilet are simply two different solutions to the human need to go to the bathroom. Really, one is probably not better than the other, but it depends on what the individual is familiar and comfortable with!

  13. Yuriy says:

    Came here while searching for “squat toilet”, and decided to express my disagreement with the author on this topic.
    While traveling, I had a chance to experience the diversity of world’s toilet traditions, and came to a conclusion that, in fact, western toilet is the one that sucks the most. Here’s why. First, it does not consider human anatomy. The intestines don’t get fully cleared when you sit, you’ll do the job much better while squatting. Second, on a squat toilet you don’t have to touch anything. On western toilet, you have to come in contact with all that bacteria on its seat and, if you are a man, get ready to wipe off someone’s urine before you sit down. And a United States-only bonus — get a nice splash of cold water on your butt because someone thought filling the bowl with water would be a good idea (I am so happy Europe at least didn’t copy that). Toilet paper? It’s no way you can fully wipe it with paper. Always wondered how westerners, while being so obsessed with hygiene, are OK with walking with some residual over there for the whole day. I always feel dirty when there’s only toilet paper to use, and I didn’t bring a small bottle, wish there was a bidet or at least a small bottle/bowl to get clean. IMHO, bidets and squat toilets completely beat paper and bowls.
    PS: Your blog is interesting, I like traveling too.

    • mishvo says:

      Thanks for sharing Yuriy! Like I said, I don’t mind squatting. I Just don’t like walking around wet down there, and furthermore not being able to wash my hands properly and dry them somehow. Lastly, it’s super different being a man v woman when it comes to squat toilets: a) we have to actually squat more often and pee gets all over us when we do so and b) periods.


  14. Lance Ash says:

    I have been researching squat toilets lately and been thoroughly confused and disgusted by what I’ve discovered. It reminds me of a year or so ago when people were extolling the virtues of bidets, claiming that they saved “so much” paper. But, here’s the thing: how do you dry off after spraying your whole backside with water? Anyway, are you still in Atlanta, because I’ve lived in Athens all my life. Atlanta is the place we go for Indian comestibles and food from around the world at the many farmer’s markets.

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Lance, haha yes I have the same issue with squat toilets/bum guns. Gotta dry off somehow! I do currently live in Atl. I went to college in Athens – love that town. So many great memories there.

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