Have you ever seen a sign in a toilet in Thailand that tells you not to flush toilet paper?
Flushing your toilet tissue down the toilet is the norm where I’m from, but in Thailand and some other Asian countries it’s not allowed.
So what do you do about toilet paper in Thailand?
As a general rule, don’t flush toilet paper in Thailand. A small bin is almost always provided next to the seat ready for you to discard your tissue. Just pop the soiled tissue in there when you’re done with it.
There are exceptions. Many modern condos or malls will let you flush toilet paper. Best to ask before you clog up the plumbing and cause someone a pretty massive headache. If you can’t ask, play it safe and don’t flush.
In an interesting twist, it’s for this reason that expats think this is the best place in the world to take a poop! But I’ll get to that in a second.
Why can’t you flush toilet paper in Thailand?
The bathrooms of Thailand contain countless signs to stop hapless tourists from clogging up the pipes of hotels, restaurants and bars across the country.
The plumbing system in many Asian countries is not up to Western standards and gets clogged easily. The volume of toilet tissue a typical foreigner uses can easily lead to blockages and flooding from the toilet. The specific issues and differences that cause this were explained to me as follows.
In Western countries, the pipes are larger with longer bends and they are designed so the waste always goes downhill. In Thailand, the pipes are smaller with narrower bends and sometimes are parallel to the ground or even go uphill.
You may have noticed no tissue provided in a Thai toilet? This isn’t a mistake. Thais don’t use tissue to clean themselves. What they do is rather interesting – full explanation coming in the next section.
These days, the plumbing of modern buildings can handle a normal amount of tissue paper. At the three condo buildings I’ve lived in, all built in the last twenty years, I could flush as much as I wanted with no problem.
Why is there no toilet paper in Thailand?
Do you see the following photo?
[pic coming soon :)]
This is a kind of hose, affectionately called the “bum gun” by expats, that shoots water out and fulfills the same function as a bidet. You spray the water following a number two in the relevant areas to ensure a thorough clean.
Seem ridiculous? That’s what everyone thinks at first. Give it three months and you will become like the rest of us, totally accustomed, and actually dreading going to any non-Asian country where you have to smear your feces around with tissue paper like a neanderthal.
Here’s my “bum gun cheat sheet” that you didn’t ask for 🙂
- Do not stand up. I’m ashamed to say that it took until my adult years to realise that standing up to wipe was ridiculous and wrong. Sitting down gives you the best angle for bum gun use. You need things to be spread apart, if you get what I’m saying.
- Put it in behind you. Place the bum gun down behind your back and shoot upwards and forwards. I’ve had a conversation with at least one friend (or idiot) who felt that putting it down the front was acceptable. Shuffle forward on the seat to give yourself room and you’re good.
- Test it first. Bum guns comes with a variety of different pressures. Sometimes it’s a limp drip that you can barely notice, other times you’ll feel like you’re cleaning yourself with a fire hydrant. The one in my apartment can easily hit the ceiling, for example.
- Don’t install one in your home country. Don’t get the idea that you should install one of these wondrous creations when you move back to your home country. The water in Thailand is a pleasant “lukewarm” because it’s so hot here. In most countries, you’ll be firing icy cold water into your anus. Not recommended.
What if there isn’t a bum gun?
Now, sometimes you’ll come across toilets with no tissue and not even a bum gun. I’m talking about one of these setups.
So you’ve got a pail of water and some kind of scoop. I know it’s supposed to fulfill the same purpose as a bum gun does but for the life of me I can’t figure out how. Anyone help me out in the comments?
This type of toilet is rare. I’ve only ever encountered them at a rural “service station” when taking a van to some out of the way place. I imagine they are common the further you get from “civilisation”, so to speak.
UPDATE: I’ve been informed of this enlightening post on Thaivisa that answers this question. Not sure I want the answer now I’ve read it, but I’ll leave it here for you guys.
…the LEFT hand is used to splash water UP to the anus and, if necessary, wash it a bit all from the small plastic bowl, and the remaining water dumped in the toilet…….then some fresh water from the tub in the plastic bowl and a good scrub of the left hand in the plastic bowl, dump the water and you’re done. Thais are careful not to contaminate the water in the tub and to not use their right hand. This may not seem terribly sanitary to westerners but most health professionals know that SCRUBBING of the hands is more important than using soap. The upside is that Thais must have the cleanest bums in the world; most that I know are disgusted by the western use of toilet paper.
Does Thailand have squat toilets?
Squat toilets are the de facto lavatory system in China and some other Asian countries. Resembling a hole in the ground more than an actual toilet, you have to squat down and kind of “hover” while you do your business. Not a pleasant experience. (Although the argument is that it’s more hygienic as you don’t have to touch anything!)
Thailand is, happily, largely free of this kind of toilet. I’ve seen squat toilets a mere handful of times travelling and living here and only in the most remote of places. I am a self-confessed Bangkokian city slicker though, to be fair.
What you are more likely to see is little rooms with a small hole on the floor in the corner of the room. You’d be forgiven for not even thinking this was a toilet. This is the old-style Thai urinal for guys to urinate in. Again, it’s rare to find them nowadays.
- If you’re looking for a mindblowing toilet experience, visit the Terminal 21 shopping mall in Asoke. Tie in your visit with a trip to the excellent food court and be amazed by the Japanese-style heated water and musical jingles (so strangers can’t hear your poop hit the water, duh…)
- If you are using tissue paper with a bin, it is considered impolite not to “gift wrap” your tissue so that the nasty stuff is all on the inside of the folded tissue. Spare a thought for the person who has to empty the bin, perhaps!
- In truly rural areas then it’s even more important to not use toilet paper. Thailand is not entirely connected to a central sewage system (although that is changing) and older technology like soakwells are used to deal with sewage. These devices get clogged with toilet paper which can cause big problems for the local community.
- Another question: Why is it some Thais are able to use the bum gun with no tissue paper and go on with the rest of the day without caring about the water dripping down their leg? This has always puzzled me. Any answers?