So, this is awkward:
For the average western traveller, fully accustomed to a toilet paper lifestyle, an empty toilet roll can be a major cause for alarm. But what about visiting an entire country which doesn’t use toilet paper?
“What do you mean they don’t use toilet paper?!”
You may be surprised to learn that most people on this planet do not use toilet paper at all. In fact, a whole bunch of people on this planet think you’re weird and unhygienic for using toilet paper. This is especially true across Asia, a continent which has largely eschewed paper in favour of water-based cleaning methods. For the first-time traveller, stepping off the plane in India without so much as a scrap of toilet paper in their backpack, this can be a little daunting, confusing and potentially messy.
There are lots of different methods for cleaning yourself with water, and of course they all vary across different places, cultures and religions. You can find more detail in our individual country guides, but we wanted to give an overview of the different water methods here. GoGo Guano like to divide these methods into 3(ish) groups, or what we call the 3 tier water-based system.
So what exactly is the 3 tier water-based system?
Lets get into the details..
Tier 1: the bucket in a bucket
Things are pretty basic here on tier 1. There is a hole in the ground. It might be a very fancy hole, with porcelain and tread showing you where to put your feet, like this:
Or it might be, well, just a hole in the ground inside a corrugated iron shack. Like this:
When it comes down to business, it doesn’t really matter how fancy the hole is. You use all squat toilets in basically the same way:
Loosen clothing on the lower half of the body. As you squat down, you want to bunch your clothes around your knees, so your clothes don’t touch the floor.
When you squat, splay your feet slightly, so your toes are wider than your heels. Have your feet fairly wide apart, to reduce the risk of weeing on your own feet. If you’re flexible enough you want full contact between your thighs and calves. This will be easier to maintain than if you’re hovering and doing a half squat.
Do your business. You may even find that, like most people around the world, the squatting position actually makes it easier to empty your bowels.
Clean up time! Here’s where things get fun. See that large bucket of water in the corner?
It might be a cut in half plastic container, or part of a barrel. It probably has a smaller plastic container, such as a little jug floating in it. You want to use that jug to pour water where necessary, then use your left hand to wipe away any residue. Between each wipe, clean your hand again by pouring on some water. Never contaminate the jug or bucket by touching it with the same hand you used to wipe yourself with. You can also use the water jug to thoroughly ‘flush’ your deposit down the toilet hole if needed.
Wash your hands. If you’re going to use your hand for cleaning, you probably want to do as the locals do and stick rigidly to the “left hand for cleaning, right hand for eating” rule. If you’re not likely to remember to do that, we recommend you carry your own bar of soap in waterproof soap box with you everywhere. You generally won’t find soap at very basic toilets, so if you bring your own you at least can have a proper hand wash afterwards.
If you did bring your own toilet paper to the squat toilet party, you’ll need to consider both how you’ll reach round to wipe yourself, and the very important question of what you’ll do with your used toilet paper. Some people tend to twist up onto the ball of one foot whilst squatting, so you can reach around to clean yourself, others have super long arms or just reach between their legs. Try out different methods. If the squat toilet has a flush, you definitely don’t want to put any toilet paper in it. If it’s literally just a pit in the ground then at least there’s no risk of toilet paper blocking up the plumbing, although it still seems more environmentally friendly to dispose of it in other ways. There’s often a bin for used toilet paper if enough backpackers pass through this toilet. These bins are generally uncovered and not necessarily emptied regularly. You can be a considerate toilet user by hiding the used side of the toilet paper as you put in in the bin.
Tier 2: the bum gun
You will likely encounter these across Asia, in guesthouses, cafes and restaurants. This is an average bum gun:
They usually accompany western style sit down toilets, as an alternative to toilet paper. Bum guns can be a very useful and effective method of cleaning yourself. When you squeeze the trigger, a high-pressure jet of water comes out which can be directed where you need it. Bum guns are pretty hygienic, as you’re not using your hands to clean (whether with toilet paper or without!) They also solve that tricky problem of where to put your used toilet paper.
Bum guns don’t dry you, so some people dry themselves with toilet paper afterwards. Be sure to put your toilet paper in the bin, not the toilet. I would always assume you can’t flush your toilet paper if there’s a bum gun present; don’t be that guy that blocks up the plumbing because they assumed it would just be fine and no-one would know. One major advantage of learning to use the bum gun is that any toilet paper you put in the bin is clean. This can be pretty beneficial in a hot, humid climate. If there’s no toilet paper bin, you can air dry.
Tier 2.5: the integrated bidet
A surprise late entry to this list, the integrated bidet is commonly found in Turkey.
This clever system combines the familiarity of a western style, sit-down flush toilet, with the hygienic benefits of the bum gun. GoGo Guano have not been to Turkey yet, but we think their toilets sound fab. We conducted an in-depth interview with a fellow bathroom backpacker as he passed through Turkey:
GoGo Guano: [In response to being sent the above picture without any preamble or explanation] “How do you use it?”
Bathroom backpacker: “You sit down.”
GGG “Does it work!? Do you achieve bum cleanliness?”
BB: “the efficiency depends on the water pressure, there’s a value to control the force. You have to wiggle around a bit”
So there you go. Expect to hear more about the integrated bidet when GoGo Guano visit Turkey!
Tier 3: the wash dry toilet
These are commonly found in Japan, and scattered across affluent Asian cities such as the modern part of Bangkok. Wash dry toilets are, quite literally, toilets that wash and dry your bum after you use them. You just sit back and press a button. Some of these high-quality toilets even let you adjust the seat temperature before you sit down. They also have separate water jets set to different angles depending on what area needs cleaning, and the water pressure is adjustable. GoGo Guano haven’t been to Japan yet, but we’re pretty sure that after using Japanese toilet technology all western toilets will seem totally primitive and disappointing.
Something else to consider when toileting in Japan is that privacy is highly valued. Japanese public toilets often have background noise options (such as flushing noises or other water sounds) that you play whilst you do your business so no one can hear you. We’ve heard tales of public toilet embarrassment, when travellers have not pressed the “flushing noise” button before using the toilet, only to have locals go out of their way to turn on the background noise, least they hear someone else pee.
We’ve also heard that hand washing after using the bathroom is not considered as mandatory in Japan. Think about it; when you use a wash dry toilet, at no point do you touch anything gross. You only touch buttons and door handles which have been touched by other people with equally clean hands. Using a bit of paper to clean yourself can seem pretty gross to someone who’s grown up with a wash-dry toilet.
Some of our GoGo guest experts are heading to Japan in Spring 2017, so expect updates, pictures and insider knowledge then! Remember to check out our individual country guides for more detailed information.