Fortunately we are here to answer some of the most common questions travellers often have, but are too shy to ask. Here are five Bangkok bathroom basics:
1. Toilet paper: To flush or not to flush?
Many toilets in Bangkok have signs translated into varying degrees of English that indicate you should not flush feminine products or paper towels, but are sometimes less clear on toilet paper. The best rule of thumb is: Do not flush any paper products. Bangkok’s plumbing, including in some of the nicest places, often isn’t prepared for toilet paper or may use water-conserving toilets that are not able to flush toilet paper easily.
The common practice is to toss the toilet paper in the bin, regardless of how new the sanitation system appears, so you won’t offend the janitor if it turns out that that particular building has toilet-paper-capable plumbing. If you make a mistake in the other direction, however, and flush when you’re not supposed to, you may end up clogging the toilet with even the thinnest single-ply toilet paper.
Carry your own toilet paper or tissues. Public pay toilets usually do not have toilet paper in the stall so you may need to have your own or purchase it at the entrance for around 5THB per pack. In some places, there will be toilet paper provided but the dispenser is outside of the stall near the sinks, so keep any eye out before you go into the stall.
2. The bidet: What is it, and how do I use it?
Depending on where you are travelling from, bidets or other water hoses may already be common; for some, the toilet hose, affectionately known as the ‘bum gun’ by many travellers in the region, may be a completely foreign concept. The hose next to the toilet is great for janitors to quickly spray down public toilets when cleaning in between users. It’s also for you to freshen up your personal parts after using the toilet. Some users replace toilet paper completely with the bum gun, while others use it in conjunction with a dab of toilet paper to dry off at the end.
A few things to keep in mind
The hose may be more powerful than you expect and is not connected with any heater units, so it can be shocking cold or surprisingly warm depending on the outdoor temperature. Also, be careful with your aim so you don’t end up hitting that gap between the toilet seat and the toilet bowl in just that way that you soak your trousers. Not that that’s ever happened to me of course…
3. The bucket flush: Why are there a tub and a bucket next to the toilet and where is the flusher knob?
In some places, especially in public pay-for toilets, there may be just a large tub next to the toilet with a bucket. The first time I encountered one of these toilets, I had to shout out from the stall and ask my friend how to flush. I could tell from the smirk of the toilet attendant that I was not the first foreigner to shout that question across stalls. At first I thought it was for washing my hands, which could have been a very gross mistake to make (and one I hope that others haven’t made since you inevitably have to touch the water-soaked bucket to flush).
Fill the bucket with water and splash it into the toilet bowl as best you can, without splashing everything around it. Repeat. Adding water to the bowl uses science and other engineering feats to force the dirty water down and replace it with clean(er) water. It is particularly important to not flush toilet paper in these toilets as the older bucket flush style toilets are more prone to clogging.
4. Squat toilets: Do I have to? (Yes, and they are actually quite easy to use)
Squat toilets are hygienic, good for your bowels, and not that tricky once you get used to them – just try not to get urine on your feet the first few times. Besides the obvious “pull up your skirt/down your pants and squat” advice, you should also keep in mind that it is very easy to drop things from your pocket when squatting. You should aim for the opening, which means deciding whether facing the back wall or the stall door makes more sense (if there is a hood on the toilet, face the hood), keep your feet flat to help with balance, and use the stall walls to help keep you steady.
Often, especially in public toilets, the floors are covered in water. See this as a sign of cleanliness – the attendant often splashes the full stall to ensure nothing escapes the toilet bowl. This makes it difficult to keep long trousers or skirts from getting wet but is really for all of our benefit.
5. Finding toilets: Where are the best places to look for a toilet in an emergency?
Finding a toilet in Bangkok is surprisingly easy. All of the malls have clean, well-kept public toilets and nearly all restaurants (including open shopfront-style kitchens) have toilets for customers – though they may be shared between multiple restaurants. If you find yourself just walking along the street and in need of a toilet, look for any large office complex or hotel. Any office building with shops along the entrance will have some accessible facilities. Even places with guards will often have toilets available.
At large markets (especially Chatuchak Weekend Market), along beaches and in transportation hubs, there were will pay-to-use toilets that usually charge 3-5THB and the attendant can make change if you have a 20THB bill (any larger may be a challenge). They also usually sell tissue paper, anti-bacterial wipes, and chewing gum/mints.
When in doubt, ask a local “hong nam yu ti nai?” and look inquisitive, and they should point you in the right direction. If they don’t understand you’re Thai, try saying “toilet” in English and you may have even better success.
If travelling has thrown your menstruation cycle completely off track, you can find sanitary pads at any convenience store (as well as any store that generally sells beauty and health products). Tampons are less common but can be found at Boots Pharmacies, Villa Markets, Tecos Lotus, and Big-C, though the selection is limited. Specialty products like feminine wash, creams, or medications are not difficult to find but may or may not come with English translation.
Boots Pharmacy, a pharmacy chain from the Unite Kingdom that also sells a wide range of beauty products, will highly likely have what you are looking for and, in areas frequented by foreigners, will have English-speaking staff.
Have toilet-related questions about Bangkok? Leave questions and comments below!
More from Zafigo: