By Sherry Ott
All the guidebooks to travel in Asia make reference to the “squatty potty.” It’s basically a porcelain hole in the ground, raised up off the floor about 4 inches. There is no plumbing or flushing mechanism associated with this hole. You will find a spout, a bucket of water, a “dipper” for flushing, and a little trashcan for toilet paper.
A bare-bones squatty potty in Nepal. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Otts World)
But no one from Lonely Planet and the other books tells you how to use it. There is no diagram, no map. They just let you figure it out for yourself. When you first approach it, you may find yourself wondering: Where do you stand? Over the hole? On one side of the hole? Do you squat over the hole? How do you not splash? What if you are wearing flip-flops?
Fear not. My experience learning how to pee in a squatty potty involved much trial and error (and wet shoes and pant cuffs, unfortunately … ewww), and I would like to share it with you. Below, my squatty-potty secrets.
1. Carry toilet paper with you at all times.
First, no matter what kind of toilet you encounter in Asia, carry some sort of toilet paper with you at all times. In a real squatty-potty situation, and even in most Western public-toilet situations, toilet paper is never provided. I have no idea why. The only reason I can come up with is that 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 its tiny napkins.
Now there is some unusual artwork. (Photo: Sherry Ott/Otts World)
2. Stand on the footrests.
Footrests are normally signified by little foot-size platforms on both sides of the porcelain hole. 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, stand on the porcelain footrests — and try to get your pants out of the “drop zone” as best you can.
3. Drop a proper squat.
You have to know how to squat. It’s a must. You’d think this part would be easy, but it’s actually the hardest — because it’s all about placement. I first tried timid squatting, where I bent my knees a little and positioned myself over the toilet. However, I quickly found out that this still leaves about 3 feet between you and the toilet — and that gap directly affects 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.
To reduce the distance between you and the toilet, get into a “catcher’s stance.” Pretend you’re Jorge Posada, ready to receive the pitch from the mound. If you are standing on the right spot on the squatty potty (on the porcelain footrests), and you feel and look like a Major League baseball catcher, then you will quickly realize that you are in the best possible position to pee.
4. And go for it.
Once you’re in position, it’s pee time. Make sure you that you have your toilet paper with you. After you’ve done your business, put your toilet paper in the nearby trashcan. Then, scoop water out of the nearby bucket and pour it down the squatty potty. You may have to refill the bucket — manual “flushing” can take several scoops of water. Before I mastered the catcher’s squat, there were a few times when I poured a scoop of water over my feet!
Now, I know you are all wondering, “What about #2?” 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.”
There is another kind of toilet in Asia: the Asian Western toilet. You may be excited to encounter one of these toilets, as they are in the minority in Asia. And this toilet looks familiar enough, because it resembles ours. But don’t be fooled — things can still get messy.
These toilets have a toilet-paper holder (but no toilet paper, of course), a large bucket of water beneath a water spout, and a small trashcan. The bucket will have a smaller scoop and dipper floating in it. So here’s what to do.
See, toilet diagrams are good! They even come with Western toilets! (Photo: Sherry Ott/Otts World)
Once you have completed your business and used your own toilet paper, don’t throw it in the toilet. You are supposed to throw it in the little trashcan. Then, go to the bucket of water, fill up the “scoop” floating in the water, and empty the scoop into the toilet. Do this two or three times (you can use your own judgment on this), which will create a “natural” flushing mechanism (thank God for gravity)! If you are really polite, 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.
I’ll leave you with this: When I was in northern Thailand trekking through hill tribes, our guide, Hay, used the expression “going to Pee Pee Island” when he or someone else had to go to the bathroom on the trail. That was already funny, but it was extra-fitting since there actually is an island in southern Thailand called Koh Phi Phi (pronounced “pee pee”). It’s good to know that dorky puns work around the world.
And it’s also good to know how to correctly use the Asian toilets, both the squatty potty and its more Western variety. Hopefully, these instructions that Lonely Planet never gave you will come in handy if and when you travel to Asia. It’s the least I can do, as it took me about two months, as well as many wet pant legs and shoes, to figure this out.
Everyone loves a happy toilet! (Photo: Sherry Ott/Otts World)