If you’re new on the traveling circuit, particularly in Southeast Asia, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to hit you when you get off the plane and charge up your bowels with some out of this world spices is the toilet situation. And believe me, after your first couple dishes of the delicious food from the region, you are bound to get, what they call in Thailand, a bout of “Bangkok gut.”

Don’t worry about this too much as it is more owed to the new spices your stomach is getting used to rather than any third or second world parasites.

What you should worry about, however, are the toilets….here are some things you might want to think about.

The Squat Toilet

Let’s jump to the worst of it right off the bat…the squat toilet.  If you’ve never seen a squat toilet, prepare for one of the greatest treats of the road.  You can basically expect to encounter these just about anywhere the poorer classes hang out (with the income dynamics here, that means most places), and you’ll often find them in public restrooms.

A squat toilet is nothing more than a small porcelain bowl, usually down close to the floor.  There are two foot pads you are meant to stand on, and then you pull your pants down and let er’ rip, which as you can imagine is an amazing feat of balance and coordination.

Rumor has it the body of a person from Southeast Asia is built in such a way that squatting is actually easier for them (if you believe the rumors, that is), but for a farang fresh off the boat, it is trying to say the least. To imagine, think of doing yoga while trying to relieve yourself without getting anything on the back of the pants bundled up around your ankles.

My suggestion: just take your pants off.  Most of these types of toilets have a hook hanging on the wall or door, and that’s exactly what it is for.

But it gets even better.  Not only are you forced to do gymnastics just to go to the toilet, you’re then expected to wipe your butt without toilet paper.  Most of these squat toilets have nothing more than a bucket of water and a little bowl, and they expect you to use that to splash and wipe yourself (using your left hand only, of course).

This is not for the light-hearted foreigner and should be reserved for that three in the morning emergency in the back of a bar down some jungle path—you know what I mean, those nights when you will actually forget what you resorted to.

The best thing to do is never, ever, ever getting caught without a small emergency stash of toilet paper or tissues.

Or, even better, I always travel with small travel packs of baby wipes stuffed in my backpack.  Nothing feels better on the road than knowing the cleanest part of your dust-covered body is the holiest of holes.

In all types of toilets in Asia (except for the most “civilized” places where it might be posted on the wall that it’s okay) do not put the toilet paper in the toilet bowl!  Look for a small trashcan next to the toilet.  This is where the used toilet paper goes—in many places, the sewer system just cannot handle it.

When you are done with the squat toilet, use the bowl to scoop water into the toilet—this is how to flush. About 3 bowls ought to get her done.

The Butt Hose

Another interesting development in the Southeast Asian toilet world is what we sophisticated expats refer to as “the butt hose.”  The butt hose is just what it sounds like, a hose attached to the back of the toilet with a nozzle that is meant to spray down your butt after you finish.

While this is great in theory (and actually quite refreshing in this heat once you get the hang of it), the reality of the situation can be quite dismal.  Butt hoses seem to come in two types—when you pull the little trigger, you either get a weak stream that wouldn’t knock a mosquito out of the air or the water comes out with enough pressure to tear plaster off the walls.

The trick is to always check the butt hose pressure before sitting down to do your business.  Just point it down into the toilet bowl and pull the trigger.  Also, you should always check this before renting a place if you are keen on learning the intricacies of butt hose cleaning.

Regular Toilets

In areas that have a steady influx of foreigners, you will typically find some regular toilets in both hotels and some restaurants/bars—you will also find them in shopping malls and other places frequented by middle and upper class Thais.  Some of these will have butt hoses, and some will have toilet paper.

Please be aware that some will have neither and may or may not have someone outside charging a few baht for some tissues, leaving you to wonder just what the hell they expect you to do about wiping your arse.

Logical or not, you’ve been warned, so again, be prepared.

So as you can see, navigating the toilet scene in Southeast Asia is not without it’s obstacles, but with a little bit of an open mind, some patience, and some backup T.P., you can get through.  Good luck, and don’t forget to flush!

Oh, and always shake hands with your right….