Thai bathrooms may offer new features
Tissue and bottled water will be regular items on your shopping list in Thailand.
That's not a toilet. It's a hole in the ground!
As long as you restrict yourself to upscale western-style hotels and shops, you may never see a squat toilet in Thailand. But what's the fun of that? You can get the same experience at Disney World. If you venture off the well-beaten tourist path, be ready to greet squat toilets with more than the comment above.
Traditional Thai toilets (like those in most parts of Asia, the Middle East, and once Europe) consist of a hole in the floor and the necessary accoutrements. In Thailand, a white porcelain plate generally surrounds the hole, with two slightly raised footprints. Adding to the experience, the porcelain plate frequently carries the brand name "American Standard," however unstandard such items may be in the America you so fondly remember when you first encounter a squat toilet.
In traditional squat toilets, a barrel of clean water sits beside the toilet. People use this water (a ladle or bowl floats inside) and their left hand to clean themselves, then empty a few more scoops of water into the toilet until all traces of their visit disappear. The water barrel is gradually replenished from a spring or brook (or from a faucet, if available), and this water remains pure. Wash your hands by ladling water over them, outside the barrel. Nothing dirty should ever be put into the barrel.
More likely, you'll choose to carry a packet of tissue with you. In this case, note that Thai plumbing often cannot accommodate toilet paper without clogging. In many toilets (including western-style toilets), you'll spot a nearby wastebasket for used tissue. Please use it! No, this isn't what you were taught growing up, but you were taught to treat your hosts with respect, weren't you? That means not clogging their toilet.
What kind of facilities should you expect to find as you travel through Thailand? It's best to be prepared for anything. Trains may have squat toilets on one side of the corridor, western-style on the other. Some establishments offer a water jet and no toilet paper. Others have toilet paper and no water jet. In early 2003 Siam Center, one of Bangkok's fanciest new shopping malls, offered neither: Your only options were bring your own tissue, or have exact change to buy a small pack from a bathroom vending machine. As you travel, be prepared!
In remote areas, you might also have occasion to shower in the traditional Thai style. This means using the same water barrel and ladle to douse yourself with water, then lather up, and rinse. Again, all waste water should go onto the floor, not back into the bucket.
This site is provided by Alyson Adventures, a gay tour operator, as a service for individuals traveling with us. We hope it will also be useful to others planning a tour or researching Thailand. We offer active vacations around the world, including scuba diving, hiking, and biking.