Asia,  Destinations,  Nomad Life

How to use a squat toilet: answers to questions you never wanted to ask

Travel around Asia for any amount of time and eventually you’ll run into the squat toilet. I’ve seen (and used!) squat toilets in Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam and while it took me a while to adjust to them, I actually prefer a squat toilet in certain situations.

For instance, on a long bus ride a squat toilet at the rest area is usually cleaner than any Western toilet, and faster to use so you don’t get left behind when the bus leaves. Whereas I might try to build a protective toilet paper barrier before sitting on a Western toilet seat, with squat toilets I don’t have to waste my time or toilet roll.

Plus, squat toilets are supposedly healthier for bowel movements, as it’s a more natural position to use. While it’s strange to those of us from countries where a sitting toilet is standard, squat toilets are actually pretty great!

Still, using one for the first time can be confusing, so here’s my guide to using a squat toilet. Sprinkled throughout are some photos of squat toilets I’ve used during my travels. Enjoy!

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What is a squat toilet, anyway?

Squat toilet with water bucket.

Squat toilets are like sitting toilets, but with the seat part and tank removed. It’s a hole in the ground that you “squat” over to use. Most of them have some kind of foot grip, a bowl, a way to flush and either a water bucket or a bum gun nearby.

Hotels, hostels and other accommodation catering to Western tourists WILL have Western toilets for you. Malls and other public spaces usually have both squat and Western toilets available.

However, random rural places, local restaurants, etc. will more likely have squat toilets and ONLY squat toilets. Almost every rest stop on all the Vietnam intercity bus routes I took only had squat toilets available, for instance. The sooner you resign yourself to using a squat toilet, the better.

Water bucket vs bum gun

This is another aspect of non-Western toilets that takes some getting used to. Rather than provide a bunch of toilet paper, squat toilet stalls will often have a bucket of water or a hose attached to the wall.

The idea is to use either of these as a bidet, and clean the area before applying any toilet paper. Bidets aren’t common in the US but once you’ve used one you’ll wish they WERE. Bidets are wonderful!

The hose is often called a “bum gun” by travelers, and is much easier to use than the bucket for newbies.

How to use a squat toilet: Pre-planning

Practice squatting.

Westerners* don’t squat like people in Asia do, and so we don’t have the muscle memory built up. This makes squatting in the right way very difficult. When we squat we tend to balance on our toes, which is very unstable. You WILL fall over if you try to do that on a squat toilet .

*Exceptions being Slavic folks, aka the creators of the “Slavic squat.”

Ideally, you want to squat so your heels touch the floor– or at least as close as you can get– but that will take practice! So, literally practice squatting. Try for five minutes a day until it feels more comfortable.

Bonus: this’ll also help your knees and thigh muscles get used to sitting in a squat.

Not the prettiest toilet, but this tile was fun.

Wear the right kind of clothes.

Maybe for people who are squat toilet experts, this sort of thing doesn’t matter. But for newbies it can be difficult to deal with your bottom half’s clothing while also trying to squat properly.

For women, I recommend wearing a skirt or dress. Super easy to just hold it up and keep it from touching the floor.

Otherwise, shorts are a good idea because you have less fabric to deal with.

I’ve actually heard of people taking their pants entirely OFF before using the squat toilet, but that seems a bit over-the-top.

Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer (and maybe cash).

Finding toilet paper in public restrooms is hit-or-miss, so carrying a small roll or a pack of tissues is a good idea. Likewise, soap isn’t always available, so you’ll need hand sanitizer. And finally, some toilets have a use fee, so you’ll need some small coin denominations for the attendant.

A hook for your purse.

My #1 gripe is that 80% of the time there’s nowhere to put my bag when I’m using the squat toilet. After a while I figured out how to kind of balance it in my lap while squatting, but it’s not comfortable.

Carrying a foldable hook that can go over the door is a good option! And you can use it elsewhere, like in hostel showers where the towel hook broke off.

Using the squat toilet: a guide for Westerners

And now here it is: how to use a squat toilet!

1. Find the right way to face.

There’s a few ways to consider. For totally flat squat toilets, face the door. There will usually be an obvious place to put your feet, which also helps. Aim to be sitting directly over the hole.

Some squat toilets have a raised part where the flush handle is. (This part is apparently called the “hood.”) Put your feet on the footrests and face TOWARDS that handle with your butt towards the door.

In very rustic situations, there might be nothing but a hole at the back of the stall. The floor will slope towards it, so face the doorway and find a good place to squat.

The most basic “toilet” I’ve ever used: a hole in the wall and a slightly sloped floor. Borneo, 2023.

2. Adjust clothing.

EMPTY YOUR POCKETS. Put wallet, phone, etc. in a small bag or something and hang it up for safe-keeping.

This is where the skirt comes in handy. Lift and drape the fabric over an arm (if it’s a long skirt).

If you have pants, pull them to right below your knees. If they’re loose/wide-legged pants, roll the waistband to sort of fold the extra fabric up and keep them from falling and touching the floor (ick!).

3. Squat so your heels are close to the ground as possible, spaced with your hips.

Put your elbows on your knees and lean slightly forward.

If you’re too wobbly, stick a hand on the wall to balance! Or once I even saw a toilet with handrails. You’ll be using the hand sanitizer anyway so just touch what you have to in order to not fall over or into the toilet.

4. Release!

After a few times you’ll figure out how to aim properly. The key is to be low enough in your squat that the stream doesn’t go all over your shoes or splash onto your ankles.

5. Use toilet paper and/or water scoop.

Trash for toilet paper (red) and a water bucket with scoop.

Personally I haven’t figured out how to use the water scoop without getting my entire butt wet, so I just resign myself to using more toilet paper.

NOTE: Some stalls have separate buckets to put toilet paper in! If you see this, do NOT put the toilet paper into the squat toilet. Put used toilet paper into the bucket to dispose of it.

6. Dry yourself, stand up and re-adjust clothing.

If you have a skirt you’re good to go, but pants-wearers may have some trouble getting untangled. Just take it slow and don’t panic. Stand up first and THEN unroll your waistband.

7. Flush.

Depending on the design of the squat toilet, it may or may not have a mechanical flush. If you don’t see a button or a handle, then it’s a water-flush design. You use the water bucket and scoop to fling in clean water, and it pushes the used water down into the pipes.

If the water bucket is low, there’s usually a spigot where you can refill it.

Squat toilet with water trough and scoop. Use the scoop to put water into the toilet to flush it.

8. Done!

Congrats! You used a squat toilet!


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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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