To Squat Or Not To Squat – Chiang Mai

One thing I clearly remembered about traveling in Southeast Asia 20+ years ago, was the circumstances in which one needed to relieve oneself.  I know what you are thinking “Isn’t it just natural?  What are you talking about Heidi?”  Well, let me tell you.

When we were backpacking from Bangkok down to Singapore, we had many occasions to let nature take its course and well, use the toilet.  Not to worry, I am not going to get into any graphic stories about an upset stomach or anything like that.  Nope, I just want to tell you where it all would take place.

You see, we most often found in public place something called a squat toilet.  In fact, that was very common.  If the bus pulled over at a rest stop, you would graciously make your way over to the public restroom.  Next you would open the old weathered and creaky door.

And what did you see?

The Squat Toilet!

Well, usually one of two things.  Perhaps a ceramic bowl type thing, inlaid into the ground with a wide foot pad on either side or the other option was a small tiled room with a trough against the back wall.  In addition, there may be a small water hose hanging from the wall or perhaps a bucket full of water with a small scooper in it.

Squat toilet-4 photo credit

Squat toilet-4 photo credit

Now what the heck were we supposed to do with all of that?

Well, you would just squat down and have your bum near your heels and do what you needed to do.  If it was in the bowl or in the trough, you would just rinse it away with the hose or the water scooper.  That was that.  It was difficult to get used to, but over time you have no other choice you just gotta go with the flow.

Asian Culture

Squat toilets are very common in the Asia culture and squatting is actually a very natural position. I tried to find info on the history of the toilet and came up with squat.  I did however find an article about thing Asia people like and squatting in general, so that may be interesting.  As part of the preparation for our journey to Southeast Asia, I was sure to let the family in on this one.  I wanted to be sure they weren’t in shock when they arrived.

Back to the present

When we arrived in Thailand, especially in our touristy neighborhood of Nimman, Chiang Mai, I was shocked at how modern and westernized many things have become. Don’t get me wrong, we have found our share of squat toilets, like the one near Huay Kaew Falls.  That is a real treat!

Trying to ensure you can squat down, without getting any dribbles on your legs or clothing, is quite the challenge.  I am sure this is when most women are thinking “oh it would be nice to be a man”.  For me, I have not quite mastered the full squat, so I kind of just semi-squat and hope for the best.  I always carry tissue with us, as most often there isn’t paper available.  Anya claims, she just completely removes her bottoms to make it easier.  If you are a female, I suggest you wear a skirt to help with part of the problem.


Okay now I am going to share a little too much info with you.

Not only are there westernized toilets available, we even go out of our way to find the special ones.  I love to make a stop by the restroom when we are at the mall, even if I don’t need to go.

Why would I go out of my way to do that?

Well, let me just say it is fun to see how the toilets work at the fancy restrooms in MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center.  First of all the restroom is gorgeous, but that isn’t what draws us in to play.  Nope, it is the toilet with all of the bells and whistles!

Full Service Toilets - Chiang Mai

Yes, they have full service toilets, complete with loads of buttons and instructions.  So, if you are waiting for me out in the hall, keep on waiting.  I need to push every button and figure them all out.

Buttons on the Full Service Toilets - Chiang Mai

There is a wash, bidet, move, stop, auto wash and a massage button.  You an even adjust the air, heat and water flow.  It is kind of like being at the car wash.  I have tried them all and it is a bit strange having the rinse and then blow dry on your bum.

Every time, my first reaction is “Oh!”  Then my natural instinct is to want hop on off that thing.  But then I remember, I pushed that button so I shouldn’t be too shocked. That is with the blast of cold water shooting up at your exit spot!  Oh, but wait… next comes the blast of air, to make sure it is all dry.  And get this, you can make it warmer.

While it is an odd sensation, it does feel pretty good when all is said and done.  You know that you will have clean undies.

By the way, nothing actually touches you, other than the water and the air.  I have pushed the massage button, but I’m not sure what it does or where it does it yet. Perhaps I had a defective toilet or maybe it just isn’t enabled.  See, that is why I need to stop by again and again, just for research.  I’ve tried to figure out the instructions, but still not too sure.

Full Service Toilets - instructions

Oh and by the way, it isn’t just me.  The entire family likes to take part in the research, but we still haven’t figured this simple thing out yet.  The first time Anya was in the restroom, she came out with a very wet shirt.  She claims, she isn’t aware of how it became so wet.  Of course we will never know how her shirt became so wet.  My bet is she didn’t read the “warning” sign at the bottom of the instructions.

“Please do not stand up while system working.”

Full Service Toilets - warning

I think it is safe to assume, that she was testing out all of the buttons as an observer, standing over the toilet.  Ha!

The instructions are right on the wall, but we don’t read Thai.  There are a few words in English, but just the names of the buttons.  So the research will continue and we will have the cleanest bums in town.  Also, if we are out walking around and are in the need to a nice restroom, I have no trouble walking a bit out-of-the-way for the no-squat toilet choice.

Full Service Toilets - Chiang Mai Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center

What is your choice?  To squat or not to squat?

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About Heidi

Heidi has a passion for travel and has been exploring the world with her husband and 2 kids, since August 2012. She's visited more than 50 countries and loves to write about their family adventures, mishaps and costs. She has been an inspiration to others wanting to live their dreams. Her travel tips, planning posts, cost breakdowns, accommodation, and product reviews are also very popular. Her current home base is in Spain. Any post on this site may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, there is no extra cost for you and we may receive a commission.

10 thoughts on “To Squat Or Not To Squat – Chiang Mai

  1. Hmmm.

    How are things in Spain?

    Colonial Spanish civil engineering’s gift to the New World was inadequate plumbing. Fortunately, more recent construction (late 20th Century) features improvements to meet the sensitive taste of North Americans. What should we expect in Spain? (We AIN’T gonna do squat toilets and we are very not interested in having a basket next to the commode.)


  2. I am SO glad you wrote this post. I have often wondered abut this, having heard about squat toilets, but not about the water bucket. I always wondered how things got “cleaned out.” I think I could handle the squat, but would of course prefer the luxury facilities!

    • We are getting used to them. Well, at least they don’t phase us so much anymore. We do love visiting the mall and going for the luxury. 🙂

  3. The first time I came to Morocco and stayed with my husband (we were still dating) his family home had a squat toilet. I had no idea what to do and we weren’t really at a point in our relationship yet where I was comfortable asking him. I somehow managed to only use bathrooms outside of the house for an entire week because I was too embarrassed to ask him what to do! His mom later commented she couldn’t figure out how the American girl never went to the bathroom. haha!

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