BATHROOMS AND BEDROOMS EAST MEETS WEST
By Kevin Cain
Is going to the bathroom in Thailand really a case of hit or miss ?
Many visitors come to Thailand used to their cosseted western lives and to be honest find the asian culture and way of life an extreme shock. I have been asked me on my rare visits back to Blighty, “what Thailand is truly like?”, and I use the same comment, “People either love it or hate it.” This is because I have heard many comments about “how dirty” the place is and “the toilet facilities were simply not up to scratch.”
What many of these tourists want is their comfortable three bed semi and existing neighbourhood transported to the seaside in a slightly warmer (but not too hot) climate. The problem with the jet age is that you can board a plane in civilised “Surburbiton” and eleven hours later land 6,000 miles from where you started. All the countries of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia have been bypassed. If travellers had to pass through them to get to Thailand they would witness a gradual transition of toilet habits and hygiene.
Let’s start at the beginning, most hotels frequented by western tourists in the major seaside towns and cities of Thailand should have a western style bathroom. But there will be one major difference, to the right of the sit-down toilet will be a sprayer, which is commonly known as a Bum Gun. Even in the best hotels there may be signs requesting you not to flush tissues down the toilet. Often it is because the drainage system in Thailand struggles with this non organic waste. This is where the sprayer or Bum Gun comes into play. It does not take much imagination to work out how to use the implement - just point and spray. A word of caution however, some of these Bum Guns are high powered, and if you get the nozzle too close then it really can give you a mighty shock, lifting you off the seat and bringing tears to your eyes !
When venturing elsewhere into the sois and public areas of Thailand do not expect anything so elaborate. You may open the toilet door and exclaim, “Oh my Buddha!” at what you are faced with. The standard Thai bathroom is a Squatter which is to say the toilet is a kind of porcelain bowl on the floor with foot rests either side.There may not even be a hose or gun but instead a bucket of water for flushing purposes and there will be little point looking about for toilet paper as that is about as common as locks on the toilet doors. For most first timers’ mastering the process of squatting whilst doing, and then cleansing with water from the bucket as a difficult enterprise. To be honest trying to balance on the soles of your feet and then performing is a difficult operation, the first time I tried it I fell head first into the back of the door, which luckily enough was firmly closed.
The cubicle sort of protects you as you perfect your technique. The walls and door may give a few bumps and bruises but they still encase you and stop you from flying out into the public areas, to the great surprise of others.
One toilet I went to in Bangkok, at a Karaoke Bar by the canal, was far more dangerous. Opening the door to the cubicle to my surprise there was no wall facing me. The bamboo poles forming the floor just jutted out from the room and over the canal. The technique was to squat hovering over the canal, cheeks facing forward, and perform. I could not help thinking just how many drunken singers had fallen foul of this contraption and into the water below whilst singing their favourite Sinatra song “Come Fly With Me.” trousers flailing by their ankles.
In general toilets in Thailand have floors that are usually covered in water. For the uninitiated or drunk, this can be quite hazardous. It is not surprising really as “Bum Guns” or “Butt Sprays” are being fired all over the place and buckets of water sloshed about. Wearing a decent pair of shoes is not a good idea, in fact trying to keep your clothes both dry and clean from a visit to a Thai toilet is somewhat of a challenge. You will however, notice outside all Thai toilets that there are hand basins, the obvious reason for this does not need to be explained, but I advise taking full advantage of the soap and water supplied. For the cleaning of hands and not feet however as I have recently seen a picture of a hand basin and a pair of feet with a red X. This image was later explained to me as being necessary because of the influx of Chinese tourists who have bought their own bathroom customs,one of which is washing their feet in the hand basins much to the disgust of Thai patrons.
Hanging around Thai toilets is not my only pastime, but I must say that since I have been living in Thailand I have had regular forays to the Gents, possibly due to how much beer I consume. Recently I have been noticing some weird and bizarre signs cropping up both in and outside of lavatories.For example this one to encourage Thais not to perform their squatting techniques on a sit-down toilet. .
However, instead of complaining how bad the toilet facilities are in Thailand I would like to suggest that you treat the whole experience as a learning curve, a challenge to be flushed away once mastered. Then once the bathroom etiquette has been learned and perfected it is time to embroil yourself in the bedroom performance. The Thai nation is quite famous for the capacity of being able to sleep just about anywhere and anytime. It used to be quite a diversion of mine to list unusual slumber nests I found people sleeping in as I came to recognise how ingenious the Thai nation is when it comes to sleeping arrangements.
The typical Thai bed is called a Mon Khwan, sometimes they are little more than floor coverings made of cotton kapok that can be rolled up to save space, other types are wooden structures laid on the floor made in sections. The pillow is traditionally a triangular affair which can also be used as a type of recliner.Thai’s are used to sleeping in dormitory type rooms, this normally starts at school and continues in later life as people share accommodation to save money. Which brings me to my first comment that Thais are used to sleeping just about anywhere even with noise all about them. It also goes a little way to explain why mattresses and European bed linen is quite hard to find and often rather expensive.