Squat toilets may not be on a traveler’s “top 10 list” for their trip to China, but they are almost always a part of the experience. In China, public restrooms are becoming increasingly sanitary, but some remain surprisingly awful.
China is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, and despite China’s status as a developing country, tourism and toilet facilities are well-developed at sites such as the Forbidden City, and toilets in luxury hotels are typically of a high standard. The squat toilets, on the other hand, is something that many people are surprised to see when they first arrive in China.
Squat Toilets In China
What is the concept of a squat toilet?
Flushing toilets are common in China but you might be surprised to learn that the best flushing toilets often come in the form of a squat toilet. This is very common while in most of the Western world, squat toilets are uncommon. In China, a person is more likely than not to step into a bathroom and find a toilet that is level with the floor. It takes a little getting used to these toilets but squat toilets aren’t too difficult to use.
Most visitors are reticent to use a squat toilet due to a lack of understanding of how to use the restroom. Since not understanding how to use these toilets will result in much longer queues for Western toilets, it’s better to be prepared.
Squat Toilets in China: How Clean Are They?
Squat toilet cleanliness varies greatly depending on where you are in China. If you’re in a high-end mall or an airport in Shanghai, you should expect the toilets to be reviewed constantly by workers and mopped on a regular basis (although it’s unclear how much the mop is cleaned).
Be prepared to enter a brick shack with no electricity and nothing more than a wide hole in the ground if you find yourself in a no-name village in the hills. They aren’t particularly attractive, but they are definitely unforgettable!
In general, as China grows, the cleanliness of public restrooms improves, and you’ll typically find yourself in one that’s on par with most Western public restrooms (though you probably wouldn’t want to spend too much time there).
There will normally be stalls available, a cleaning lady on hand (who has no qualms about moving a mop around while you’re doing your business), and, if you’re using the men’s bathroom, a few gentlemen standing around smoking before returning to work.
Using the restroom on a regular train
The toilets on Chinese trains aren’t always this spotless.
However, if nature calls when you’re on a slow train, you’re in for one of the most unpleasant experiences of your life. There are two squat toilets in each carriage (squat toilets only, unfortunately), which after an hour or two of travel time become somewhere you don’t want to be.
Because of the train’s motion, targeting becomes difficult, and you’ll need to hold on to something, as falling over on the floor is something no one should have to go through.
If you have the choice, take a high-speed bullet train. These have much better toilets that are well-serviced and might even have a Western-style toilet.
Prepare yourself for the fact that some of the lower-end public restrooms don’t have much in the way of privacy. Toilets with stall walls that are only a meter off the ground and no doors are (thankfully) being replaced with taller cubicles with doors, but the locks (if still attached) might not work, requiring you to keep the door shut or make a noise to prevent anyone from forcing it open.
Using the Hotel Bathroom Before Leaving
In China, even most 3* hotels have Western toilets and if possible, you may want to use the toilet before leaving the airport/hotel.
Visitors to China would almost certainly have to use a squat toilet at some point during their stay, but doing so before leaving the hotel will minimize the number of interruptions to their holiday.
Many people often schedule pit stops at shopping malls, fine restaurants, and international hotels, where Western toilets are typically accessible.
Since many public toilets do not have toilet paper, it’s always a good idea to stock up before leaving for the day. If you need the restroom but don’t have any toilet paper, you just have two choices. Either locate a nearby store and purchase some toilet paper or look for a nicer-looking restaurant, as many are now offering toilet paper to their patrons. Find a bar if you can and they almost always have decent toilets and toilet paper.
There’s also a good chance that there won’t be any soap or paper towels (or a blow dryer) to dry one’s hands in a toilet. Even in big cities like Beijing, you’ll find that many public restrooms lack heated water. This is great during the summer, but during the winter, when temperatures regularly drop below -10°C (14°F), it’s a good idea to bring some hand sanitizer with you.
Since several public toilets now charge a fee, you will need a small amount of cash.
Toilet Tips: How To Use A Squat Toile
1- Before entering a bathroom, get a friend or family member to hold your bags (such as shopping bags or purses). This isn’t because you’ll be robbed, but rather because there are hardly any hooks to hang these bags on, necessitating the use of both hands to maintain balance.
2- You can have to wait in line for a toilet after remembering to remove the toilet tissue from your bag. Many bathrooms have both Western and squat toilets, with signs indicating which type of toilet is in each stall. It’s not customary to simply stand in line and wait for a stall to open, so pick one and stick with it.
3- Pulling one’s long pant legs up is the next best step. This can help a person avoid having their trousers wet, whether the floor is wet from “accidents” or from toilet workers who have the job of constantly mopping bathrooms clean. Even if the toilet floor appears to be dry, the backs of loosened trouser legs lying on it are still unattractive.
4- Once you know how to use a squat toilet, it’s not that difficult. Unfortunately, many tourists visiting China will be using one for the first time. These toilets must be used in the forwards position, even for men (to avoid splashing over the waste pipe).
5- Stand with both feet on either side of the squat toilet. These toilets have grooves on both sides to help people hold their feet in place when using them. A person’s feet should be flat and in the middle of these grooves.
6- After completing all of the preceding steps, a person can squat over the toilet with their pants down to halfway down their thighs. Even if the environment appears to be spotless and tidy, it is critical not to allow clothes to touch the floor.
7- You will note a sign telling you not to flush your toilet paper and a bin next to you filled with used tissue after you’ve done your business. Nowadays, most toilets can flush a moderate amount of toilet paper, and these signs are mostly intended to prevent people from flushing all sorts of garbage down the toilet (as is done in rural toilets). So, whether you want to use the bin or try flushing the toilet paper is entirely up to you.
8- When it’s time to get up, remember that the average Westerner isn’t used to spending such a brief amount of time squatting. If you haven’t practiced, blood will rush back to your legs and you will have trouble balancing.
9- When flushing the toilet, keep a safe distance to prevent any spray or splashback.