Finding “Old Siam” usually means getting away from tourist areas. It often involves travel in the countryside. With Thai bathrooms, the old Boy Scout motto “always be prepared” has great relevance. So let’s mentally prepare.
If you stay in western-style hotels, the bathrooms will be modern. But if you stray off the beaten tourist trail (an easy thing to do.), you’ll encounter bathrooms that can challenge your ability get business done. Always assume that outside your modern hotel, any bathroom you encounter will not have toilet paper or soap/towel to clean your hands. I recommend carrying a small amount of toilet paper and sanitary hand wipes while searching for “Old Siam”.
I divide Thai bathrooms into 3 types. First, the modern bathroom of western flush toilets and shower stalls, etc. Next are bathrooms that have toilets you can sit on, but flush by manually putting water into the bowl. Lastly is what I call “the slab” or the “squat & plop” (see foto on above).
The porcelain toilet you can sit on, but must manually flush, always has a cistern of water nearby with a ladel usually floating in the cistern. The water cistern may be a plastic garbage can or a large tub or bowl. Often it’s a specially made tiled cistern built against a wall next to the toilet. Just ladel water into the toilet bowl to flush. If the cistern is low, there’s always a hose nearby that’s used to fill the cistern. Simple enough.
The “squat & plop” is more problematic, although self-explanatory. You flush also by using a water cistern. These rudimentary toilets are still very common in rural Thailand (I also run across them in Chiang Mai now and then). I use them frequently. They’re always made out of porcelain and mounted on a cement slab. Sometimes their slightly elevated.
In every Thai bathroom you’ll find a short hose with a nozzle right next to the toilet by the floor. After almost 20 years, I still haven’t figured out what you’re supposed to do with it. Make an even bigger mess I guess.
Thais have two words for bathroom. The most common is “hong nam” which literally means “water room”. The other is “suka” (accent on the “a”) which literally means “heaven”. Again, the Thais got it right-finding a bathroom can be like finding heaven.
More Siamese Bathroom Culture
Thais give little distinction between a wet floor and a dry floor. In Western culture we go to great lengths to keep the bathroom floor dry-shower curtains, enclosures, mats, etc. Many Thai bathrooms simply have a shower spigot coming out of a wall with no enclosure of any type. Many showers are built so that you can’t help getting water everywhere. Thais could care less. This also applies to just a simple bathroom with a toilet. So if you walk into a bathroom and the floor is sopping wet, that’s normal.
Often you’re expected to take off your shoes before entering a public bathroom. You’ll see communal flip-flops at the bathroom entrance that you’re supposed to wear. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. It depends on sanitation and circumstance.
Showers. Thai showers often have an electric water heater located in the shower itself. These are illegal in most Western countries because of the strict prohibition of electrical devices in a bathing area. But these devices are safe. And they’re made by name-brands such as Panasonic, Samsung or Toshiba. To get hot water, you just turn the device on and dial in how hot (warm) you want the water. In our old country house in Pasang, one of the bathrooms has a gas unit inside the shower to heat the water. The water passes through a series of coils that are heated with a gas flame. You can watch it all happen while taking your shower.