June 22, 2013

Down & Dirty in Thailand. ~ Carol Lux

Thought about toilet training lately? Probably not, unless you have a two year old at home.

Don’t deny it—we all have that 10 year old boys’ fascination inside us, waiting to hear a really funny bathroom story. So I think I’ll call this conversation, “bathroom behavior.”

Here in Thailand one of the most interesting and common topics of conversation for new arrivals from the west is, “Excuse me, but how do I use the toilet?” And this is said by fully grown adults who (hopefully) have been using the toilet correctly for many years.

Let’s just first talk about the word “toilet,” shall we? My ex-mother-in-law insists that “toilet” is a bad word, in the same category of unwholesomeness as damn and crap. You just don’t say “toilet” in mixed company. I don’t feel that strongly about the word, but I understand the thought process behind it.

It’s just not something we openly discuss over dinner, unless of course you are in the company of 10 year old boys—then it’s a common source of humor. But my group of 60 or so new teachers to Thailand found this topic of conversation a constant “go to” topic; not only as dinner conversation but at breakfast, lunch and of course after a few beers.

So what’s up with the potty mouth?

In the East (most Asian countries) and the Middle East, the toilet just doesn’t look the same, and the etiquette around it is different also. First, it is labeled as a “toilet,” not a bathroom or a rest room as is more polite in America. Thais will just giggle or look blank if you ask for the rest room. They may be a little bit appalled if you ask for a bath-room since they will assume you want to take a bath in their restaurant.

In Thai the word for bathroom or toilet is hawng naam: “naam” is the word for “water” and “hawng” could be translated loosely as “closet” or “room” (similar to a water closet in Britain).

I first encountered an eastern squat toilet in the Tokyo airport. I walked into a stall and looked down and saw… what? I had no idea what! I had read somewhere that I may encounter a toilet that might include a hole leading to plumbing, but I had skipped over most of the explanation assuming that would be only in very rural areas. Nope, turns out they’re everywhere.

Most Toilets (we’ll use it as Asians do: capitalized as in the place, not lower case like the commode itself) will have an option of three or more eastern squat toilets and one or two western sit down style toilets. If a busload of farang (read “white-westerners”) pulls up at a gas station, you better already be in line for the one sit down toilet because they’ll all be headed there!

Notice how I wrote “they,” as if I am no longer one of them? Aren’t I sounding like the veteran traveler!

So now that you have found your hawng naam, it’s still a scary prospect once you’ve stepped into the stall (let’s hope there is one!). Now what do you do?

1. Take a look and see if there is toilet paper.

There may or may not be any. Reach into your purse and get some from the stash that you have learned to keep there. Or just do as the locals do and use the hose located next to the back of the toilet.

2. Step up onto the pedestal.

Now that you are prepared properly, turn around to face the door. Place your feet on the grooved foot placements located on either side of the plumbing hole.

3. Squat into a wide legged garland pose.

Here’s where the yoga comes in (see the instructions below).

4. Hose off.

When you have finished your business, clean yourself and step down from the pedestal area.

5. Clean up.

Look around to find a plastic bowl located near a basin of water. Dip the bowl in the water and pour it into the toilet bowl several times until all evidence of you being there is gone.

6. Done!

Not only have you accomplished your initial goal, you should feel especially adventurous having taken on such a daunting task. And of course you’ve gotten to practice garland pose which is a wonderful leg strengthener and groin opener. As we would say in the States, “I was multi-tasking!”

Garland Pose (Malasana):

  1. Squat with your feet as close together as possible. Work to keep your heels on the floor. This is a great achilles tendon stretch also. If you are actually using an eastern squat toilet, of course your feet will not be close together but on either side of the toilet basin.
  2. Separate your thighs so that they will be slightly wider than your torso. Exhaling, lean forward and fit your torso snugly between your thighs.
  3. With another exhale, press your elbows against your inner knees. Bringing your palms together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and rest the knees into the elbows. Tuck in your lower back by tilting your pelvis forward slightly. Lift your chest up and feel your heart open.

You may not need this as often as I do living in Thailand, but the benefits include stretching and strengthening the belly, ankles, groins, Achilles tendons and back. And that’s not even mentioning the fact you’ll be ready to go (ha! Toilet humor!) when you travel east.



Carol Lux was drawn to yoga over 25 years ago when she lost a beach volleyball tournament to some girls from California. When asked what their secret was they told her, “Yoga!” Her yogic journey has taken her from yoga as a physical enhancement to her volleyball, through yoga for it’s own sake, to exploring the spiritual aspects and eventually leading her to quit her high stress career and taking on yoga full time. After more soul searching she decided to follow her heart’s path to travel, explore and write. You can follow her heart’s path at The Yoga Life.


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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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