Clash of cultures – life without toilet paper!? + advice for travelling women

As you probably know, many South-East Asian countries (personally experienced Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore) don’t really use toilet paper (yes, not even to wipe after number two).

Well, I’ve never happened to come across that information before and did not know until landing in Indonesia, and it was rather a shock.

Let’s take a break here to acknowledge that, the pulp and paper industry here in Indonesia is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation AND THEY DON’T EVEN USE TOILET PAPER!!!

Unfortunately, the circumstances in which I found out were the least favourable you could imagine.

The day before my flight I got stomach flu, needless to say, I have spent the 18hour flight with no sleep and in the comfort of plane toilets.

Could not wait until I land and get to go to a nice airport toilet – and nice it was, but instead of toilet paper was some bum-spraying- water- stream system.

I managed, in case you’re wondering, had my whole life in a backpack in the end so used the water thingy (after figuring out how it works) and wiped with a towel.

Now, after having been here for quite some time, it does not seem weird at all and I actually prefer it. When you’re in the house bathroom and always have your towel nearby, it’s no problem – wash and dry. But I remember seeing it as so bizarre and a great obstacle; the first thing I’d ask any travellers I came across was “how is your toilet experience going?”.

(Definitely way more hygienic. My friend put it perfectly: “if I took some shit and put it on your face, would you take a tissue and wipe it, or go wash it off?”)

In most public places, like malls, etc. they usually do provide tissue to use in place of a towel but you do not flush it down the toilet – the sewage system is not designed for that; put in a bin.

Occasionally, you come across those nasty public toilets, that don’t even have a spray gun or anything, just a standing bowl of water, and I still haven’t figured out how to work with those. Best tip, so far – avoid.

How to live in the jungle as a woman

My current bathroom situation

Where I live, we manage our own sewage and waste by integrating them into the property design.

For example, one toilet flushes into a designated pond filled with filtering plants; another fertilizes a bamboo clump – works fantastically (no smell!).

This means that all waste has to be kept to a minimum and absolutely no tissues can be flushed down the toilets.

I gotta say, living here as a guy is pretty great, just pee anywhere and only remember to grab your towel for the other business.

As a woman, though not much different (apart from having to walk to the toilet in the rain just to pee), I have to worry about one more thing – periods.

Pads are not really an option, too much plastic. The best solution would most likely be one of those diva cups but my budget is too tight for that right now.

What I use is organic, chemical-free biodegradable tampons from Natracare, which I ordered once, in bulk to the nearest restaurant’s address (forest has no address). Not the biggest fan of the shape, but they work just fine.

P.S. You should only ever use chemical-free stuff for your vagina, it’s way too delicate.

As far as disposal goes, after use, I wrap it in a leaf and bury in the ground.

I think this is a great way, certainly an option if you’re camping, on a trail or doing anything like me. If you really don’t have a leaf, burying it straight will also do the job, just a bit messier. And you’re fertilising the plants in one go but make sure it’s biodegradable and not chemical filled – otherwise, that’s called pollution.

Travelling in Asia toilet tips summary

  1. Always have some kind of towel with you, whether a toilet tissue or wet wipes (most convenient)
  2. Have a hand sanitizer, or at least a bottle of water (though not often, running water is not a given and soap dispensers, if existent, tend to be empty)
  3. Keep your legs together when using the water guns or it will spray through the ‘thigh gap’ and wet your pants
  4. Be mentally prepared that your only option might be a squatting toilet (aka a hole in the ground)
  5. For people with periods, have something you can dispose your used thingy into in case there is no bin close by.
  6. Enjoy the cultural experience

You will always find some cultural clashes when travelling but that’s exactly why you go, right? To see something different.

Although, when it comes to things we are very particular about, such as toilet usage, it is good to have a heads-up.

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