The most Googled questions about toilets in Vietnam

Sometimes it’s the most basic of questions that cause the greatest angst when planning a travel experience. Perusing some Vietnam travel forums recently, I realised that the topic of toilets in Vietnam creates quite some discussion. And rightly so. So in today’s “Ask Google? Ask Fairlie!” post, I’m asking Google about toilets in Vietnam. Based on the Google auto-completion suggestions, I find out what most people are wanting to know. Then I answer those questions myself (and perhaps add a couple more!). Who needs Google when you can ask Fairlie?

Toilets in Vietnam:

Do they have toilets in Vietnam?

Never assume anything…that’s my motto. And while, before our first trip there, I was pretty sure that there would indeed be toilets in Vietnam, I accept that people don’t necessarily take that for granted and are Googling it. It’s always better to be forewarned and forearmed. But, relax. Yes, they have toilets in Vietnam.

Are there Western toilets in Vietnam?

There are indeed Western-style toilets in Vietnam. On our most recent trip to Saigon, I never came across anything but Western toilets. And the ones that I experienced were pretty good and worked well. However, you will definitely find squat-style toilets at many places in Vietnam, particularly outside the main population centres, in some people’s homes, in some guesthouses or in some smaller cafes/shops/restaurants that cater less for the tourist market. Personally, I’ve come across them mostly when we’ve been doing a day trip, and stopped to use toilets along the way, or at lesser-known tourist sites.  For instance, when we did a half-day cycling tour from Hoi An, we stopped at a small local shop/cafe for drinks and snacks, and that establishment had a squat toilet out the back.

Are there public toilets in Vietnam?

Now we’re getting to the gritty issues. They do have some public toilets in Vietnam. And there is a movement to increase their numbers specifically in response to tourism demands. But whether you’d want to use some of them is another matter entirely.

The general practice for travelers in the main tourist areas is to use the facilities in restaurants, cafes, hotels and shopping centres. In Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, the toilets in shopping centres like Vincom or Diamond Plaza are immaculate. The cute ‘Mummy and toddler’ toilets in the photo above were in Diamond Plaza. Usually, in restaurants, the facilities are pretty good. Trung Nguyen and Highlands Coffee shops have great toilets (and free wifi!) as well as good coffee, and are conveniently dotted around the city. The toilets in the lobbies of larger hotels are excellent – just walk straight through the lobby like you should be there and no-one ever questions you.

And generally I have found toilet paper and pump-pack soap in those places (which are not always provided once you get off the beaten track.)

On our last trip to Vietnam, when we stayed two and a half weeks purely in Saigon, I didn’t once encounter any toilet that I would have recurring nightmares about. (The toilet on The Reunification Express train is my most enduring nightmare. I recommend gum boots and breathing apparatus if you have that misfortune.)

However, on previous trips when we’ve traveled around the country a bit more and done trips outside the main population centres, it’s been a different story.  That’s when you come across the squat toilets…and the condition of them varies greatly. It really highlights the vast differences between the rapidly urbanising cities and the still quite undeveloped rural areas of Vietnam. Many of the schools in rural areas, for example, don’t have toilets that meet their own government’s minimum standards.

How do you use a toilet in Vietnam?

This is really a two-part question: how you use a ‘Western’ style toilet, and how you use a squat toilet.

You would think the use of Western-style would be pretty familiar to Australians, but as I’ve said before, never assume anything.

While the general use of that style of toilet in Vietnam is the same as it would be in Australia, there are a few significant differences: 1. toilet paper is not always available and when it is, its purpose is slightly different to what we’re used to (see explanation in the question below); 2. toilet paper is not flushed, but is thrown into baskets or bins sitting next to the toilet; 3. there is often an extra piece of plumbing in each cubicle (again, see the explanation in the question below), and; 4. in public places, there is often a list of ‘rules’ on the back of the door that takes longer to read than you really need to be in there.

Squat toilets on the other hand…they’re a whole different ball game, and they practically require an in-depth training course for those unfamiliar with them. I’ve found a great wikihow of ‘How to use a squat toilet‘, complete with graphics and detailed descriptions of all the steps involved and the considerations.  If you know you’re going to be using a lot of squat toilets, I’d recommend training the muscles in advance, including stretching the thighs, calves, hamstrings and gluts as you’ll be using all of those.

No matter which style of toilet you’re using, you really don’t want to put your bag down on the ground (Eeeewww…), and there isn’t always a handy hook on the door…so, either give it to someone to hold before you go, or become adept at a one-handed clothes adjustment, while balancing your bag to keep it off any surface. And watch out for keys, cameras, phones or sunglasses falling out of pockets (Eeeeewww, again).

The main thing to remember is to always be equipped with some toilet paper of your own, and carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser, as clean running water isn’t always a given.

What’s a bum gun? And how do you use it?

The ‘bum gun’ is a colloquial term many travelers use to describe the spray nozzle and hose contraption you find mounted alongside each toilet in many establishments in Vietnam (and indeed, throughout South East Asia). When we first came across these, we were a bit unsure what they were for. Initially, I thought it was an alternative (or an adjunct) to flushing – an extra jet of high pressure water just to sluice the pipes, so to speak. Or perhaps they were for cleaning the toilet instead of a brush?

But no. The bum gun is actually used instead of toilet paper as a cleaning mechanism. Aim it at the soiled parts of the body in question, press the nozzle and a cleansing spray of water hits the spot. Except you can’t be sure what the water pressure of that particular bum gun is going to be. Some spurt water at barely a dribble. Others are like a Karcher high pressure washer. As a result, bathrooms with bum guns in use are often awash with mis-aimed water.

And then, when your…ahem…areas are clean, THAT’s when you use the toilet paper (if it’s been supplied). Pat dry. Deposit paper in the bin next to loo.  So, it’s just wet paper in the bins, not smelly, smeared paper. (What? Too much information?)

What would you be Googling about toilets in Vietnam?

This post is part of a series of “Ask Google? Ask Fairlie!” posts. Click on the link for all the previous topics I’ve covered. 

This post is linked to:

Weekend Wanderlust Wanderlust

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