Taking Care of Business: 5 Things About Korean Bathrooms

I apologize in advance, but it had to be done. We have to talk about the toilet situation in Korea. Is it weird or just plain awesome that this is actually the second time this blog has had a whole post devoted to toilets?

Maybe I just didn’t research Korea enough beforehand, but I didn’t realize that toilets and/or the entire bathroom situation might be different from what I was used to. Maybe this makes me ignorant, but either way, I feel like it’s something people should know! So without further ado, here are 5 things you need to know about public bathrooms in Korea (and to some extent, all of Asia):

Pop a Squat

Don’t be shocked if you open a stall and see this:

Squatter toilets are super common all over Asia. For a Westerner, the first site of one of these puppies can be quite shocking–how does it work?? How do you use it without peeing all over the floor (or yourself!?) The answer…you just do. It’s not nearly as complex as it looks, although I still avoid them like the plague whenever possible.

At least half of the public toilets in Korea are squatters, so at some point, they become impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, more often than not you find yourself in these situations in the wee (pun intended) hours of the morning, in a dirty bar in a haze of cigarette smoke, bladder full of soju…overall, while not pretty, sometimes I’m just thankful I don’t have to touch anything.

Where’s the Toilet Paper??

…well, when there actually is toilet paper, it’s usually on the outside of the stall. This one makes no sense to me, except that maybe it’s supposed to conserve paper? But then it’s a bit counter-intuitive, because most people I know grab extra just in case...

Anyway, this is (for obvious reasons) a good one to know before you enter the stall.

The Toilet Paper Goes Where??

…not down the toilet as you’d expect. Maybe it’s because the plumbing is old, but almost every public toilet has a garbage can next to it to throw your used paper in, and a sign that reminds you not to flush the paper (stupid Westerners!). This is as gross and stinky as it sounds. We don’t need to discuss it any further.

You’ve Hit the Toilet Jackpot!

As I mentioned before, about half the toilets are squatters. So what about the other half?

High tech space toilets.

At least that’s what they remind me of–complete with seat warmers, built-in bidets and a range of spray/stream options, these Japanese-style toilets have more buttons than my television remote control.

Basically, in the game of Russian roulette that is Korean toilets, consider yourself very lucky if you draw one of these space-age commodes!

Want to Wash Up?

Want to wash and dry your hands? Well, that might be asking too much. Far too many public bathrooms in Korea are lacking both soap and/or paper towels. Most of the subway stations are pretty well stocked and most use motion-sensor hand dryers, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve found both soap and something to dry my hands in a restaurant or bar bathroom. I don’t like to think about what that means for the people preparing my food and drinks…

Moral of this story, always carry hand sanitizer.

Have you experienced any unusual or unfamiliar bathroom situations while traveling?


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About andreasherrodd

We're a couple of wanderlusters who love travel, food and adventure. Our goal is to see the world, and to inspire you to do the same. Follow our adventure at www.world-walk-about.com.

17 responses to “Taking Care of Business: 5 Things About Korean Bathrooms”

  1. waterfallsandcaribous says :

    Lotte Department Stores have THE most gorgeous toilets…when we’re sightseeing/mucking around somewhere, we just seek out the nearest Lotte and pee in glorious luxury 🙂 Hehe.

  2. Rachel says :

    I am basically incapable of squatting properly (found that out lifting weights in high school, my hamstrings are too inflexible or something). Yet I seem to encounter squat toilets a lot more than my friends do! Argh.

    • andreasherrodd says :

      Haha! I am lucky, because at my school we have a teacher’s bathroom with both a squatter and a western style toilet. Matt’s school only has squatters!

      • Rachel says :

        I’ve got western toilets at my school too (actually, all the regular bathrooms have at least one!). But it seems every time I’m out somewhere, there’s only a squatter…

  3. Lori Finley says :

    Totally gross. I don’t know if I could handle that!

  4. anorthernnomad says :

    After living in Korea for a year, I can relate to everything you posted! My school had a washroom with two squat toilets and one ultra deluxe toilet with about twenty-five buttons. Still have no idea what most of them could have possibly done!

  5. Audrey Bergner (@thatbackpacker) says :

    Oh yes, I’ve learned to master the squatter! I really wasn’t expecting to come across so many of them in Korea… I was also impressed with the toilet in my hotel when I first got here – never in my life did I expect the seat to be heated! Kinda nice…haha. 😀

    • andreasherrodd says :

      I agree, the heated seats were nice, especially in the below freezing weather! And I too was surprised by the amount of squatters…some things in this country are so modern, and others still so old fashioned. It’s a bizarre combination.

  6. travelrinserepeat says :

    Why can’t they all be Japanese space toilets? I was surprised to find that even in Japan the squat toilets are still quite popular.

  7. housewifedownunder says :

    And ironically, when Asians come to western countries, you end up with situations where they have to put signs up showing them how to use our style of toilets. I remember there was recently a big to-do in the media here a few months because some university in Sydney put up “offensive” signs about the proper way to use a toilet because they had severe sanitation problems with their many Asian students attempting to use them like squat toilets. Frankly, I’d be grateful for signs telling me how to use an unfamiliar toilet to save me any embarrassment of making a mess or otherwise doing it wrong!

    • andreasherrodd says :

      It’s funny you say that, because even in other Asian countries I’ve seen those signs. In Malaysia most western-style toilets had signs, and I heard it was because the large Indonesian population in Malaysia doesn’t know how to use them. I agree though–it’s helpful to have signs!

  8. Gram Anne says :

    Glad I don’t have to try the squat toilets, what with a bad knee, that would be quite painful! Gram Anne

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  1. My Love/Hate Relationship with Korea | World Walk About - May 15, 2012

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