Yes it is true, I get asked this question probably more than any other. What are the toilets like in China? And my answer often takes well over an hour to explain! Here is an attempt to give you a good idea of what to expect if you are caught short outside. Here is everything you need to know to relieve yourself in a public restroom in China.
This post is about what to expect from toilets in China. I will make another post about strange and wonderful things you will find going to the loo in China. So keep checking back for that post – OK!
My first encounter with a Chinese W.C.
I can still recall my first encounter with a Chinese toilet. It was on my first visit to China in 2004 and I had flown into Beijing airport. I then transferred to Chengdu. While traveling on the bus drive from Chengdu to Yibin the call of nature struck and I had to pee. At a service station midway we stopped for a break. I remember we all had to carefully make our way around a huge bee hive. It was hanging from the roof of the toilet block.
Even before I walked in, I could smell what was being deposited and WOW it made my eyes water. I couldn’t turn back as I was bursting so in I went. First, I saw a wall with a ditch at its base. There was a row of men standing shoulder to shoulder peeing. Everyone was smoking with pee flowing around their feet on the floor. This was definitely not the place I was going to pee, so of I went to find a stall.
Above you can see the difference in restrooms you will encounter while in China
Shocked at What You Will Find Inside a Restroom in China
I am not sure what you call those “half swing doors” but each stall had one that was only about 24 inches high and offered no privacy at all. You could easily see man, bum, dangly bits and what was dropping as it was happening. Somehow all this was done while most read the local newspaper. I was now in a state of shock not knowing where to look. I quickly found an empty stall, entered and stood legs apart over a “hole”. There was poo drifting by on a stream of pee in a trench some 2 feet below the hole! Now I was gagging and just wanted to get it over with, I peed and ran! That was my first pee in China, I was scarred!
Obviously not all toilets in China are like the one I encountered (unfortunately many are still like this in the countryside, but I have lived most of my life in China in big cities so you are going to get the run down on what to expect while visiting any normal sized city here in China.
What are the Toilets like in Hotels in China?
If you stay in any 4 or 5 star hotel in China, then I can pretty much guarantee you will have a “normal” toilet – yah. If you need to pop in to the hotel to use their facilities then it has been my experience that these hotel public toilets will more than satisfy the normal bathroom user. You will find paper in your stall, full sized doors to protect your privacy, soap and paper towels to clean your hands after you have done your business, in fact you will probably enjoy the whole experience.
Most hotels have pretty good waste plumbing so feel free to toss your paper into the loo and flush, it should disappear. This however will not be the case in most residential homes as the plumbing installed will most likely not be able to cope with poo and paper. You will need to dispose of the paper in a bin hopefully placed next to the toilet. Please remember this point, as flooding someone’s bathroom with poo water is not the best way of making a first impression!
Stretch Your Hamstrings to Master the Squat!
Other hotels will be hit or miss. They should be clean but you will have to become expert in the “squat and drop” style of doing your business as most will still have these installed. Squatting is something I have always had trouble with. I was never a good squatter, I guess my hamstrings just don’t stretch that far, I always end up balancing on the balls of my feet, swaying back and forth over the hole and well you can imagine the potential problems there. For some reason many public bathrooms don’t seem to be able to eradicate the smell of pee very well and you will most likely have to suffer the eye burn caused from over exposure to ammonia in the air while you run in and out. Do as I do, 5 star hotels only!
As a guest in someone’s home
Most modern apartment building have proper toilets installed so you shouldn’t have to worry if you need to go while visiting a friend. As I mentioned before, DO NOT PUT THE PAPER DOWN THE LOO! You will regret it, as I have many times. I have spent many a 10 minutes or so unblocking the toilet with whatever was in the bathroom (I used a plastic bag over my arm once). Do your business and put the paper in the bin that should be next to the loo. I can only assume that the plumbing in Chinese apartment building is just not up to the job, smaller pipes I guess.
I avoid them if possible as they are often not particularly nice places to visit, but they have massively improved since my first ever toilet break in china episode. They might not have paper, so always carry a packet of tissues and don’t be surprised to see the previous persons deposit left for you to enjoy. Flushing seems to be optional here!
In the park
Every park you visit in China will have multiple restrooms to choose from. They will mostly be squat but they will be clean. Below is Gabriel standing outside the restroom in our local park in Baoding.
Fast food places must be OK?
We have all used K.F.C. and a MacDonald’s to relieve ourselves while out shopping and you would think here in China these multi-nationals would have a decent loo to go to, well you would be wrong! Here is my local MacDonald’s toilet.
What are the W.C.’s like in Malls in China
All modern malls will have normal toilets with maybe an option for a squat. If you are a non smoker like me, don’t be surprised to see people standing and smoking in the restrooms even though it is forbidden to do so. I politely point at the no smoking sign and that usually is enough to move them on their way. Most malls have cleaning staff that will regularly clean the toilets’ and flush away anyone’s business, so I am always happy to go if needed in a mall, its usually OK.
My advice for using a toilet in China
These are my tips for using a loo in China and hopefully you will be able to do your business without incident!
- Always carry some paper with you. If not all local shops sell paper.
- Never throw your used paper into the toilet. You will have a flood after you flush! Use the bin.
- If you don’t see a handle to push to flush then look on the floor for something to step on.
- There are sometimes little shelves to place your phone on while you do your business, don’t forget it!
- You should probably not put anything on the floor, instead use the hook on the door or just carry your stuff.
Final thoughts on Toilets in China
Going to the toilet here in China is now a “not so terrible” thing to face, with modern toilets everywhere from airports to hotels and regular cleaning you should be able to nip in do your business and be off before anything bad happens.
If you have any questions or observations of your own, please comment below, happy flushing!
If left with no other options, you could always just do as the locals do, pee up against a wall whenever the need arises!