Can You Flush Toilet Paper In Thailand?

credit: Yay

Traveling to exotic places is exciting but not always easy. Getting out of your rut, leaving your comfort zone, and immersing yourself in the traditions and culture of foreign countries may not always be that romantic. Toilets come to mind – for example, can you flush toilet paper in Thailand?

In Thailand, as in many Asian countries, it is not accepted practice to flush toilet paper. Water pressure is low, sewer pipes are narrow, and anything but human waste is likely to cause a blockage. Even in upmarket hotels, notices in restrooms ask patrons not to flush toilet paper. 

Also read: Do They Speak English In Thailand?

What Happens To Toilet Paper In Thailand?

If you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper in Thailand, what is the poor sensitive Westerner supposed to do?

Thai toilet sign
Yay Thai toilet sign

What Are The Toilets Like In Thailand?

If you’re out enjoying the sights of Bangkok, or the beaches in Phuket, you need to know what to expect when a trip to the toilet takes priority.

Are There Flush Toilets In The Cities?

When one goes into a restaurant restroom or toilets in a shopping mall, there will usually be toilet paper, but with notices asking that it not be flushed, and a bin next to the toilet or at the bathroom sink where used toilet paper should be discarded.

Public toilets are not the most hygienic choice and are fairly few and far between. They may not have toilet paper available, so it’s advisable to carry a roll or a pack of wet wipes. But be advised, if you can find a restaurant or shopping mall, give the public toilet a miss!

Are There Toilets In The Countryside?

Western-style toilets become scarce once you get out of the city and into the countryside. Public toilets are more than likely to be squat “long drops” with no running water, no soap, and certainly no toilet paper. A bucket of water with a scoop to clean oneself and the toilet is all there’s likely to be.   

What About Toilets In International Hotels?

Some of the newest buildings in Thailand, including 5-star hotels, have incorporated sewage systems with built-in macerators that can accept toilet paper without blocking the pipes. However, they are rare, and if there’s a disposal bucket next to the toilet, the chances are that flushing toilet paper is not allowed.

What Is Accepted Practice In Thailand?

Why is it that one is unable to flush toilet paper in Thailand, with its vast tourism industry attracting so many Western tourists?

Until the 1950s, before Thailand became an international tourist destination, most Thai toilets were the squat type, and Thai people used water to clean themselves. So, the sewage systems were never designed to accept significant volumes of paper, being constructed with much narrower pipes than that found in Western cities.

The Arrival Of The Bum Gun

As flush toilets became more prevalent, the use of water was adapted, and the “bum gun” or small hose became the standard cleaning method in Thai toilets. Toilet paper was used, but only for drying purposes, and then discarded into the buckets that are still found today in almost every toilet.

So, because traditionally Thai people have not used toilet paper for cleaning as those in the West do, the country has never been geared, in terms of infrastructure as well as culture, to do so, and find the use of water a more hygienic as well as practical option.

Westerners used to using bidets at home will be more likely to feel comfortable using the bum gun, and the technique is pretty easy to master (after a few trial-and-error attempts!), even for those for whom it’s a novel way of cleaning.

How To Use A Bum Gun

The bum gun is found only in Western-style toilets as opposed to traditional squat toilets. The small hose should be tested by pointing it into the toilet and then used from the back downwards by males and from the front upwards by females.  

For those visitors to Thailand who don’t wish to spray their rear ends with cold water, it is acceptable to use toilet paper in the usual way, but still dispose of it in the small bucket provided rather than flushing it, even though that may seem less hygienic.

What Happens If Toilet Paper Is Flushed In Thailand?

Not every visitor to Thailand is comfortable with the “no flush” rule, so what are the consequences if toilet paper is flushed down the toilet?

Damage to the sewage system:

 There may not be an immediate blockage when a piece of toilet paper gets flushed into the sewer, but the result is almost inevitable.

Thailand’s older sewer pipes are very narrow; they run almost horizontally and even upwards in many places and have sharp bends along their route, so they cannot transport anything else but human waste and water.

Penalties for Those Who Flush Toilet Paper:

Clearing blockages and clogging is time-consuming and expensive, as well as causing great inconvenience, so one can expect to be punished in some way for flushing toilet paper in Thailand. Apart from the expense in time and money, there’s also the disrespect felt by the Thai people.

There is no legal penalty, but culprits may face a fine of TBH 10,000 (Thailand Baht), just under $300, imposed by the hotel where the blockage was caused. 

Environmental Advantages Of Not Flushing Toilet Paper

While the environmental impact of producing millions of tons of toilet paper for single use and then flushing it into sewage systems is not the main reason it’s not allowed in Thailand, the country has saved tens of millions in dollar terms by discouraging the practice.

It’s estimated that every person in the U.S. uses 141 rolls of toilet paper per year, and over 31 million trees are cut down each year to supply toilet paper to the U.S. The Chinese, whose use of toilet paper is similar to the Thai people, only use 49 rolls per year.

So while the average in Thailand isn’t available, it’s reasonable to expect that the environmental impact of toilet paper use is a fraction of what it would be if Western practice was followed. Coupled with that is the substantial saving of water gained by not flushing toilet paper.

Other Countries Where Flushing Toilet Paper Is A Problem

Thailand is only one of several tourist destinations where flushing toilet paper is not allowed, mainly for the same reason – the sewage system is not able to handle the volume of paper without blocking.

In fact, 70% of people globally don’t use toilet paper, so the sewerage infrastructure in most countries of the world just isn’t designed or able to handle it.

Countries where you are encouraged to throw toilet paper in the bin (provided there is one) include

  • In Greece, particularly on the smaller islands, and even in Athens, people only flush badly soiled paper and bin the rest.
  • Turkey, with an inadequate sewer system, provides bins in most restrooms and toilets.   
  • Ukraine doesn’t ban the flushing of toilet paper, and in major hotels, it is accepted, but visitors are requested to keep it to a minimum.
  • Brazil and most South American countries provide bins in toilets and discourage the flushing of toilet paper because their systems cannot handle the volume without clogging up.
  • Egypt, Morocco, and most North African countries discourage the flushing of toilet paper, and the local residents use water, so it’s not readily available.

For Americans traveling to Thailand and to most destinations in Asia, Central, and South America, and most of Africa, the practice, as at home, of using generous amounts of toilet paper and flushing it down an efficient, hygienic, and functioning toilet is highly unlikely to be the case, so be warned.