I read an article on one expat blog that talked about how to use a Japanese toilet. It is common for expat blogs to write how-to articles and cultural tips. Not only do these types of articles provide useful information for surfers, they provide SEO-friendly keywords that help the blog build search engine visibility. While I like to think that my travel tales are interesting, informative, and insightful, my travel stories certainly won’t show up when someone types in “how to use a Japanese toilet” or “good Korean food Seoul.” I don’t want to be left out of the pack, so here is some useful how-to information about Thailand’s toilets, taxis, and shopping.
Toilets in Thailand range from a hole in the ground to Western style toilets. As a budget traveler, you can manage to find cheap hostels in Thailand that run as little as three US dollars a night, which is what my hostel charges for a dorm bed. However, I have seen several girls walk right out the front door after seeing the dormitory’s toilet. There is no toilet seat, and you have to flush the toilet by filling up a bucket with water and dumping it into the toilet bowl. There is no sink, per se, but there is a canal with a faucet, and a shower head on the end of a hose. Also, make sure not to poop too loudly because there’s about a foot of space between the top of the wall and the ceiling. But pooping quietly may be a challenge if you’re eating Thai food every day. You may be able to disguise the sound if you turn on the shower, the “sink” faucet, and the bucket faucet simultaneously. And cough at the same time.
If you can manage, hold it until you get to one of Thailand’s mega-shopping centers. Toilets in Bangkok’s major shopping malls are full on Western style toilets with motion-detecting sinks and actual paper towels, which are a rarity in the Land of Smiles. Half the time you will be greeted by a friendly cleaning maid who takes no notice of you as you desecrate her sparkling urinal.
If you’re wandering around the city somewhere and nature starts yelling at you about that tom yum you just ate, rush inside the nearest building and pray they have a toilet for use. When you find the bathroom, you will likely be greeted by a sleepy bathroom door attendant and you’ll probably have to pay a cover charge to use the bathroom. On Khao San I’ve seen security guards stationed by bathrooms that are locked behind floor-to-ceiling metal bars and a full body coin-operated turnstile. And it makes sense, since the last time I was there some aggressive drunk kid was yelling that the guard wouldn’t let him in, while trying to shove through the turnstile to another drunk friend who’d collapsed on the floor somewhere, not realizing that the turnstile was a mechanical device that could only be opened with three baht, which the guard was waiting for a hotel attendant to retrieve. But most of the time you’ll just give your money to the door person, who will give you your change, then say something to you in Thai and let you inside. You’ll have to pay a few baht more for some tissue, since the toilet won’t be stocked with toilet paper. Don’t worry, though, there is a hose for spraying yourself down there or back there or wherever you end up spraying; the tissue is just for the drying phase so you don’t look like you had an accident when you walk out. But don’t put it in the toilet, the signs will tell you, that’s what the small waste basket is for.
Assuming, though, you’ve managed to hold out for a luxurious shopping mall bathroom, you will now be relieved enough to explore the vast decadent elegance that is Thailand’s shopping excellence. When I walk through these malls, I feel like I’m exploring acres and acres of the wings of some massive, opulant Thai palace. Strange objets d’art hang from the ceilings, and the floors and walls gleam with gold and crystal. Tacky gaudiness is a perfected art form in these places, perhaps only outdone by Thailand’s glittering Buddhist temples.
For a wannabe rustic rugged traveler like myself, half-dressed in REI gear and half-dressed in Khao San hippie clothes, there are a couple chains that offer imported outdoor gear. The Tank Store can be found at the Emporium and Siam Paragon, and I think I saw one in Central World as well. This store brings in some gear from US companies like Sea to Summit, Outdoor Research, Camelback, and some others. You can find major brands like The North Face, Nike, Adidas, and Columbia at other outlets, but in general, these malls cater to the tacky fashion that worships sparkle and gaudy.
Up the street from Central World is Platinum, a massive shopping mall slash district that is devoted to more of the same fashion that makes no sense to Yours Truly, who, admittedly, may not be the best fashion advisor in the world. After all, for a long time I wore my Vibrams everywhere, and now I wear a hat that looks like it’s straight from Crocodile Dundee.
There’s plenty more shopping in Bangkok besides what I’ve mentioned. MBK, for instance, is another multi-story shopping center with electronics and clothing stores, and Kinokuniya, the worldwide Japanese bookstore, offers the largest selection of English books in Thailand. It has a few branches around town, located inside the major shopping malls.
But for the best shopping experience, visit some of Thailand’s many markets. The street markets that are everywhere Thailand offer a much cheaper selection of anything you could want, from clothing to tools to electronics. Remember how I talked up the market on Khao San? Well, that place is fine, but it’s a relatively expensive drop in the bucket compared to the rest of Thailand’s many street markets. But you can never be sure of the quality of certain purchases. I once bought a reading light and a travel clock for cheap that were both DOA, and a backpack I got for a few bucks fell apart one time when I put too much weight in it. No gradual warning tears or splitting seams; the straps just ripped right out of the pack. All my clothes have held out fine though, and I still have a bunch of T-shirts I bought here two years ago.
Once you’re done with your shopping extravaganza, you can find street food for less than a buck or you can climb to the top of a mall and pay American prices for any worldwide cuisine you crave.
Now that you’re stuffed and lugging around a couple tons of crap you could have bought back home minus the import surcharges, you need to figure out how to get back to your hotel. You can take an air-conditioned taxi back, which usually costs three bucks or less. You can take the motorcycle taxis, which involves you hopping on the back of a motorbike without a helmet while the driver weaves through traffic to get you back home. You can take motorized tricycle taxis, called tuk tuks, which I am starting to really hate because they always pull up beside me while I’m walking and they call out My Friend and ask where I’m going and don’t I want to pay them like nine bucks to go somewhere anywhere as long as I give them money and it happens like ten or twenty times a day. You can also take a bus, which is usually the cheapest, costing between nothing and fifty cents. The skytrain costs around a buck if you’re not going too far, and you can even take a boat, which costs forty cents to a buck fifty, depending on whether you buy the tourist ticket or not.
Lastly, you can walk home, if you know where you’re going, if you don’t mind getting caught in the occasional rainstorm, and if you’re sure that you won’t have to use the toilet before you get back.