In Indonesia, water is the cleanser of choice. Toilet paper is rare.
Wipe options will vary. You may see a hose, a bucket and water, or toilet paper. In many cases, wiping is a hands-on affair, with a preference for using the left hand over the right.
After traveling to nine of Indonesia’s islands and encountering A LOT of toilets, I created this guide to help you navigate your way through the toilet maze of Indonesia.
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Understanding when to use your left hand versus right hand in Indonesia is important in the bathroom and out.
Traditionally, you use your left hand for wiping. The right hand is the traditional hand to greet people and eat.
Customs aside, Indonesians will most likely not judge a foreigner for mistakenly touching, gesturing, or eating with the wrong hand. I definitely noticed a few Indonesians using their left hands to eat on occasion.
A majority of Indonesians are Muslim—Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world—and cleanliness is particularly important in Islam. Many consider it unsanitary to merely wipe with paper. It makes sense if you think about it; we wash our dishes in the sink with water or in a dishwasher—not with paper towels.
Using a squat toilet
To use a squat toilet, place your feet on either side of the toilet. The dirty part with ridges is where lots of other feet have been. That’s where your feet go, too. Now SQUAT.
In tourist areas, larger bathrooms may offer an option to squat or sit.
Signs will show you which stalls are squat toilets, and which are seated.
In many bathrooms, you will notice a bucket, or similar structure, with water in it.
The bucket in the bathroom serves a dual purpose to:
wipe (hands + water)
Because water is used for multiple purposes, many bathrooms will be wet and have water on the floors. I didn’t know this before and was unsettled by the water at first. Don’t be like me.
How to wipe
When you are finished doing your business, use your right hand to grab the ladle in the water bucket. Pour water into your left hand and use the water to wipe.
Run out of water? Use the faucet to refill. Easy peesy.
How to flush
Many toilets do not automatically flush. Whether they be squat or Western-style, you may need to scoop water from the bucket into the toilet until your “movement” moves through the pipes.
Don’t just leave it there. That would be weird.
But wait. What if there is a hose instead of a bucket?
Handle the hose with the same approach you would the bucket. Hold the nozzle with your right hand, and aim the spray at the areas that you need to wipe.
The water pressure from the hose typically takes care of the wiping, but you can also use your left hand, per usual. Look at you go!
Sometimes, you may get your choice of hose or toilet paper. What a treat.
Can you flush toilet paper?
No. Most pipes in Indonesia CANNOT handle toilet paper. Most plumbing systems are built on the assumption that individuals use water rather than paper to wipe.
If you do use paper, plan on throwing it away in a garbage can or carting it out after use. Whatever course you decide to take, do everyone a “solid” and take care of your own disposal.
What to bring with you
If you are not used to wiping with water, I highly suggest bringing along wet wipes, tissues, or toilet paper. It will help you ease in to the new experience of using water. I carried these wet wipes with me. They were cheap, compact, and worked just fine as I got used to the water way. One pack of 56 lasted me the entire month we were in Indonesia, even with my stomach issues.
Signs will remind you how to dispose of paper and/or wipes—and remind you not to squat on the seated toilets!
There you have it: a guide to pooping in Indonesia. All the best to you in your toilet travels!
As always, comment with your experiences and let me know how it goes.
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I'm Sarah. I grew up in Montana, got my B.S. in finance, and now reside in Washington, DC. I'm one of the Fish from the travel blog, Two Fish Traveling. I LOVE squirrel monkeys. And crocodiles. And fireworks.
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