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March 22, 2015 Comments (0) ONE Proj blog, Practical and How-To

Cockroaches or Comfort: Assessing Your Cheap Asian Hotel Bathroom Quickly

Dan tests the toilet bum jet

So you’ve just rocked up to a cheap hotel room and trying to decide if you should take it. You’re sweaty, tired, and low on patience. Your powers of perception are at their weakest.

Of course, you are also ultra-frugal like me, or none of this would matter because you’d just pay for something nice.

I know what can happen in these circumstances — in Nepal, we approved a room in the dead of night, exhausted from riding atop a bus all day. We somehow missed the rat poo, blood stains on the walls, insect infestation, and lack of running water.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Although I could advise what to look for in the room itself — like clean sheets, fly screens, locking door, a working fan, et cetera 1the bathroom is for most people going to make or break the room. Plus, bathrooms are far more nuanced.

Thus here I’ll explain how to quickly size up the “little room” (as they say in Indonesian), specifically shower, toilet, and ‘extras’.  Hold onto your toilet paper, because here we go:


Asian bathroom shower head

No, that’s not the telephone.

No, that’s not the telephone. Nor is it the bum-gun. That’s your shower head, and if you’re wondering where the shower is — you’re standing in it. It’s the entire room.

You should also notice a hole at the bottom of the wall, or if you’re lucky, an actual drain in the floor. You may even perceive a slope towards said drain — but this isn’t as common as it should be.

It’s best to expect every shower you take to transform your bathroom into a lake, which it will remain for the duration of your stay. Bring sandals.

In summary, I’d select a shower thusly:

  • Good: You have some source of water and some way to deliver it onto yourself. There’s a hole in the wall for water to drain out (and insects to come in).
  • Better: There’s a shower head, and water drains away into the floor, eventually.
  • Best: The water can come in different temperatures, and the floor actually slopes towards the drain.



Toilets are funny things. As much progress as we make between western and eastern countries on immigration policies, trade agreements, and religious tolerance, we still don’t understand how each other manage to poop.

That’s not what this post is about (happy Googling), but you will probably have a preferred toilet style. For some folks, this is the biggest deal-breaker of any bathroom.

Flushing: Check that you have a bucket of water and a ladle. Even if a western toilet is present — don’t let the flush buttons fool you. They’re usually just decorative.

Wiping: Most Asians don’t use toilet paper, but have various methods of water-washing (from the simple ladle splasher, to the button-activated temperature-controlled Japanese bum-jet). So check for your preferred wiping mechanism is available. And if it’s good ol’ TP, be aware if it can be flushed or not. 2

Japanese toilet buttons

Button-activated temperature-controlled Japanese bum-jet

Asian bathroom toilet paper instructions

Toilet paper instructions in a universal language

Seats: If you do find a western toilet, don’t expect it to always have a seat. Instead learn to revel in the feeling of cold porcelain against your bum. And try not to fall in.

In India we even offered to buy a toilet seat for our bathroom. The manager refused. “The owner doesn’t like the idea of toilet seats”. I’m still scratching my head about that one.

In summary, I’d pick a pooper thusly:

  • Good: The room has some sort of toilet and it’s not disgusting.
  • Better: It has your preferred style of toilet, and it can be flushed, somehow.
  • Best: The flush button actually works, and your favourite wiping method is available.


Fly screens

The abundance of water in or near bathrooms is prime mosquito breeding ground. Look for competent screens on windows and over drains (let’s call this the ‘Best’ rating). If there isn’t any, check that your bathroom door at least seals well (a ’Better” rating), and keep it closed to quarantine the insects. You’ve been warned.

Typical Indonesian bathroom vent.

Typical Indonesian bathroom vent: No flyscreen. But a pleasant view of outside.

Indonesia bathroom cockroaches

Flyscreens keep out more than just flies.

Sink, Mirror

It’s funny how I usually fail to notice what is considered essential in every western bathroom. Without a sink, just spit your toothpaste into the toilet. No worries mate.

The biggest annoyance of no sink is actually having nowhere to rest your toiletry bag. That’s why I’ve attached a loop of cord to hang mine. There’s usually at least a door knob — or even better:


You’d assume that when an entire room is the shower, hooks would be an obvious inclusion. Alas, not in the classy establishments I frequent. They’re a pleasant bonus.

High-class hooks. A rarity.

High-class hooks. Rare.

A more common 'hook'. Yes, nails count.

A more common ‘hook’. (Yes, nails count as hooks)


So what have we learned?

When surveying the scene you can, in under 30 seconds: Look around, test the various knobs, levers, valves, switches, buttons, and check:

  • Shower: Drainage, Water source, Temperature.
  • Toilet: Style, Flushing, Wiping
  • Extras: Flyscreen, Sink/mirror, Hooks

I hope that armed with this handy checklist, you’ll be prepared to quickly inspect and reject any cheap hotel rooms that don’t meet your low standards.


  1. there you go!
  2. this varies by region

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