Toilets and Traveling: Essential Tips for Your Trip in China
Where to Find Good Toilets While out in Public
Finding a good toilet outside one’s hotel room used to be notoriously challenging in China as public toilets were (and in many cases still are) not nearly as common as in Western countries. Also, it’s not that common in China for local, smaller restaurants or stores to offer bathrooms. However, the country has undertaken extensive work since 2015 to rectify this issue and now, government provided public toilets and toilets offered by private businesses are more common than before (but still perhaps not as ubiquitous as in Western countries). The following is a list of places where you can find good bathrooms.
a) Private toilet in indoor shopping malls
b) Private toilet in nice hotels
c) Private toilet in nice restaurants
d) Private toilet in international restaurants (ie, Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC)
e) Private toilet in banks
f) Public toilet in amusement parks
g) Public toilet in bus/train stations
h) Public toilet in major tourist attractions (especially those that charge an entrance fee)
i) Public toilet in some older neighborhoods (called Hutongs) in the North (ie, Beijing)
j) Public toilet in some outdoor shopping areas (especially if foreigners shop there)
Although currently only written in Chinese, the hugely popular social media app, WeChat, has recently begun a map-styled feature allowing people to find a bathroom nearest to their location. You may want to keep this in mind if traveling with Chinese in the group, or having a Chinese guide.
How to Read the Signs
Public toilets in China are usually clearly marked. The characters 公厕 (gong ce) mean "public toilet." You might see it on a sign at an intersection or on the side of a building.
Once you’ve located the restroom, you’ll need to know which side to use (there are practically no unisex toilets in the country).
Most bathrooms, especially around tourist areas, will use an easy-to-recognize figure of a man or a woman. However, outside of these areas, and especially in rural areas, you may only find the Chinese character for man or woman, so learn them well.
Man 男 Nán = notice the larger “head”.
Woman 女 Nǚ = the notice the slightly hourglass shape a use of some curves.
Travel Tips for Toilets
Read the information below to help you prepare your China “toilet pack”: a few yuan, tissues, napkins, and sanitizer. Some of the following can be found in an expanded version in the section “How to use squat toilets in China”; however, for brevity and convenience sake, here is a great quick list.
a) Bring your own toilet paper or pack of tissues – Chinese bathrooms don’t usually provide this outside of nice hotels
b) Bring hand sanitizer and/or napkins - Chinese bathrooms don’t usually provide soap, dryers, or paper towels outside of nice hotels, and some other fancy locations.
c) Plan your bathroom stops – While the availability and quality of Chinese bathrooms have improved over the past 3 years, they still may not meet expectations of some Western visitors. There may not always be a bathroom available when you need one, so try your best to use the bathroom before leaving your hotel room. When traveling long distances on trains or buses, especially through remote areas of the country, watch your liquid intake so as to reduce the need to go.
d) Flush with the ladle – If there is no flushing mechanism in the stall (handle, chain, button, etc), there should be a bucket with clean water, a working faucet, and ladle nearby which you should use to flush the toilet.
e) Almost always standing – The vast majority of toilets in China, outside of nice hotels, will be squat toilets. Read “How to use squat toilets in China” for more information.
f) Privacy can be a luxury – Don’t be surprised to find bathrooms (usually in remote and rural areas of the country) that have stalls without doors, stalls with partitions that only go waste high, no stalls or partitions at all, and even trough style bathrooms where everyone shares one long ‘toilet’ (not just for men doing #1, but for men and women doing all their business). It makes for a rather … ‘community’ … experience.
g) Leave personal items with a friend – whenever possible, try to avoid taking backpacks, large purses, or other personal items into bathrooms as there are rarely any hooks to hang them on.
A Fee to Pee?
Sometimes, yes. Keep in mind, that some Chinese toilets are “pay as you go”, so-to-speak. If you see someone, usually a lady, sitting at the entrance to a public toilet, then most likely there is a fee charged. The amount depends, but on average is only 1¥ (which is currently about 15 cents USD) … and as an added bonus, you’ll usually get toilet paper to go with it! (although the number of sheets will be less than the fingers holding them, so it’s still a good idea to bring your own). The most common bathrooms to charge a fee are located in rural bus and train stations.