Going to the bathroom can be quite an experience in Seoul.
I’ve seen my fair share of squatters,
and self-cleaning, seat-heated bidet-style thrones.
Regardless of style, most of the porcelains that I’ve encountered in the last eight months have been relatively clean, free of charge and stocked with toilet paper.
Here is a brief toilet training guide:
1. Where to find them
You are guaranteed to find toilets in the subway stations. Most toilets are located before you have to pay the fare, so if you see a subway sign on the street, you can duck underground and use the facilities. Bathroom experiences vary from station to station – most are clean but the majority are squatters with only one toilet or if you are lucky, an equal mix of both. There is usually a picture on the outside of the stall, identifying what type of toilet is behind the door.
Don’t expect to find a washroom in most Korean-style restaurants. Unless you are dining at a western chain, in a touristy area like Itaewon or at a multi-level modern restaurant, most average restaurants do not have restrooms. Instead, there are adjacent open public washrooms in the main building. You rarely need a key – the restaurant will give you one if you do – and you never need to pay.
If you are walking down the street and nature calls, you will most likely be able to find an open building to use their toilet. In desperate times, you can use a cafe’s washroom, as they are fairly lenient with washroom use, but don’t make a habit out of it.
You will never find public toilets in convenient stores.
2. Speaking of which…
When it comes to doing… err… number 2, many stalls have a unique feature that I have yet to see anywhere else. It is called an Etiquette Bell. Found on the stall’s wall beside the toilet, it looks similar to an intercom and makes the sound of a toilet flushing when you press the button. So, you can drop the kids off at the pool in peace, knowing that all anyone is hearing is repetitive flushing.
3. How to Ask
Say: 화장실 어디 있어요 (hwa-jang-shil aw-dee e-saw-yo?) to ask for the restroom. If you forget that phrase, don’t panic – most Koreans can understand the word ‘toilet’ and will point you in the right direction.
4. What you can expect
Most washrooms will be fairly clean, except some of the public ones have a funky smell. Expect squatters, western toilets and if you’re lucky, fancy bidets. These bidets have side controls, where you can sanitize the surface and heat the seat.
There is usually soap – a bar, liquid or foam. There is an interesting twist on bar soap in Korea – it often comes on a metal rod that juts out of the wall. Something like this, but usually blue:
It definitely makes for a special sudsing experience.
If you don’t see toilet paper in the stall, you probably missed it on the way in. Many bathrooms have free toilet paper dispensers located at the entrance, but this means that you have to estimate how much you will need before you are actually in action. Although most restrooms will have toilet paper, it’s smart to carry an extra stash.
You shouldn’t throw anything in the toilet – including toilet paper. There will be a wastebasket in the stall for you to dispose of paper, tampons and sanitary napkins.