To begin with, it is a safe assumption that very few people who are comfortable in a Western culture would ever consider having a true Thai style bathroom in their home. Westerners who have traveled to the Asian continent and found themselves quite surprised by the simplicity of the design and use of the space of the Thai style bathroom will attest to this reality. So as you continue reading, keep in mind that you may want certain components of the Thai style bathroom in your Western environment, but are not likely to want a purist’s view in your home.
There are generally a couple of different Thai style bathrooms, designated by the amount of physical space they use. The “mini” style has only the bare basics required for going to the bathroom and washing up. The main style is more spacious and accommodating to the Westerner. In either case, the bathroom is considered a space that is little used in day-to-day life.
The most important characteristic, the toilet, may or may not be in the same room as the shower. This becomes important when you realize that there may or may not be toilet paper available in the actual Thai style bathroom. Some versions of the bathroom only allow you to wash yourself after using the toilet. It does seem inconceivable that people do not use toilet paper in this day and age, but one well-known exception in the Western culture is the French bidet. As has been noted earlier, most people in the Western culture will not warm up to the purist Thai style bathroom.
It is acceptable to have a modern Western toilet in the Thai bathroom, complete with toilet paper. One difference is that in the Thai style the toilet paper is not flushed down the toilet, but instead is placed in a bin. One obvious reason for this is that not every city or country has the type of sewage and sanitation systems that the cities of the Western culture have (though there are some rural folks who understand the importance of not flushing the used toilet paper).
Much space has been devoted to the issue of the toilet here because once you get beyond the cultural differences, many of the key characteristics of the Thai style bathroom are very usable in the Western style version of the Thai bathroom. For example, the place for bathing will feature slanted tiled floors to allow the water to drain off. This is because many Thai style bathrooms have no shower curtains or anything to contain the water spray from your body. Water gets everywhere, so any towels nearby don’t stand a chance of staying dry for long.
One way to avoid this problem is to get very historic and what some people describe as charming, by using a ladle to bathe yourself. This is very environmentally friendly, as it uses very little water, and it also has the advantage of being a relaxing experience for those who prefer not to be rushed. Here, the tiled flooring is perhaps even more appropriate when compared to taking a bath in a tub. There is also the possibility of using a hose that runs water from the toilet tank. Again, the slanted, tiled floor for drainage makes sense.
You will have a choice of either a traditional Western style sink for washing your hands, or the more traditional pot of water which you use to pour on your hands over a sink. Despite stereotypical concepts of Asian monsoons everywhere, there are many places in Asia which do not get substantial amounts of rain, and water conservation is essential. Also, there are large sections of the continent that do not have running water, so there is no practical option.
If at this point you are thinking simplicity in design and space, you are not far off. Naturally, adding a Western touch to the Thai bathroom allows for the bathroom walls being rather decorative, but if you want to take the purist route you are more likely to have wooden or stone walls. A stone wall design theme is definitely in play here, and that leaves room for a visual mosaic appearance. Semi-opaque glass blocks can also be found as part of the walls to allow some light into the room.
Earlier it was mentioned that there is a “mini” version of the bathroom, and it is here where things can get really cramped. There is a toilet, bathing area, and sink all within the distance of maybe two arm lengths of the average person. A shower is more likely to be found in these “mini” versions because a cistern full of water would take up too much space. As far as the sink goes, you will usually find a basin with a pitcher of water next to it. The “mini” style is the epitome of maximizing the available space for the essential functions of life.
After reading about the Thai style bathroom, if you are thinking that there isn’t much to it – that’s the whole idea. Simplicity. Compared to American lifestyles, where family members fight for the maximum time in the bathroom as they get ready for work and school, the Thai style design features a “get in and get out” part of life. Western cities, regardless of size, have running water – even if at times it is in scarce supply. This is also true of most rural areas.
But one of the most practical reasons for the existence of the Thai style bathroom, and where its key characteristics can be employed in a Western culture, is the availability of water itself. Many Asian countries either have too much water coming at them all at once, or have to ration their use of water all throughout the year. It is hard to justify using large amounts of water in the bathroom when fresh, clean water is essential for cooking and drinking. So some people in Western cultures can find good, practical reasons for considering the Thai style beyond the room design.