Ladyboys of Thailand: A Ladyboy Guide
This ladyboy guide will tell you what to expect, where to go, and give you some tips and pointers for your Thailand ladyboy experience.
Thailand ladyboys are known to be some of the most eccentric and interesting people to meet while you are visiting Thailand. Many tourists actively search out ladyboys to get a feel for their relaxed outlook on life, and stunningly beautiful and feminine looks.
Spotting a ladyboy while you’re out and about isn’t uncommon, but you will often not even realize you are speaking with one! They blend in beautifully with society, and have become a staple of Thai society for both tourists and locals.
What is a Ladyboy?
Ladyboys in Thailand are well integrated into society, and widely accepted amongst both the Thai people and tourists.
Thailand ladyboys are sometimes referred to as kathoeys or katoeys, which directly refers to ‘someone of a third gender’. In western society and throughout most of Southeast Asia, we refer to them as ladyboys – meaning transgender women or effeminate gay men in Thailand. The Thai kathoeys are world famous for having beautifully feminine appearances and working to appear as normal women in society, using things such as hair and makeup, plastic surgery, gender reassignment surgery, and various other cosmetic procedures.
Thanks to their knowledge and transformation required to become a woman, you will often find Thailand ladyboys working in salons, beauty counters, and in fashion. Ladyboys are often seen as being even more eccentric and beautiful than some cis-women, and are generally looked up to for that reason.
Ladyboys in Thailand are also known to put on amazing cabaret performances, unparalleled to anything you will see elsewhere in the world. If you are in Thailand, seeing a ladyboy cabaret is definitely something you should have on your itinerary. Ladyboy Cabarets are almost always considered a family friendly event!
Why Are There So Many Ladyboys In Thailand?
Ladyboy Thailand Population: as of 2017, it is estimated that there is a population of over 1 million ladyboys in Thailand, making up for 1.6% of the total population. The way people identify themselves fluctuates, making these numbers only estimates.
Thailand is among the most accepting and welcoming of LGBT and kathoey culture in Southeast Asia. It’s no surprise that there are so many ladyboys to be found in Thailand. Bangkok is considered the gay capital of Southeast Asia, with many LGBT people flocking to the city to live in a place of wider acceptance from society.
Thailand’s heavier tourist areas have a higher rate of ladyboys, as there are many more jobs available to ladyboys and a larger level of acceptance throughout the larger cities.
HIV Rates and Safety Among Thailand Ladyboys
According to The US National Library of Medicine, it is reported that HIV and substance abuse rates are much higher among kathoey workers, with just half of them reporting having being tested recently for HIV. It was also reported that one third of kathoey workers have engaged in unprotected sex in the last 6 months. While travelling, it is important to remember both your physical and mental health. Make sure to take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are safe while abroad.
While in Bangkok, we were fortunate enough to have the privilege of speaking firsthand with a few ladyboys. We quickly learned that many of them have a quite troubling past. It isn’t uncommon to hear about Thai ladyboys being disowned by their families while coming out, and being forced to move to an area of wider acceptance. This results in ladyboys beginning to work young, often underage, and being thrust into the Thai nightlife and prostitution scenes very early.
It is extremely important to ensure that you are doing your research prior to seeing the ladyboys, so you are going to the correct areas to avoid the underage ladyboys, who are often forced to grow up too fast and work in inappropriate conditions.
5 Tips for Seeing the Thailand Ladyboys
1. Enjoy Yourself
When you are amongst the ladyboys throughout the country, staring is unavoidable. They are used to seeing people’s jaw drop, and welcome it!
It’s important to be confident in yourself while amongst the ladyboys, as they will make jokes and blatantly flirt with you while ‘in character’. It’s all fun and games, so don’t take anything too seriously! It’s the whole reason you’re there.
2. Tip the Thai Ladyboys
Before, during, and after the show, it is important to remember to tip the ladyboys. For most of them, performing is their only source of income and they work hard to give you the experience you are having.
If you would like a photo with a ladyboy, make sure to tip. If you enjoy a performance, tip, and if you enjoy the whole show they will usually come around and collect tips afterwards. Remember, 50 THB goes a lot farther for them than it will for you, so tipping a small (or large) amount is always worthwhile.
3. Arrive to the Show Early
Most cabaret shows will hold multiple performances each night, and most of them will fill up. I love going a little early, and getting to interact with the ladyboys prior to the show! You will get to mingle, grab a cocktail, and ensure you get a good seat to see the show!
Plan to arrive at the venue about 20 minutes prior to the show starting. Do remember, they run on ladyboy time, so the show will often start about 15 minutes behind schedule!
4. Take A lot of Photos!
A lot of the performances are done for tourists, so the songs are very popular amongst English culture. From Cher to Madonna to Britney Spears, you will definitely hear a song or two you know!
Most cabaret shows encourage photos and videos, but remember to actually watch the show and not be on your phone the whole time. If you take photos and videos during a performance, or with a specific ladyboy, remember to tip her!
5. Keep Your Belongings Close
This one goes without saying, but while you are caught up in the amazing performances it isn’t uncommon for pickpockets to swipe your valuables. Most ladyboy cabarets happen in heavier tourist areas. There will be a LOT of people, so keep your wits about you and make sure you are watching your belongings!
I would suggest that you keep a money belt or fanny pack – my favorite travel accessory 😉 – on you with your valuables in it at all times.
Where to See The Ladyboys in Thailand
Thailand ladyboys can be seen throughout the country. However, these are the most popular places to see a show or attend an event filled with ladyboys!
Ladyboy Thailand – Performance in Pattaya
Pattaya is the most popular area to see the ladyboys in Thailand. You will see them everywhere. The mainly female bars usually have a ladyboy or two working at them. There are also many bars and nightclubs that specialize in ladyboys.
Pattaya, being a party city, has a huge red light district. Reminiscent of a naughtier Las Vegas strip, it has strip clubs and bars on most streets. You will find great bars down Walking Street, and some amazing ladyboy shows at Sensations Bar!
Bangkok - Nana Plaza
Nana plaza is a small plaza located near Sukhumvit Road (home of my favorite street food market on my Bangkok street food tour), and is home to one of the best red light districts in Bangkok. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it if you stick it out. You’ll find plenty of adult oriented entertainment in Nana plaza, which includes massage parlors and of course, ladyboy bars!
This plaza has about 8 ladyboy bars that run until 3am, and the shows at Obsessions Nightclub were so much fun. Be advised though, Nana can be a little pricey. If you just want to see a show and head elsewhere, there are a ton of bars and nightclubs in the surrounding area within walking distance!
Phuket - Soi Bangla
Ladyboy Thailand – Go-go bar on Soi Bangla Street
Located in Phuket, the largest island in Thailand, Soi Bangla street is the home to most of the nightlife in Phuket. There are bars and nightclubs located down the entire stretch, ladyboy bars included.
I found Soi Bangla to be a ton of fun, however, the buskers on the street were pretty overwhelming. Every 10 steps or so, I would have someone shoving scorpions, ping pong show advertisements, or nitrous balloons in my face.
The bars on Soi Bangla were a ton of fun though, I really enjoyed watching the dancers at Bar Funk 3. Bar funk 3 is listed as a sports bar, but there were not a lot of sports being watched there haha!
Bangkok - Soi Cowboy
Soi Cowboy was the first red light district I visited while I was in Thailand, as it was just a few blocks from my hotel – about a 5 minute walk away from Terminal 21 shopping district. Soi Cowboy takes up a whole city block, and is decked out with beautiful Vegas-style lights that will seriously captivate you. The ladyboys of Bangkok Thailand are among some of the most famous and friendly out there.
While not completely catering to ladyboys, you will still find quite a few bars that have ladyboys at them, as well as a ton of them mingling with tourists and locals outside of the bars! If you want to see a cabaret show while you are in Bangkok, I would suggest heading over to Nana Plaza before you come to Soi Cowboy.
Whether you are visiting to see the Thailand ladyboys or just happen to cross paths with them, it isn’t hard to see why they have quickly become so world famous!