Ever wondered why Thailand’s ladyboys are so popular?
Known by foreigners as kathoeys, ladyboys are a common feature of many Thai clubs and bars; so much so that the country has gained a reputation for being a sort of Mecca both to the LGBT community as well as being a curious tourist attraction. Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is home to one of the world’s largest communities of TV/TS/TG men and, in general, enjoy unusually high levels of acceptance and tolerance. In fact, ladyboy ‘adult’ performers such as dancers, go-go girls and even escorts can sometimes earn more than their cisgender female counterparts. But what makes them so popular in Thailand specifically?
In this feature we take a look at the culture of ladyboys in Thailand and what, exactly, this means as well as looking at the current scene for kathoeys. We also sneak a peek inside some of the most popular ladyboy hot-spots, particularly those in Bangkok.
To explore the historical and cultural background of Thailand’s ladyboys we should first take a look at the definitions.
Ladyboys is a blanket term that simply refers to a man who has a feminine appearance. The extent to which this is adopted varies with some men identifying as transvestite (cross-dressing) whilst others believe they are women born in the wrong bodies (transgendered). Some ladyboys may have had surgery to alter their physical image but, again, the extent to which this has been adopted can vary. Whilst some ladyboys may have had breast implants (top surgery), facial feminization and a tracheal shave (‘Adam’s apple’ reduction) others may have gone on to have more radical gender reassignment surgeries (GRS) such as vaginoplasty (bottom surgery) and ass-cheek implants (actual bottom surgery).
According to a report by US Aid, transgenderism has been documented in Thailand since the early 14th century; however, it was the influence of Western ideologies and religious beliefs in the 19th century that made homosexuality, diversity and gender fluidity a taboo subject.
GRS has been legal in Thailand since 1975 and has developed into a medical tourism hot-spot for transgender patients seeking cheaper access to treatment. Though the initial draw was one of finances, some observers not that the clinics in Bangkok can offer superior surgeries to those of many Western countries.
Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1956 and ladyboys are a common site, Thailand’s laws do not safeguard the LGBT community from discrimination. Ladyboys are not legally allowed to change their names or ‘correct’ their birth records and are seen, in law, as male; ladyboys are still required to perform military service, for instance. Despite unusually high levels of acceptance in the entertainment world, transgendered women (and men) still face inequality in many areas of society.
The Ladyboy Scene in Thailand
As previously mentioned, ladyboys face discrimination in some areas of Thai society including the more conservative of workplaces; for instance, government officials who have had a sex change may not wear female uniforms. However, the entertainment industry, particularly the adult one, offers many TG/TV men in Thailand the opportunity to earn good money. The truth is that many ladyboys have no other option but to work in the adult and tourist entertainment sector but it can be also very financially rewarding. This is particularly true of those ladyboys who have completed at least some of their surgery, specifically, breast implants as well as facial feminization.
Some of the ladyboys in Thailand are strikingly beautiful and most visitors would be hard pushed to identify these transgendered women as ladyboys. Such women can often find well-paid work in go-go bars, masseuses or as escorts.
It is no surprise that the majority of ladyboys in Thailand find work in the country’s capital and Bangkok has a huge scene of ladyboys, most notably working in the bars (and streets) of the red-light districts of Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza. However, you can also find ladyboys in other cities like Chiang Mai and Pattaya.
There are also a good deal of ladyboys who exclusively advertise their services online offering themselves as escorts.
Popular Ladyboy Clubs and Bars
So, where should you go if you want to find the best ladyboys in Thailand? We’ve come up with a quick guide to some of the best clubs and bars in Bangkok to find the most beautiful and the most exciting ladyboys.
Top 7 Ladyboy Bars in Bangkok
With a population of over 8 million people and more than 20 million tourists, Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world. With so many people, it is little wonder that the nightlife is so diverse and vibrant and the ladyboy scene is no exception. The city is awash with ladyboys with many establishments insisting on at least one ladyboy on staff to try and keep up with the demand from tourists to see one. Whilst this may be a novelty in some bars, there are other venues that make their bread and butter from putting on a show for purists. The following bars are almost entirely staffed and, in some cases, owned and operated by ladyboys. They have a reputation for being tourist (and Westerner) friendly with a good atmosphere, great looking ladyboys and some decent drinks.
A trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of these ladyboy bars:
- Obsession, Ground Floor, Nana Plaza
- Casanova, Second Floor, Nana Plaza
- Temptations, Second Floor, Nana Plaza
- Straps, Second Floor, Nana Plaza
- Cockatoo, Soi Cowboy
- Cascade Ladyboy Bar, Third Floor, Nana Plaza
- King’s Corner, Patpong
Top 7 Ladyboy Bars in Pattaya
Though considerably smaller than Bangkok, Pattaya is the second largest tourist destination in Thailand. As a result, this small coastal city is home to thousands of bars right across the bay. Many of the resorts offer in-house entertainment featuring the talents of the local ladyboys. In fact, the draw of the ladyboy is so popular that most regular beer bars now have one or two trans staff to capitalise on their appeal. With this in mind, if you want to get a glimpse of the best all-transgender, ladyboy entertainment in Pattaya then head to one of these top bars and clubs.
Most are situated in the central Pattaya area around Soi 6, Soi 13/1 and Soi Buakhow but we’ve also picked some others across the city. Certainly, more than one evening’s worth of entertainment to be had here.
- 69 Bar, Pattaya City, Bang Lamung District, Chon Buri 20150
- Baby Boom Agogo, Pattaya City, Bang Lamung District, Chon Buri 20150
- Katoey’s R Us, Soi Diamond, Meuang Pattaya, Amphoe Baan Lamung, Chon Buri 20150
- La Bamba Bar, Soi 13/1, Khwaeng Nong Khang Phlu, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 1016
- Lita Bar, Pattaya 13/2, Muang Pattaya, Amphoe Bang Lamung, Chang Wat Chon Buri 20150
- Obsessions, Pattaya Soi 13/4, Chon Buri 20150
- Pook Bar, Pattaya Soi 6, Muang Pattaya, Amphoe Bang Lamung, Chang Wat Chon Buri 20150
Top 3 Ladyboy Bars Chiang Mai
Okay, so Chiang Mai isn’t quite as buzzing as it is in cities like Bangkok and Pattaya but there are still a good few bars, with our choice being:
- The Shamrock, Boxing Stadium 96-98 Loikroh Road Muang, 50100 Chiang Mai
- Friends Corner Bar, 44/6 Loi Kroh Rd., A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50100
- Ram Bar, 48 Chareon Phrathet Soi 6 | Chang Klan Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50000
Another popular way to meet ladyboys and, for many people, a great way to get ‘up close and personal’ is via a massage salon. Offering a similar service to those staffed by CIS gendered female staff, ladyboys can give you a range of hands on massages as well as offering a happy ending either manually, orally or even with full sex.
These kinds of venues are less common outside of Bangkok purely for the reason that demand is lower and the ladyboys can earn more as go-go dancers and in bars. As a result, some people say that the quality of the ladyboys in the massage parlours can be low. This can often found to be true but sometimes simply reflects the fact that their English isn’t that good. If you don’t mind forgoing a little conversation for a cheaper encounter with a ladyboy then these salons might just be for you.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that ladyboys can still demand a premium and are often charging more than their female counterparts.
In Bangkok, you can find most of the ladyboy massage parlours along Sukhumvit Road between Soi 7 and Soi 5 and Suhkumvit Soi 4 as well as along the little alley connecting Soi 13 and Soi 11.
Alternatively, you can book a ladyboy escort online using any number of agencies and directories.
Prices for escorts can be a lot higher than from the streets or in a massage salon and you can expect to pay around $100–$150 (3500-5000 baht).
Many ladyboys use online sites and casual dating apps to meet potential partners. Just like many Thai women, there are plenty of ladyboys who are interested in hooking up with farangs (foreigners). The best sites to use in Thailand to meet ladyboys are:
All three sites offer a free sign-up process but this only gives you a limited access to the site. Subscription fees for a month are inexpensive and vastly improve your chances of a quality hook-up plus give you more functionality.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.