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The Ladyboys of Pattaya

A ladyboy, or “Kathoey” as a ladyboy is known in Thailand, is essentially a male who dresses and acts like a female, often in a very exaggerated way…in other words, ladyboys are men who are actually more “feminine” than most ladies!! Many ladyboys have had or are having surgery to enhance their female appearance and to make their bodies resemble the bodies of females as much as medical science will allow. They are found throughout Thailand, although this might not be immediately apparent as they usually conform to traditional dress codes when working at the fairly low level jobs many have…except, that is, for their make-up.

There are probably more ladyboys percentage wise in Thailand than in most other societies. The reasons for this are not clear but it probably has something to do with the fact that social scientists often classify Thailand as a “feminine” society and things like beauty, while valued everywhere, are especially valued – and rewarded – in Thailand. In any event, ladyboys are tolerated to a degree not found in most other places and there seems to be relatively large number of men in Thailand who feel they were born to be or should be, or just want to be…women… or ladyboys!!

Ladyboys are especially common – and easy to identify – in popular Thai entertainment areas, such as Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, Patong Beach on Phuket Island…and Pattaya. It is arguable, but there might be more ladyboys in the Pattaya Beach area, both in terms of comparative and absolute numbers, than in any other location in Thailand. They are most likely to be encountered on the boardwalk or main beach road and on the Walking Street, and in surrounding side streets; and on South Pattaya Road. The ones you meet or notice are usually relatively tall and large breasted, dressed like fashion queens, wearing high heel shoes, covered with make up, and using very exaggerated female gestures. At least in the day time and early evening hours, they are often very friendly and anxious to strike up conversations. Most of these folks are, of course, essentially prostitutes and are looking for customers although some are in transit to bars or places of employment. Of course, ladyboys don’t always dress so elaborately and they can be found everywhere in the central Pattaya area.

Dangers and problems involving ladyboys:

Kaythoeys have generally been and are considered to be an unwanted although impossible to eliminate  social and economic detriment or drag in Pattaya Beach and its surrounding area because of the following reasons:

Involvement in crime: it is generally believed that ladyboys are disproportionately involved in crimes like robbery and petty theft. These crimes, which do happen, occur late at night and target single, often intoxicated men, and sometimes men who have taken  ladyboys to their hotel rooms. Usually, no violence is intended but ladyboys can be violent, and are often said to carry knives. It has also recently been reported that ladyboys in nearby Jomtien Beach are targeting female prostitutes as the females can’t effectively resist and are unable to complain to the police.  It is not possible to say with certainty how much street crime ladyboys are actually involved in but it must be noted that it is more difficult for ladyboys to obtain socially acceptable employment than for “normal” men – for obvious reasons -  and there is a rather limited market for their erotic services. This would help explain why ladyboys might have a high involvement in crimes involving theft of property.

Deceipt: ladyboys searching for male customers often portray themselves as women. They do not tell prospective customers they are ladyboys…although some will, if specifically asked, be honest about this. While some men are happy to be with ladyboys, other men can be horrified when – or if – they discover their “mistake.” In such a situation, it is very possible for violence to occur as a customer might become angry and say the wrong thing,  or refuse to pay the ladyboy.

Aggressive “hustling:” ladyboys searching for male customers are probably more aggressive than normal female prostitutes. They are more likely to ignore generally accepted conventions about things like body distance and touching…especially late at night.  They might be more likely not to accept “no” for an answer. This can result in discomfort among many men and can result in violence. From the perspective of the ladyboy, this type of hustling is said to be directed at men they “know” are really interested in them and is necessary in securing customers who are a little reluctant …but who really want to go with them!!

Violence and potential for violence: ladyboys, while very feminine in appearance and behavior, are still men, and many have good fighting skills and knowledge of weapons. Many carry knives. Although most ladyboys are not violent and even when involved in criminal activities, try to avoid violence, they are able to use violence, and they are prepared to use violence,  when the “situation” necessitates it… and, as noted above, these situations do occur. Sometimes, they occur simply because of a carelessly spoken or misunderstood word. If one finds oneself in a situation with a ladyboy where violence seems likely, the best course of action is always…run away or just give them what they want because they are better prepared to deal with the situation effectively than you.

In defense of ladyboys:

 A real and legitimate tourist attraction: ladyboys are a real part of Thailand and of Pattaya. They have been around for a long time. Many tourists enjoy seeing them and at least some have a secret – or maybe not secret – romantic or erotic interest in them. It is not possible to say how many people really are interested in ladyboys but the ladyboy cabarets at the Alcazar and Tiffany Cabaret shows always draw large and enthusiastic audiences. Also, the ladyboy bars are usually active and ladyboys are often employed at bars which are basically designed to serve “normal” people. It can also be observed that ladyboy hustlers do find customers…often many customers. The word on the street these days – and it is simply talk, of course – is that the ordinary lady hustlers are becoming increasingly jealous of the ladyboys because they feel that men are more interested in the ladyboys than in them!!

Ladyboy Venues:

Those desiring to see ladyboys in official or semiofficial  venues or to take part in ladyboy culture should consider visiting the following bars:

Walking Street: Ezy Bar, New England Bar, Linda Bar

Soi Six: Pook’s Soi 6 Bar, Hi Boss Bar, So What Bar, Lucky Love Bar

Soi Buakhao: Pooks Swan Bar, Blue Room Bar

Soi Yamato   Soi 13/1:   Stringfellows Bar, La Bamba Bar

Cabarets: the two following cabarets are world famous and offer good entertainment for those interested in ladyboys and for those who simply enjoy a good show.

Alcazar Cabaret Show: this show is located in a 1,200 seat theater at 78/14 Moo 9, Pattaya Second Road. There are three shows nightly. Tickets begin at either 450 baht or 700 baht depending upon the time of year.

Tiffany’s Cabaret Show: this  show is located in a 1,000 seat theater  between the main beach road and the second beach road, near the intersection with Pattaya Nua Road and Big C Festival Center. There are three shows nightly. Tickets begin at around 500 baht.


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