The ways to spot a ladyboy in Pattaya are a source of keen interest to many travellers as there are few revelations more shocking than discovering that the beautiful woman you are wooing was not born female. Studies have estimated that there are between 10,000 and 100,000 transsexuals in Thailand (and it sometimes seems like the majority of them live in Pattaya), with it often being said that Thai ladyboys are even more beautiful than Thai women, so it is a very easy mistake to make.
It may provide some relief to know that ladyboys (in Thai: “katoeys”) are very rarely looking to trap and surprise people. If you are not interested in what they’re offering, they’ll almost always just leave you alone. However, it could save you a few lady drinks and a lot of embarrassment if you can tell the difference between those glamorous girls who were born as girls and those who were not. Try looking out for the following clues.
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The average height of a Thai woman is 157.3 cm (about 5ft 2in) while the average height for a man is 167.5 cm (about 4 inches taller). There are always exceptions to the rule but, generally speaking, taller women were probably not born as women. Tall people (of any nationality) generally also have large hands and feet, which can be another good indicator.
This may sound faintly ridiculous, but ladyboys in Pattaya often look and act more ladylike than the ladies! Everything is exaggerated, particularly walking, where they look like they are on a constant catwalk. Look out also for the more pronounced swaying of the hips, more elegant posture (particularly when seated), excessively flicking and fidgeting with their hair and over-applied make-up.
The melodic croon of “hello, handsome man” can be heard from beer bars throughout Pattaya, but there is a noticeable difference in pitch between Pattaya’s Soi 6 (where the staff are mostly female) and Soi 6/1 (where they are mostly not). Even with training, the voice of a ladyboy is distinctly deeper than that of a woman. As with the walking from point #2, ladyboys will often try to over-exaggerate the femininity, which generally comes off as kind of nasal-sounding.
As it says above, Soi 6 is well-known for being packed with beer bars staffed by women while Soi 6/1, a handful of metres away, is known for its ladyboy bars. The same is true right across Pattaya, with certain areas where katoeys tend to congregate. If you’re talking to a lady in Soi Yamato (Soi 13/1), Action Street (off Soi Buakhao), on Beach Road between Soi 12 and Royal Garden Plaza or in the bars and clubs around ‘the tree’ on Walking Street, there’s a better-than-even chance that she wasn’t born a lady. They tend to go around in groups, so try applying some of these checks to her friends, too.
Overacting (and overreacting):
Ladyboys do not just exaggerate their femininity; they exaggerate everything! Every word and action is excessively flamboyant. This makes them stand out from the crowd because Thai culture is such that women (even those working in beer bars and go-gos) are usually quite reserved. This does come with a dark side as katoeys in Pattaya are known for also reacting excessively to snubs and insults. Fights involving ladyboys are often very short, surprisingly violent and best avoided.
The Dress Code:
A fancy costume involving feathers and glitter is a dead giveaway that she’s a cabaret dancer and therefore certainly a katoey, but such outfits are not that common on Walking Street. A more visible example of the “too feminine” trait, ladyboys tend to dress in more revealingly than women. Of course, this is not an easy one to gauge on Walking Street, where practically everyone is barely dressed, but ladyboys will often go one step further than most.
Check the Angles:
There are certain physical attributes of the male body which are very difficult to hide. Men have broader shoulders, narrower hips, thicker veins which are closer to the surface of the skin, straighter wrists, squarer chins, wider jaws and, of course, an Adam’s apple. While looking out for these is a good guide, most of them are relative and difficult to accurately gauge and you can occasionally find some women with some of these traits. Even the Adam’s apple (which no woman has) is not a complete certainty as surgical operations are now available to reduce its size and prominence.
Hold your arms out straight in front of you, palms up and together. Now try to bring your elbows together without bending your arms. If you have a male skeleton, you won't be able to make them touch (not without a lot of pain, anyway). Those with a female skeleton can.
There is little stigma attached to being transsexual in Thailand, meaning that ladyboys very rarely have any shame in admitting that they are such. If you’re looking on Tinder or similar dating apps, for example, most will be quite open about the fact in their profiles. Naturally, some females do get a little upset if you suggest that they might not be all woman. If you ask tactfully, perhaps passing it off as a joke, you will generally get a truthful answer without upsetting anyone.
The Final Check:
Most of the above signs are extremely subjective and none of them are guaranteed giveaways. There are some ladyboys who are, to any and all outside observations, totally female, just as there are some women who exhibit the physical and behavioural traits we have listed. There is only one fool-proof way to be sure: ask to see their ID card. All Thais are legally-obliged to carry it with them and this will show the gender they were born as.