Ladyboys are well accepted in Thai society, but it is a hot topic of discussion among both visiting tourists and seasoned expatriates. After you’ve lived here a little too long, identifying which ladies were not born as ladies becomes almost second nature, though different people look out for different signs. For visitors, it is more often a case of avoiding embarrassment because, as the movie The Hangover Part II proves, your friends will almost certainly never let you forget it if you find yourself chatting up a ladyboy!
Broadly-speaking, Phuket ladyboys are not actively seeking to trap and surprise men. Ladyboy bars tend to be clustered in very specific locations, such as Soi Vegas on Bangla Road, The Paradise Complex or near the Simon Cabaret Show – basically, anywhere close to a cabaret venue. This means that, if you have no interest in this wilder side of Phuket’s nightlife, it is fairly easy to avoid it.
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1) Too Tall:
Thai ladies tend to be quite petite, with their average height being just 157.3 cm (about 5’2”), with tall Thai women being extremely rare. Even with the stilt-like high heels commonly warn in Bangla Road, they still look noticeably short. Thai men (and, therefore, ladyboys) average at 167.5 cm (about 5’6”) tall, which, if you add the six-inch heels, is actually quite close to the height of the average westerner. With great height usually comes big feet and hands, so these can also be a reliable indicator.
2) Too Angular:
Other than height, there are certain physical characteristics which are more common among men than women, which can help you to identify which the person was born as. Men tend to be more angular, with wider jaws, squarer chins, broader shoulders, straighter wrists, narrower hips and, of course, an Adam’s apple. You might think that this huge lump on the throat would be a dead giveaway, but there are now operations available which can reduce it in size to the point that it is virtually invisible.
3) Too Busty:
In their transition from male to female, ladyboys naturally need to increase their chest measurements and most seem to go for the biggest size they can get! As breast implants get cheaper, however, there are more natural-born women getting them, so this is become a less reliable sign.
4) Too Confident:
It is difficult to tell what classifies as “too confident” if you’re trying to spot a ladyboy on Bangla Road in Patong, given that the street is all but lined with dancing girls. There is a subtle difference, however, between the ladies and the ladyboys. Thai women – even bar girls – are quite reserved while ladyboys seem to have far fewer reservations and much more confidence. They tend to do everything more pronounced, including dancing, walking, sitting and talking. They even have a sexier way of playing Connect 4!
5) Too Revealing:
While the ladyboy cabaret dancers are easily spotted in their flamboyant feathery outfits, ladyboy bar girls are obviously not so readily identified. However, continuing the trend of being “too confident”, they tend to wear much more revealing clothes.
6) Too Flamboyant:
It may sound silly, but ladyboys in Phuket are often too feminine in their behaviour, to the extent that they out-woman the women! That is not to say that the genuine Thai ladies are butch, merely that they are relatively reserved.
7) Too Loud:
Alongside their flamboyant actions, ladyboys are also often quite extravagant in their speech. The traditional call of “hello, handsome man” carries much further from a ladyboy bar than it does from a regular girlie bar as the former are much less bashful and will speak much louder. The voice is also something of a giveaway as, even with training and experience, a masculine voice is noticeably deeper than a feminine one and often has a nasal quality.
8) The Ultimate Check:
All of the above ways to spot a ladyboy in Phuket are not 100% guarantees. It is far from impossible to find a tall woman with angular features, plastic surgery, a slightly croaky voice, an outgoing personality, a flamboyant nature and an extremely skimpy wardrobe (especially on Bangla Road). There is only one absolutely fool-proof way to tell the ladies from the boys: ask to see their ID card. All Thais are legally obliged to carry this credit card-sized document at all times and it will always show the sex they were born as, regardless of how much surgery they have had since.