Ladyboys or Katoeys – males who dress and groom themselves like women – are probably not a major Thailand tourist attraction, at least for most people!
They are, however, a source of curiosity as there seem to be so many of them in the major Thai tourist centers of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
They are hard to miss as they often have a more feminine appearance than most real ladies and their breasts are often larger.
What gives them away as ladyboys is usually their height and voices, their large adams apples, and a behavior which seems just too feminine but can turn very aggressive.
Indeed, one can see ladyboys everywhere in Thailand, although outside of the major entertainment areas they are less conspicuous. Many do regular jobs, such as working in restaurants, and dress very conservatively.
Often, it is difficult to spot these ladyboys. Usually, the identifying feature is makeup on a face that does not look very feminine.
Ladyboys – or Katoeys – are certainly not unique to Thailand, but there seem to be many more ladyboys in Thailand than in other countries, and they seem to be much more open in their "lifestyle".
If this is true, it is probably, in part, because Thai culture is more tolerant of them than are other cultures.
But this would not explain why so many individuals choose to be part of the ladyboy lifestyle. Assuming that there are actually more lady boys in Thailand than elsewhere.
It is impossible to know but it probably has much to do with the fact that Thailand is often characterized as a "feminine" society and feminine characteristics such as beauty are valued more in Thailand than in many other places. Because of this, women in Thailand appear (to the men, anyway) to have many advantages – and a lifestyle - which men do not and can't have.
Visitors to Phuket – especially Patong Beach - will certainly see ladyboys and might actually find themselves in conversation with some of them. Some walk the beach looking to strike up friendships.
Most non-homosexual men will be most likely to see and recognise them in or near Soi Crocodile, also known as Soi Katoey - which is a Thai word for ladyboy - in the Bangla entertainment district.
Ladyboys put on impromptu dancing exhibitions there while dressed in outlandish, South American style costumes. Others parade up and down the soi, trying to strike up conversations with anyone that will talk to them, their main aim apparantly to receive payment for appearing in a picture with a tourist.
It is said that as many as a hundred ladyboys might gather in Soi Crocodile on a busy night, although usually the number is considerably less.
Those who want to make a conscious effort to meet and see them can go to the gay entertainment district in Patong, the Paradise complex, a series of small sois (roads) connecting to Rat-U-Thit Road, which intersects with Bangla Road.
There are also two cabarets where ladyboys – dressed in beautiful costumes – put on elaborate productions that appeal to many people, gay and non-gay alike: The Simon Cabaret and the Tango Club. There are also three discos in or near Paradise complex: The Boat, Fire Island Discotheque, and Galaxy, which also has many straight customers.
There is also a gay life outside of Patong Beach. Most large beaches or towns on Phuket Island, such as Karon, Kata, Kathu, Rawi, Mai Khao and Phuket town, have at least one facility that caters to gay customers, so there is always a possibility of meeting ladyboys in these places. Most of these facilities, however – with the exception of some in Phuket town - tend to be designed as resorts for couples.
Most ladyboys prefer to hang out in Patong Beach, because that is where the earning opportunities are. In Phuket town, it is possible to meet less professional ladyboys going to clubs that serve both gay and straight customers.