Monkey Abroad

A blog about living in China and eating Chinese food. Videos, stories, photos, advice, and teaching ESL.


Why Are There so Many Ladyboys in Thailand?


In Thailand, ladyboys are all over the place. Thai people call them kathoey. Their big feet, low voices and Adam’s apples are usually a dead giveaway, but some are better disguised than others. Cosmetic surgery today makes it feasible to shave off that adam’s apple and pack on a pair of silicone c-cups. Apply some makeup and POOF! a man becomes a woman. Or something like that. So why does Thailand produce so many ladyboys?

In most parts of America, transexuals are vulnerable to a gauntlet of criticism from strangers and relatives alike. But in Thailand, gender identity is viewed far differently than that of western countries. Thai culture not only tolerates the ambiguous gender identity of the ‘third sex,’ but seems to encourage it.

One university in Bangkok, Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, is at the academic forefront for gender identity tolerance. This school actively encourages ladyboys to participate in class dressed as women. I’m pretty sure this is the first educational institution in the world to allow ladyboys to attend class under the women’s university dress code.

Ladyboys in Thailand

I teach English to grades 9 and 10 at a Thai high school. It’s fairly obvious which of my rather effeminate students is well on their way to becoming a full-fledged ladyboy. And there’s no fear of prosecution in the classroom. In fact, ladyboys seem to be among the most popular students.

Neither parents nor teachers nor peers is overcome with the urge to interfere and divert a kathoey from being who they want to be. Whether they agree with another person’s gender identity or not, Thai people simply seem to let it be.


Sometimes I’m thrown off by the openness of this culture, especially at school. Walking to class on any given day, I’ll hear, “teacher, you’re beautiful!” from a blatantly homosexual student, and the staff and students laugh along. Other times, it’s “I love you teacher!” My first response was an awkward cringe, but now I just shake my head and laugh. Like many of the challenges foreigners face in Thailand, it’s just a cultural thing.

I’m not gay, but I’ll take the side of Thai culture on this one. I think gay people and ladyboys should be able to do whatever they want without interference. If you identify yourself as a woman, then live like one. If you identify as a man, then live like one. It’s all good in Thailand. Maybe that’s the real reason why it’s called the Land of Smiles.

Ladyboys in Thailand


Author: Kevin Cook

I post stories, videos, advice and photos about living abroad in China. I also eat bananas.


  1. The U.S. could use a heavy dose of tolerance. Good post.

  2. Did you take the picture above, because they do not look happy.

  3. My aunt (Debi Meyer) told me to read your blog. I subscribed and like to glance at it conveniently during my law school summer class, the most boring class ever Tx Civil Procedure. Your posts are always such a great distraction, definitely like I’m there. So kudos to your intimate style of writing. But so glad to hear Thailand is so relaxed socially on the issue. Completely agree. Also, only because I’m in law school….I think persecution…
    But seriously, great blog.

  4. Each time I read your blog, my desires to live abroad are heightened. Thanks for the diversion!

  5. Someone told me recently that there are two ways getting around the ‘National Service’ requirement here in the LOS, where all able-bodied young males have to sign up for a year or two in the armed forces or other form of public service, One is to buy your way out, the other is to be a kathoey. I immediately assumed that was part of the reason for their prevalence here. I’ve since been told otherwise, that ladyboys aren’t exempt. I don’t know which is the truth.

    • Interesting… I had no idea that ladyboys (might) have exemption from public service. If so, that prompts a whole new discussion: whether they’re kathoey by choice or by nature.

      • Intriguing! Interesting read Kevo!

      • First of all Thai T-Girls are not exempt from national service. They used to be deemed mentally ill, this diagnosis was recorded on their permanent record and viewed by prospective employers, the mentally ill remark often ruining their chances of employment in the broader scheme.
        Post Operative T-Girls are exempt however girls with only breast implants or breast development by hormone treatment are put on a reserve list, the initial reason for refusal from the armed forces being “misshapen chest”, quite absurd.
        They are women in their hearts and minds and should be respected as such. If an individual is a pretender trying to avoid the draft, that individual will have to appear on a number of occasions to prove she is living as a woman. There is a big difference between real T-Girls and pretenders I can assure you.
        Anyway, National Service is a barbaric practice and should be done away with.

        • Thanks for clarifying Jeff.

          • I do not mean to be terse however I know the practices here very well and they can be frustrating. I have a great interest in the well being of these facinating and often very talented women. I study geopolitics and am a political activist operating from my home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My activism does not include anything to do with Thailand’s political landscape however.

      • Kathoeys do indeed enjoy exemption from military service on ‘health grounds.’ I have never heard of anyone being kathoey in order to avoid service though, but perhaps there may be people who pretend to be kathoey long enough to get away with it.

  6. I am all for a tolerant society that let’s you live how you like. All social and cultural definitions are man made anyway, I am not sure how much they have to do with nature. I was surprised (being on my first trip to Thailand) to see ladyboys in women’s restrooms. But really couldn’t see anything fundamentally wrong with it.
    Love the clean design and interesting content on your blog. :)

  7. Thailand is not ‘relaxed’ about Trans-Gender Women. Don’t think that everybody is walking around proud of how tolerant they are; this is naive. T-Girls in Thailand are regularly treated with disdain and are prevented often from taking jobs open to everyone else. There are exceptions based on individuals’ caring and perception however they are a minority.

  8. Coming from the US, I find Thailand to be much more accepting of LGBT people than the US and find that since I am gay, I felt more comfortable being around the whole country without being discriminate or judge by. I like the fact that Thai people tolerate transsexuals and let them live their life without giving them any criticism.

    • I agree with you Alex. Thailand is more tolerant of the gay/transgender community than the USA. While other commenters like Jeff have a good point (not all ladyboys in Thailand are treated equally), Thailand embraces the third sex more than most countries.

  9. Hi Jeff – I traveled around Thailand in the mid 1980’s – I was based in Seoul, Korea for 3 years and traveled to many nearby Asian countries. Your descriptions of your life now sounds like not much has changed in Thailand since I was there, how wonderful! In a world where so many countries are rapidly transforming – and westernizing :( – it sounds like Thailand is retaining its essence and is withstanding the ravages of fast economic development. It makes me want to take my 20 year old daughter and spend a summer there before she transfers from the J.C. she now attends to complete her 4 year in Oregon. Do you have any recommendations for towns or ‘summer stays?’ in the smaller northern Thai towns?


  10. It is well-known that CHILDREN are turned into transsexuals for the deviant international sex trade. And THAT is the sole reason there are more than the average number of transexuals in Thailand. Otherwise, they would not be able to afford the surgery paid for by sick pimps – or, they may have grown up to become healthy happy gay or straight males that preferred their own anatomy. They had no say – they were little children. Learn about it – it is sick. Don’t be naive – follow the money.

    • cm berger, I just had to sign up and respond to your obviously short-sighted and misinformed post. Adolescent boys are NOT driven to transformation by the sex trade, as the gentleman would have you believe. Sure, it happens, but it happens all over the world, even the United States, believe it or not. No, the kathoey is a genetic predisposition, not unlike a gay man or lesbian woman. The real reason for such prevelance in not only Thailand, but Southeast Asia as a whole, is that kathoeys are, in fact, more universally accepted in that region of the world, inherent discriminations – however large or small they may be for any one particular kathoey – notwithstanding.

      Sadly, the only naivete that you speak of on this whole thread is your caveman pholosophy.

      Live and learn, young man.

  11. They approach it with respect and tolerance…..not hard is it

  12. I had never heard of Ladyboys until a few weeks ago myself. A woman who I know from my neighbourhood who is from Thailand had some tickets sent by post to my address by mistake. These tickets where for a Ladyboys cabaret show in Brighton. I put them through her door as she said she had been waiting for them to arrive. I watched a TV programme about Ladyboys in Thailand and how they aren’t really accepted by Thail society I now know they are transgender people. I myself have nothing against these people as a matter of fact I have a friend who had a sex change some years ago from male to female he felt trapped in a man’s body and wanted to be female which was very difficult for him to live with. I personally don’t think that they are mentally ill. To my mind there is a very thin dividing between male and female anyway. But I do wonder why there are some many Ladyboys in Thailand. I watched a TV programme about India sometime ago and there where so many eunuchs in certain parts of India who where ostracised within Indian society.

    • Hi Vivienne Forbes I to saw the programme about the Indian eunuchs sometime ago. Some of these societies like Thailand and India do have very strict cultural and political laws against people who they feel are not part of main stream society. Although as you say these people are sometimes outcasts they still will not conform to their particular societies agenda. If you look back in history certain people have always preferred not to dance to societies tunes.

    • not all ladyboys are in the entertainment industry and “acting up” or dressing in a seemingly outrageous manner. living in Thailand, you meet them almost everyday, everywhere: working in 7-11, in the bank, at the petrol pump, as receptionists, tour guides, beauticians, or whatever. they seem to be pretty accepted to me. can you imagine your preschool children having a ladyboy teacher? because it is happening as well in a friend’s school.
      does not seem to be only black and white, this issue.

  13. I think that you have to be careful of people who try to exploit young people in society as some of the comments has stated. The sex industry in many countries is terrible for male and females. But if people like the ladyboys are consenting adults and choose to become transgender that is their choice.

  14. Have lived here with my LB for three and a half years( outside Bangkok)…still find it difficult to understand WHY there are SO many…my lady tells me that she knew from the age of 5/6 that she was”trapped”in the wrong body…and over the years,via hormones and breast implants has transformed herself into a full woman…we are very very happy together and only wish my previous marriage(English lady)had been as fulfilling as my life here,in the Land of Smiles.NEVER TRY…NEVER KNOW!!!

  15. My first trip to Thailand i met a Ladyboy by chance at a Cafe- Not knowing at the time – I was in Thailand for 4 weeks on holidays. We clicked and i asked her out to dinner and things went from there- Maybe it was me being a novice i did not know she was born a he. Well things got a bit heated one may say when she told me about her was i shocked or disgusted no not at all. I never thoight myself as being gay or bi so at first it was a struggle to know what i am feeling. I viewed her as a woman and she well was more woman looking than any other girlfriend/woman i have been with before but of course with something different you know where- This was 10 years ago and Lucy and i are together in my country as a very happy loving couple now and we go back to thailand to see her family. I dont ever regret meeting Lucy the only regret we have is we cannot legally be married- We have 2 children by others both our sperms so we live as a very happy family and no one knows the difference- we both changed our names so Lucy has my surname and i Have Lucy’s surname as my middle name.

    It is not for every one but it was for me so treat these ladies with respect please not as sex objects.

  16. 3 reasons why there are so many ladyboys in Thailand. 1 many young boys grow up in areas hugely populated with girls. They play with girls, dress like girls, make up like whirls and grow their hair etc because that is what they see and they think it is ok to do so. These are the ladyboys who do not want to have operation but remain a man. Call these type cross dressers if you like. 2 there are many who feel like a woman in a mans body, so they become a ladyboy and want to have operation to become a woman. 3 others and a great percentage of them do it for economic reasons. This may be to work in sex trade or cabaret shows. Even a photo opportunity gets them 200 baht at a time. Considering minimum wage is 300 baht a day, its a no brainer. Only the lady boys that chop it off are transsexuals. The others are not. And there are some transsexuals who don’t have the operation as then they would lose the attraction from male sex tourists. After all that is why they are fascinating. A man who looks better than a woman with a dick. I know this to be true as i have ladyboy friends, and both he and a female have schooled me well.

  17. I am agree with James.
    In the family of my girlfriend (who are a thai ladyboy). The son of her sister live exclusivity with his cousin (all girls). His father want him play boxing, but he prefer thai dance and make up (he just have 3 year old).
    So I pushing is father about his son will because LB.

  18. Why doesn’t the author answer the question he asks in the header?

  19. It’s difficult to clear define what a ladyboy have in their minds…I just respect them that point when they have to face all the discrimination around the world. But that’s it. Look i’m all straight. i think they never can disrecpect the nature of things and from the end they can trick everybody but not themselfs…just think…they can cut it off….dress like a woman, make up like a woman, but they still sweat and smell like man in the bed. That’s is my point.

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