The 3rd Sex
The irrational fear of ladyboys and the hatred so many punters in Bangkok’s bar areas have towards the third sex has long flummoxed me. Why do some people get so heated, angry and bent out of shape about something so innocuous?
Ladyboys are harmless. I don’t know how to put it any other way. They are as harmless as an old lady you pass in the supermarket aisle, a university student poring over textbooks at Starbucks or your next door neighbour mowing their lawn.
Ladyboys are no concern whatsoever. So why do some people get so upset by them?
I’m comfortable with ladyboys. I have no issue with them at all. I put this down to my upbringing, and specifically my parents’ healthy attitude towards transsexuals.
My first part-time job was in a cinema. There was a transsexual who used to come in to the cinema frequently to use the toilets. I knew she was different but didn’t give it much thought. Even in relatively conservative 1980s New Zealand, few gave her more than an odd look.
Yeah, I refer to her – and all ladyboys – as she, even though she was born he and probably to this day still has the same appendage that 86.5% of the readers of this column have. (*86.5%? That’s the percentage of this site’s readership which is male, according to Google.)
Not only do some people get angry at the very existence and presence of ladyboys, these same people get almost as angry when female pronouns and used i.e. referring to ladyboys as “she”, and not he. They argue until they’re blue in the face, until their blood pressure gets so high that their eyes start to bulge and you think they might just have a heart attack, insisting that ladyboys are anatomically men and absolutely should not be referred to as she. That they get so angry about it is priceless. I don’t hear them saying that ships shouldn’t be referred to as she, but as “it”.
What’s the big deal? Seriously? Is it really worth getting so upset about?
Ladyboys identify as female. Yes, they were born male. No, they cannot have children. But they maintain that they feel female. They dress like females. They act like females and many undergo medical procedures and treatments to look more like females. If it means so much to them that they do everything they can to look like a female and behave like a female and they would prefer to be referred to as she and not as he, I am happy to do that.
Some foreigners in Bangkok get so heated over words used when talking about ladyboys that it becomes fun to wind them up. In fact it was a nonsensical post on Facebook where someone said that Stick likes ladyboys that prompted me to write this. That someone gets so upset about ladyboys I thought, aha, I’m going to serve you up a very generous helping of ladyboys this week!
Do I like ladyboys? Well, I sure like photographing them. In Bangkok last month I was asked if there were any bars I wanted to photograph to which I replied that I’d really like to shoot Cockatoo in Soi Cowboy, the soi’s only all-ladyboy bar. Sadly, that photo shoot never happened. But I did carry out a photo shoot in Chili, one of the many all-ladyboy bars in Nana Plaza, hence all of the shots featured today.
So why was the first bar I wanted to photograph a ladyboy bar and not one of the more popular girly bars? Because ladyboys are so much easier to work with than those born female. It’s night and day. Every bar photo shoot I have done is a drama and the ladyboys are so much easier to work with.
It’s not that I find ladyboys sexy. I don’t. Sure, some are beautifully made up and you cannot help but admire someone who puts so much effort in to something and does it so well. But that is not the definition of sexy.
Do I have fantasies about ladyboys? Not a chance. Sexually, I find ladyboys about as alluring as my letterbox – and I have one ugly letterbox, let me tell you!
But I must have had a sexual experience with a ladyboy, right? How can someone even mention ladyboys without being a closet homosexual? Haha, not a chance – and those who think like that still have the mentality of a school kid.
Having a sexual experience with a ladyboy has never even crossed my mind and is of no interest to me whatsoever, despite the odd person I know in Bangkok who has had such an experience confirming that no-one polishes the bishop like a ladyboy.
One good friend and a few others I know in Bangkok – mainly bar industry figures – have been there.
One friend once told me that the most erotic sexual experience of his life was being parked up on Pattaya Hill at night in his truck, the bright lights of Pattaya glittering below. A ladyboy was in the passenger’s seat. As he sat there admiring the view, the ladyboy took care of business.
That, I believe, was a one-off. Is he gay? Of course not! Is he a deviant? Get real. It’s just silly to suggest anything like that. And even if someone is gay, or bisexual, all power to them!
One long-serving Pattaya bar boss is open about the ladyboy phase he went through and how he questioned himself whether he was turning gay. That passed and those dalliances are a thing of the past.
Said bar boss never fails to mention that the happiest, most sexually satisfied punters in Pattaya, in his opinion, are those who go with ladyboys.
If you’re in to ladyboys, you have to be gay, right? That’s the stigma, right? And gay is bad, right? Oh, for goodness sake, give me a break! Who cares about someone’s sexual orientation? It’s about as important as the brand of toothpaste they use.
I have a firm belief that most guys who go with ladyboys are not gay per se.
I think the key point to take away from the guys who like ladyboys is that there is very little overlap between gay guys and guys who like ladyboys. Hardly any gay guys care for ladyboys and ladyboy lovers generally don’t go for (conventional) gay men either.
I put the question to a couple of gay colleagues many years ago and they expressed horror at the idea of sexual attraction towards ladyboys. Ladyboys are of zero interest to 99% of gay men. To gay men, a ladyboy is hardly “gay” at all!
And so it is with most men who like ladyboys. They like ladyboys, but they have zero attraction towards a gay man. They would feel terribly out-of-place in a gay bar or a gay club, but in a bar full of ladyboys they are in their element.
And here’s the clincher- guys who are attracted to ladyboys are usually also attracted to regular ladies. There is much overlap between customers in Nana Plaza who go with the girls and go with the ladyboys. So they will have sex with ladies, and they have sex with ladyboys, but they do not have sex with “regular / conventional” gay men.
I was a little wary of ladyboys when I first arrived in Bangkok which was probably due to the aggressive nature of some ladyboys on the street. A few seemed off, as in they were unpredictable. Put that down to the fact that drug use is high amongst ladyboys and they were likely flying high on their substance of the day. Not a lot different to many of the born-female bargirls who are regular drug users.
But over time whilst operating this website I would chat with ladyboys working in the bar industry, and I would discover that they are generally more interesting, more engaging and if they’re not flying high, don’t play the silly emotional and manipulative games that so many women in the bars play. You can just chat straight (unfortunate choice of words, I know) with most ladyboys and they’ll be straight with you.
Some of the best bar photo shoots I have done have been in ladyboy bars. Ladyboys make themselves up well, are much better at posing and are easier to work with.
And where most of the bargirls come from troubled / poorer / lower socio-economic backgrounds, the ladyboys are from more diverse backgrounds. It’s not necessarily poverty driving them to the bars. That makes them different and interesting, in their own way.
Once ladyboys know you’re not judging them, they become much more open – more so than the barladies ever are. Getting the truth out of bargirls requires time, patience and often BS and deception. The ladyboys are more open and offer a fascinating insight in to their life and the lives of bar workers in general.
I really don’t see what the big deal is with ladyboys. Part of me wonders if it is due to attempting to cultivate an image of being manly, which some obviously think has to include being anti-gay. Ridiculous! It reminds me of when I was young and few people admitted they listened to, or liked Queen or Michael Jackson due to what teenagers at the time considered to be their questionable sexuality.
There are many ladyboy bars in Nana Plaza and guess what? They’re popular! Almost a third of the bars in Nana Plaza are ladyboy only, and there are other bars which have a mix of (mainly) ladies, but some ladyboys too.
For a time the most successful bar in Nana Plaza was the ground floor ladyboy bar Obsessions, if you measured revenue compared to bar size. Obsessions was said to be in the top 3 bars in terms of take overall. Ladyboy bars are wildly popular.
Some complain that if it weren’t for all of the ladyboy bars there would be more girls and more girly bars in Nana Plaza which several years ago overtook Patpong as “ladyboy central” in Bangkok.
If the lords of Nana Plaza implemented a no-ladyboy policy in the plaza – something that has been mooted in the past – there would be no change to the number of girls working in the plaza. Instead, the same girls would be spread throughout more bars meaning each bar would have fewer girls. That would mean less atmosphere and less fun. Be careful of what you wish for and unintended consequences.
I really don’t see what the big deal with ladyboys is. And neither do I see what the big deal is with those who like private time behind closed doors with ladyboys. I mean, seriously, it’s probably like doc using two fingers when checking your prostate instead of one, right?
Are those who talk ill of ladyboys suppressing feelings they have towards ladyboys? Are they scared that a secret attraction they have towards ladyboys means they are gay? Get over it!
The only issue I have with ladyboys is that some are pumped so full of hormones and / or heavy drug users that they might not be in full control of themselves and said cocktail of drugs can make them unpredictable. But this is no different to the born-female girls working in the bars, almost as many of whom are also drug users.
Get over yourself. Ladyboys are a big part of the Bangkok bar scene and are here to stay. They are as harmless as they are amusing, and if you don’t want to have anything to do with them you don’t have to. Seriously, get over it!
Last week’s photo was taken on the skywalk connecting the Sheraton Grande Hotel with the Asoke skytrain station and Terminal 21. Few people got it right. A long-time reader suggested I include the photo above, taken in 1980. No way would I have got it right, but then maybe you’re more clever than me. Needless to say, the area photographed looks nothing like this today.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
The future of Pattaya.
In the not too distant future, I can see change in Pattaya. The Soi Buakhao area will become more like Walking (gawking) Street. It’s happening already with more development and bars opening. It will all become more mainstream, unfortunately. There are already more Indian looky-loos in the soi, and a few farang females too. Maybe it will be the Chinese next. Soi LK Metro may survive, I hope.
The new Thai look.
I understand taste and predilection for women is very relative but what is wrong about looking or being 100% Thai? The girls in your photo essays have peroxide dyed hair, blue contact lenses, body ink, some with braces, etc. Is this the look Farang and Asian punters prefer these days? It’s a sad distortion on their true beauty i.e. jet black straight hair, Asian brown eyes, minimal make up and no plastic surgery. Oh well, whatever sells, I guess.
On the ground.
I keep hearing about high season, but I just don’t see it. Or at least it’s not so high as it was in years past. I stayed recently at the Dynasty Inn in Pattaya and the occupancy rate was 50%. Walking around Bangkok from Nana to Prom Pong I see no difference from July. I’ve yet to enter the gogo zones, so maybe when I do I’ll see a difference. You mentioned that soi 22 was a cheaper alternative. Not anymore. In Queen’s Park Plaza I was quoted 230 – 240 baht for lady drinks. Customer drinks were 130 – 140 baht. Barfines varied, but most were around 700 baht with long-time quoted as 3,000 baht, a saving compared to Nana. I was asked by a bargirl friend why I don’t visit her, and told her it was too expensive. She compared the prices saying they were the same in Soi Cowboy. I pointed out that Soi Cowboy has topless dancers, air-conditioning and happy hours. That went over her head. The bars on soi 22 closer to Sukhumvit still have good prices. And Titanium has buy one get one until 10 PM. I’ve pretty much forgone all those places and just go to Irish / English pubs now.
A good salary means one doesn’t have to go.
There have been amazing changes over the past 20 years, some for the better, some for the worse and it all depends on an individual’s viewpoint. You raise a valid point about pricing in farang bars, particularly at the top end of the gogo market. 20 years ago, a large percentage of the customers were expats and regular visitors. With the girls’ bar salary being far lower, they relied more on pay for play to make a good living than is the case today. Nowadays, salaries, especially at the top end, have rocketed up and the girls can make a decent living from salary, tips and lady drinks without having to leave the bar. This has enabled them to be far more choosy when they do go and for how much.
Thai women ballooning.
Responding to what you say about Thai women to fall out of favor, you used “slim” as one of the words to describe their attraction to foreign men. But you forgot to mention “lack of slimness” as one of the reasons they will fall out of favour. We all know the Thais are ballooning in size, especially on the gogo stages. But farang men still like slim women. Sometimes I walk into a gogo now and think “you have got to be kidding me” when I see all the heavy dancers.
Indians not flavour of the month.
Regarding Indians, I’m with the naysayers on this. Many are rude, incredibly tight, treat the girls badly and some downright smell as well! Most guys I know think like wise and would actually avoid bars that let them in any numbers. I’ve even now considered not staying on Sukhumvit soi 11 in future because of the increasing numbers there.
Expats on the move.
I know several people planning to move on to greener fields, mostly to the Philippines where the English is better, prices are cheaper, visas are a non issue, and the culture gap is much smaller. In Manila, for example, you don’t need to explore the bars – the shopping malls are teeming with willing office ladies who make it obvious they’re open to an approach. Others have explored Vietnam and Cambodia but these hold many of the same issues as Thailand.
The pound getting pounded.
For a brief spell yesterday around noon in the SCB exchange on Soi Nana, I witnessed the following – £1 = 39.95 THB. I’ve seen this rate at the airport a few months ago but never on the streets.
High season? What high season, some are asking with conjecture over whether it’s really all that busy. The jury is out on how busy – or otherwise – the bars are. But where everyone seems to agree is that it doesn’t feel like high season in Patpong. Amongst those eating from the same som tam plate, a friend and former Patpong bar owner who did the rounds this week painted a gloomy picture. The Strip was dead. Thigh Bar was almost empty and Black Pagoda was doing just ok. Even King’s Castle 1 on the main Patpong soi which is flooded with (many good-looking but miserable) girls wasn’t doing that well. In his opinion, the standout bar in Patpong soi 2 is Glamour which has that magic combination of attractive dancers, good music played at the right volume and a cosy interior. So I guess that means that the best bar in the whole Patpong area currently is between Glamour and King’s 1. One of the downsides of the latter is that while it has been refurbished, it feels cold and sterile – in the same way that The Strip does, particularly since the iconic booths were removed.
Two popular expat bars on Sukhumvit soi 33/1 changed hands over the past two weeks. The ink had already dried on the contract for the Royal Oak by the time last week’s column came around and then this week Herrity’s got new owners. That means that the former owner of these two bars, Nick, has just one pub left, Hanrahan’s on Soi Nana. I wonder if he’ll offload that too?
Naughty boys are bracing for a big increase in Indians visiting Thailand over the coming years and worry about whether this will have any effects on their much-loved bar industry. Some of these Indians will no doubt be moneyed up but India is still very much a developing country so don’t expect the bar areas to be flooded with Indian millionaires. Most Indians don’t have anything like the spending power of your average Caucasian visitor. Could large numbers of Indians descending on the bar areas cause whitey to become the new Japanese in the bars?
A reader reports that he was asked to pay for a drink before entering popular Hillary II on Soi Nana. What’s that all about? Is this something new or was this a one-off over the busy Christmas period? Being asked to pay for a drink before entering a bar is creeping in (think Bacarra, Crazy House etc.) and reminds me of when I was a teenager in Auckland – you had to queue to get inside a nightclub where your ID was checked before paying a $7 entry fee before entering the bar proper, all while the
gorillas bouncers looked you up and down to see if you were dressed well enough to be allowed inside. Being asked to pay before going inside a bar does put some people off, me amongst them.
A reminder for those of you out tomorrow night – New Year’s Eve – that if you wish to find a companion, remember that barfine rates will be higher than usual. Some bars will hike barfine rates to 1,500 baht or 2,000 baht and if past years are anything to go by, the odd bar might go as high as 4,000 baht. New Year’s Eve is traditionally the busiest night of the year and bar owners don’t want staff barfined early causing the bar to empty out, causing customers to go elsewhere and the bar miss out on a big night’s take.
Cops visited Soi Cowboy bar owners a couple of weeks ago and told them all staff had to be aged 20 years or older. (Up until then it had been 18.) The number of girls on the books of some agencies dropped as bars could not accept girls aged 18 or 19. Further up Sukhumvit followed and Phuket was next. There has been no word from Pattaya, but Patpong was given a free pass. The net result saw some 18- and 19-year-old agency girls move from dancing in bars in Sukhumvit to dancing in bars in Silom. These crackdowns are often the reaction to an incident that generated negative press, although I don’t recall any stories recently to do with 18 or 19-year olds. These crackdowns in the bar industry seldom last. Occasionally they might go as long as a week or two, but often they only last 48 hours. At the end of the day there are just too many powerful stakeholders and too much money at stake for crackdowns in the bar areas to last. It is a different story when it comes to crackdowns related to visas, work permits and the like – what is being cracked down on often becomes official policy.
I have received a report that freelancers are said to be milling around Soi Cowboy on soi 23 between Bradman’s and Scruffy Murphy’s and the other end between Cowboy and the main Asoke intersection. Traditionally, this has not been a popular area for freelancers in the same way that parts of the strip between Asoke and Nana are. As I have only heard this from one person, I wonder if any other readers have noticed freelancers milling around soi 23?
The explosion of massage houses in downtown Bangkok has seen Economics 101 Thai-version kick in and massage shops have put their prices up to maintain profitability. And with many of these basic shops now charging 400 or 500 baht for a one-hour massage, don’t be shy to make noises about the price being high and other shops offering the same for less. Odds are they will instantly offer you 100 baht off the price.
If you’re missing your favourite waitress from The Kiwi and wonder what happened to her, venture over to Patpong soi 1 where a bunch of staff who left The Kiwi recently can be found.
Another rooftop bar recommendation from a friend who makes a habit of hanging out in such spots, is the Serenotel Hotel, on the corner of Beach Road and soi 10 in Pattaya. The bar / restaurant is located on the 6th floor, and the food is said to be good and reasonably priced. And drinks won’t break the budget – 179 baht gets you 1 litre of draft. It’s not far from Pattaya Klang Road so the view is good – you can look up towards Naklua and south to Walking Street and the South Pattaya Pier. Each time my pal and his Mrs. have been there they have been the only customers so I guess it’s not that well-known…or perhaps Pattaya punters prefer the view at the Conconut Bar?
Craft, said to be Bangkok’s top beer bistro, is ringing in 2019 with free beer and prizes. American craft beer brewer Smiling Mad Dog will offer a Buy-1-Get-1-Free offer on its three brands from 10 PM – 1 AM. When you buy beer, you get free entries into the Happy 2019 Lucky Draw with chances to win free bottles of booze, Craft and Whisgars vouchers and a “secret” grand prize after midnight. The Craft DJs will be spinning tunes and taking requests, so it should be a fun night.
As if it was needed comes more proof that Thailand is no bargain. A long-time reader commented on the price of Beer Lao, which I mentioned in last week’s column will set you back 58 baht a bottle at Foodland supermarket. Said reader says a Thai grocery store in Seattle sells six-packs of Beer Lao for $9. With tax, that works out at 53.6 baht for a bottle of Beer Lao, and cheaper than Thailand.
A friend who floats between Thailand and Cambodia has a question about shots. In Thailand, Tequila shots tend to be a shot glass half-full whereas in Cambodia the shot glass is full to the brim. Which is it supposed to be? I guess the obvious answer is that the shot glasses are not the same size, but somehow I doubt that is the case. Any ideas?
Talking about Cambodia, if you’re fed up with Thailand and considering your options, be careful what you wish for. Cambodia doesn’t seem to be getting the same raps it did a few years ago. That said, I still hear from some expats who once called Thailand home relocating to Cambodia. For the naughty boys, drinking in Cambodia is a bargain, but the girly bar scene is not just much smaller than Thailand, there are no guarantees. Some of the girls in the hostess bars don’t actually go. Like I say, be careful what you wish for.
Check out the two photos below. I took the first photo in July of this year. That fellow told me he was from Moscow, while begging on the skywalk between the Sala Daeng skytrain station and the Silom underground station. I saw the same guy with the same sign again a few days later, begging on the pavement outside Chuwit Park between Sukhumvit soi 10 and 12. He did not recognise me. I did not see him when I was in Bangkok last month. However, a reader spotted him this week and photographed him in front of Terminal 21. It’s the same beggar. Said reader says he had a Slavic / Russian accent – which matches the guy I photographed – and the sign is written by the same person in the same script with a slightly different message. And then there’s the hat, which is the same in each photo. This Russian (if that really is his nationality) could become as infamous as the Dutch beggar. There would appear to be good money to be made begging as a foreigner in Bangkok.
A reminder and a warning for those of you meeting Thai women online. The private Facebook group I profiled last year where Thai women post photos from the profiles of Western guys they’re chatting with / dating / screwing and ask if other members know anything about him is as active as ever. A LOT of foreigners’ profiles appear and in most cases, multiple ladies respond with a lot of details about the guy including a lot of personal stuff, some of which you really wouldn’t want revealed. I am not talking silly bedroom stuff, but the sort of thing that could get you deep in the brown stuff like, “He smokes marijuana most nights and keeps it in the middle drawer of his wardrobe.” Don’t go disclosing stuff to women you have only just met that they really don’t need to know about. Some of these women are broadcasting your secrets to the world. If you want access to the group, you need to create a false Facebook profile in the name of a Thai female, apply to join the group – and then you need to be able to answer a few (basic) questions about your reasons for joining. If you can read and write Thai, it’s not hard, but as the group is all in Thai, you need to be able to read Thai to know what’s going on.
From the truth is stranger than fiction file, the HE Clinic in Thonglor, a clinic specialising in men’s issues with a focus on ED issues, is doing well with their new HE-SHOT for ED. It’s basically the same thing as the P-shot which you can Google as it’s everywhere. PRP (platelet rich plasma) is extracted from your own blood and is said to boost and improve circulation, and enhance performance. These treatments are by no means guaranteed but some claim a positive response and amazingly – to me, at least – the treatment is popular. I am told that the P-shot goes for $1000 to $1,500 a pop Stateside, whereas at HE-Clinic it’s 9,900 THB. More details for those of you who are daring here. Let me be frank: I mention this as a public service announcement. The idea of such a shot petrifies me – not the needle part, but the whole pseudoscience part. To say I am cynical about Western doctors and medicine is rather an understatement. At the same time I know some are driven by their loins and will do almost anything to super-size their manhood or enhance their virility. If you want Dr. Stick’s thoughts on how to treat ED, consider treating the cause which is often physical, mental or a combination of the two. If physical, it is usually related to one’s general health and diet. Losing weight / getting fit / eating well will not only improve your general health, but get fit and getting an erection shouldn’t be a problem. If the issue is mental, a hypnotherapist can help – a Bangkok-based American registered hypnotherapist specialises in this.
On the subject of health and fitness, I hadn’t been through Lumpini Park at dusk for many years and was amazed at how busy it was – which is saying something because Lumpini Park is huge. Exercise and health and fitness is taken more seriously in Thailand these days and more Thai people seem to be embracing exercise and a healthy lifestyle. But at the same time it would be just as true to say that there are far more well-rounded folks in Thailand than ever before too.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Yellow Fever, “Tales from Thailand 3 – Field Trip Report”.
More details about the first Taco Bell outlet in Thailand were announced this week.
Thailand has vowed to approve cannabis for medicinal use.
Two Koreans die in a golf cart accident in Phitsanulok.
A recent Bangkok nightlife video from Bangkok112 shows the farang living on the streets I have talked about in recent columns, between the 19th and 20th minutes.
Cabbies on Ko Samui charging foreigners outrageously high rates have been told to stop over-charging.
It’s been a funny old year for me. I did not expect that I’d be back writing this column and that I am is yet more proof of how just unpredictable life can be. But perhaps the biggest difference for me this year is how everything has seemed to rather slow down. Whereas time has flown by the past few years, this year felt like someone had their foot on the brakes. I’m not sure what, if anything, to make of that. I am pleased that so many of you have rediscovered the column and are back in to the routine of tuning in again every Sunday. I look forward to producing a full column each week, every week, through the high season and beyond. There’s no rest for the wicked.
Your Bangkok commentator,