4. Location, Location, Location
I am sure that you have read that ‘Ladyboys can be found in many places all over Thailand. They have lots of different jobs and are highly visible’. While that may be true and to some degree Annie’s advice about keeping one’s eyes and ears open is valid, its also very general advice and when one is in Thailand on holiday, time is a factor. You may want a Ladyboy girlfriend but it’s easy to be distracted by the prostitutes who are ‘in your face’ at every turn in Pattaya and parts of Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. You may want to stray from that ‘well-trod’ path and venture into ‘real’ Thailand but you only have a few weeks. You want to experience sex with more than one ladyboy and the easiest way to do that is by hanging out in ‘Hookerville’. I would do exactly the same were I in your shoes and of course, in the past, I did!
Thailand 101: Don’t fall in love with a hooker
Many of us come to Thailand in search of something. We may not be certain what it is but I would hazard a guess that is something that we may all refer to as ‘freedom’. After possibly spending years as a wage earner, husband and father, putting the needs of others before your own, you may feel like you deserve some ‘me’ time. Who could blame you? Not me! I have been on the same journey and experienced the highs and lows that you too will experience. But this new found freedom you have found as a tourist or ex-pat carries some risks to both your financial and emotional health. In some quarters ladyboys and prostitution are synonymous. Places like Pattaya and the red light areas of Bangkok are full of ladyboys. It seems the demand has grown even in the few years since I arrived in Bangkok. The truth is that bar owners, sex tourists and whores work very hard at normalising the experience of buying and selling human beings but it is not really a question of normality. It is a question of the negative affect prostitution has on both the buyer and seller and, crucially, their ability to have a relationship with another person beyond those opposing parameters. Almost everyone, including myself, screws hookers when they arrive in Thailand. It has been said before that Thailand is like an adult Disneyland, but would you want to live in Disneyland forever or marry one of the characters who was never out ‘of role’? Do you really want to take Minnie/Mickey mouse home with you? That is what you will be doing if you fall for a ladyboy prostitute.
A holiday once or twice a year may be filled with sexual encounters with prostitutes and the return to the west a depressing return to months of longing and the anticipation of a return visit. If I was located in the United Kingdom I believe that is exactly how I would feel but if you are a frequent visitor to Thailand and don’t actually live here it seems an unnecessary complication to try to maintain a relationship across the ocean when you can enjoy a new ‘girlfriend’ every time you come back to the land of smiles. The fact that men do form relationships in Thailand despite living in the west suggests that they want much more than just sex. They want the real thing.
The first point of contact with ladyboys is in the ‘scene’ and because we are spending time with prostitutes it’s all too easy to let our expectations and emotions run wild. I know, I did just that. But with age, one hopes, comes a degree of wisdom. Wisdom gives us the ability to see that if we spend our lives in the ‘scene’ we have simply traded the freedom we sought so avidly for another cage. Human interaction, love and warmth are what we really seek and those things are harder to find in the damaging world of prostitution. Ironically, the people who inhabit that world promise to deliver those very qualities in such persuasive tones that we are sometimes fooled. You already know this, you have already achieved a degree of wisdom and that’s why you are searching for a girlfriend that you can trust.
The places I am going to tell you about here may prove helpful and even better than if I was your tour guide in Thailand. It is true that cute ladyboys are everywhere and sometimes in unlikely places. The Joan Jett lookalike ladyboy I met at the khlong boat stop at Bangkapi Mall, the cute ladyboy petrol pump attendant at on Asok Montri road, Khlong Toey and the gorgeous ladyboy architect I met in Din Daeng are great examples of that. Pattaya may well have places where non-P4P (hookers) Ladyboys work and live; one works at Pro-Language, and she’s a lovely person, but I think the task of finding someone like that in Pattaya will be much harder. I try to avoid Pattaya as it has little to recommend it, in my opinion. My advice would be to get away from Pattaya if you are serious about finding a girlfriend you can trust.
Don’t limit your horizons.
But this does not help you. So below are some places that I have found to be peopled by more than one ladyboy and on more than one occasion. If you are on holiday you could spend your time by travelling to one of these locations for an afternoon or evening and still have time to go to your more typical haunts. Remember, these are currently well-kept secrets. Share at your discretion!
Outdoor Seafood Restaurant
I love this place! I came here when Thailand was still very new to me. Rachada BBQ Fish and Seafood is a great seafood restaurant in Bangkok that I was introduced to by a Thai ladyboy. It’s a little way from downtown Bangkok near to Ramkhamhaeng University but a truly unique experience.
The restaurant is located on Ramkhamhaeng 24, or Seri Alley. It is in the car park outside Rajamangala Stadium.
You can take a taxi from Asok or Nana area to get there but a quicker and more interesting way to travel is by Khong boat. You can catch the boat on the Sansab (the name of the canal/river) at a number of places around Sukhumvit road. It is an almost hidden mode of transport that runs from Khao San road in the west to Ladprao in the north-east. The khlong boats stop sailing at 7pm as they cannot navigate in the dark. The fares are ridiculously low. It costs about 17 baht from Nana to Bangkapi.
Walk or catch a motorcycle taxi at or near Sukhumvit/Nana soi 4 and ask for ‘Sansab’, Nana Nuea. That will take you down the soi directly opposite Nana soi 4, called Nana Nuea. Stop on the bridge where the khlong goes under the road and you can walk down to the jetty on the far side of the road; that is the side of the river farthest from Sukhumvit. The stop you want is Ramkhamhaeng 29. Each jetty is well signposted and even if you miss one, it’s not too far to the next.
When you arrive, take a motorcycle taxi on soi 31 where you get off the boat and ask for Raj-a-man-gala stadium. As you approach on Soi 24 you will see the Stadium on the left and the Bangkok Inter Place Hotel and the
San Fran restaurant on the right which is your cue to have the taxi stop as it is directly opposite. The last time I went the restaurant was simply a car park with a lot of mats and low tables. Now, I believe there are canopies. I never went there in the rainy season! Maybe you can find a quicker way to get here. Every time I have come by taxi it took an age but was still worth the drive. I feel that it may have become a little more ‘self aware’ now in as much as there have been some articles written about it and the entire staff are now ladyboys but I think that it is still likely to be fairly ‘farang free’!
The restaurant offers a variety of seafood. Grilled or baked fish, giant prawns (gung) by the kilo, squid (bamook) and shellfish. The grilled fish is my favourite. Ask for Plaa paow to order it. It comes with a pile of lettuce and other greens, a bowl of dry, white noodles,(kanom jhean) and dipping sauces that are delicious. Eat it by placing a lump of fish, which you can pick with your fingers, some noodles and spicy sauce into a lettuce leaf and shoving the whole package in your mouth. The ladyboys working here are usually very busy but the place does not close late. Arrive early and order as they can run out of food.
One thing to remember about ladyboys is that while the prostitutes may be very confident and meet your gaze with boldness all other ladyboys may not be similar.
In my experience many will avoid the gaze of others. I imagine that many foreigners who stare at them do so because they are trying desperately to figure out if she is a girl or ladyboy. This is probably quire unnerving for the ladyboy so you have to let them know that you are interested in them and think they are beautiful and desirable rather than just appearing to be a gawker. Trying to describe the way to do this would sound mechanical so I am not going to even attempt it. Maybe just start by saying ‘Hello’? Better yet wear a T-Shirt like this.
Malls, Hair & Nail Salons
Happyland was an amusement park that closed in the early 70’s. Now it refers to an area in Bangkapi in the northern suburbs of Bangkok.
The marker in the map above indicates The Mall Bangkapi. I had the misfortune of working there for some months when I first arrived in Thailand. The mall is a pretty good one in actual fact and can be reached by bus, MRT and khlong boat. The boat jetty is just a few stops further than the one needed for the seafood restaurant at Rajamangala Stadium. The boat stops behind the Mall Bangkapi while Ladprao road runs along the front of the mall. Crossing this road will lead you into Happyland and a Thai style mall.
The ground floor of this mall houses several hair salons and nail bars and at the weekends this area is quite literally crawling with ladyboys. There is a little alley directly opposite the The Mall Bangkapi that leads to the open-air market behind the Thai mall. At the mouth of the alley is a hair salon managed by a ladyboy. Outside on the street in front of the Thai mall is a cosmetics stall peopled entirely by ladyboys. They stand around all weekend selling ka-chooka-chik (bits and pieces) of make-up, nail varnish and what-not. Inside the ground floor of the Thai mall is a nail bar that is also chokka with ladyboys as are the mobile phone stores upstairs. A good looking ladyboy owns one of the phone shops.
If you walk through the little alley or exit the rear of the Thai mall you will find yourself in an open talad (market) that sells fruit, meat and ready made foods. There are also a few food courts there that are very cheap. There is lots to do here; eating, shopping, drinking, letching after ladyboys. It’s worth a visit. The Mall Bangkapi also has a nice food court and a cinema. As you face The Mall Bangkapi, look to your right and follow the sidewalk until you reach another Thai style mall that has several tattoo parlours and cheap goods of all descriptions. You can catch a taxi at the front of The Mall Bangkapi that will take you to MRT Ladprao in about 10 minutes. From there you can take the tube directly to Asok/Sukhumvit. The traffic can be terrible along Ladprao road which is why the boat is a good call earlier than 7pm or so. It’s also a lot cheaper and will take you back to the Sukhumvit area for a few baht. Ladprao road also has a lot of ‘gik’ hotels. Hotels that are between 300 and 600 baht a night where Thai men take their mistresses for a few hours. I too spent a few happy hours there with a certain ladyboy once upon a time. That’s the real reason the area is called Happyland!
Asiatique, Food Shops and a Brief Encounter?
I have never been a fan of ladyboy cabarets. They lip-sync to terrible music on the whole. It’s more like punishment than entertainment as far as I am concerned. But, some people like them, I guess. I do like and recommend some of the performers though!Calypso cabaret is on Charoenkrung road. Charoen (First) Krung (city). This was the first metalled road built in Bangkok. Here is an interesting article about it: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/287 Charoenkrung road traverses a lot of the most interesting parts of Bangkok and a day travelling it will get you away from the Sukhumvit area.
Wat Arun is at the top end of the road and then it passes through the European, Indian and Chinese quarters or Chinatown as it’s more commonly called. It is met north-west of BTS Saphan Takhsin by the Takhsin bridge, Silom and Sathorn roads. Chinatown and Yaorowat road is a little further west. The entire road is peppered with markets, restaurants and food shops. The lower end of Charoenkrung has a Muslim influence and the food reflects that. There is an outstanding restaurant on Soi 38 next to the French embassy. The Dall curry is fantastic and cheap. Near the bottom of this amazing road is Asiatique, home of the Calypso Cabaret and more to the point, there is a series of Thai food shops opposite Asiatique where the showgirls regularly eat. I suggest a visit to this area for several reasons. The area itself is really interesting and the Chao Phrya River is truly beautiful at all times of year. It’s possible to catch a free boat from the dock outside BTS Saphan Takhsin and sail down to Asiatique. Of course there is also the chance you may meet the ladyboy of your dreams. Anyway, I eat or buy food from the food shops on Charoenkrung a lot as we live there! On several occasions I have come eyeball to eyeball with a Goddess. The showgirls eat on the road before they go to work. Now, I am not going to tell you that I see them every time I go out but it will be fun to take a look. The show is on every night and there is enough literature about it available so I won’t bore you with details.
Saphan Puht & Market and Pat Khlong Talad
Some favourite places of ours are Bangkok’s flower market, (Pat Khlong Talad) and Saphan Puht or the Memorial Bridge. Get there by taxi from Sukhumvit Road and enjoy crossing the river via the Takhsin Bridge. In my opinion, the western side of the river is the most interesting and I have always had a sense of ‘sabai’ when going over the bridge. Asking the taxi driver for Saphan Puht should present no problems as long as the meter is running!
Most tourists and ex-pats don’t ever cross to the west so visiting these places is a much more authentic Thai experience than Khao San Road or Nana Plaza. It is possible to travel by BTS to Wongwain Yai (Big Circle) station and take a taxi from there. Part of ‘Ladyboys’ series one was filmed at Wongwain Yai.
The Memorial Bridge is a really chilled out place where you may see groups of Thai students playing guitars, drinking whisky and watching the river boats pass underneath, blazing with lights and music, sending sparks out into the night.
Underneath the bridge is a really big area of criss-crossing streets and green areas that at night become occupied with every kind of market stall imaginable. Clothes, plants, DVDs, shoes, cameras, puppies, food and drink are just some of the items on sale here and the market attracts lots of Thai people including ladyboys. Take a look.
The flower market is a short distance from the regular market and this is a ‘must see’ for everyone. The streets are bristling with every kind of flower and plant in Thailand. Literally thousands of long stem roses, lilies and orchids line the streets that bustle with the market holders packaging and preparing for deliveries across the Bangkok region in the early hours of the morning. It is a great place for taking photos and enjoying the unique sights and smells!
Huay Kwang Talad, Rachada
Huay Kwang is perhaps the most popular market amongst ladyboys in Bangkok. Emerging from exit 3, Huay Kwang MRT you will see a lot of lights and people over to your right-hand side clustered around a shrine.
Catch the MRT at Asok below the BTS station or at Sala Daeng BTS/MRT. The intersection at Huay Kwang is very busy but you should definitely take a look at the temple/shrine for what Thais call ‘Papikanet’ or Ganesh, the elephant headed god and remover of obstacles. Lots of Thais will be there asking for favours and offering flowers and incense in return. Outside on the street, fortune tellers sit at small tables their Tarot cards spread out in front of them. The smell of incense is overpowering and the place has an ‘otherwordly’ reality all its own. Walking past Papikanet on your right the market proper begins and stretches along both sides of the road into infinity it seems. Most of the shops and stalls are selling clothes, make-up and shoes until you turn off the main street where you may find goats and chickens in noisy overcrowded pens. There are lots of places to sit and eat in the market even air-conditioned restaurants so it can be a fun evening and every time I have been there I have seen lots of ladyboys. A friend who went there once on my recommendation was disappointed that he did not see any ladyboys so I guess you need a little luck as well! If you go very late you will encounter lots of hookers who often go there after 2 am when their bars close. Better to go a little earlier than that unless you want to avoid a bar fine!
The next instalment is about online dating and hook ups.