Sitting among the outdoor bars, in the main courtyard of Nana Plaza, it’s hard not to notice the high percentage of ladyboy gogo dancers working here. Nana is no stranger to ladyboys, it’s long been home to the most ladyboy bars in Bangkok, there just never seemed to be this many.

That got me thinking about why so many ladyboys work in Nana Plaza, because I’m sure the current number of ladyboy employed here would give any Bangkok newbie a very distorted idea of how many ladyboys there actually are in Thailand.

Why are there so many ladyboys in Thailand?

It’s hard to find a reliable figure of how many ladyboys Thailand has, but I’ve seen estimates claiming ladyboys make up anything from 1% to 5% of the Thai population. This is a pretty astonishing figure considering the total population of Thailand is close to 67 million, and the higher estimates would mean Thailand has up to 3.3 million layboys, which is larger than the population of Uruguay! Whatever the actual figure it’s clearly high, and few other countries in the world have such a significantly high number of ladyboys, transsexuals, or transgendered people. So why are there so many in Thailand?

Again, it’s hard to find a definitive answer, with several credible theories talked about. Perhaps the most plausible reason is not down to one or two factors, but a whole combination in law, Thailand is one of the few Asian countries where homosexuality and cross-dressing have never been a crime. In religion, the five precepts of Buddhist belief are in no way upset or compromised by homosexuality. The act of cross-dressing is not only an accepted part of Thai culture but it is often celebrated as being so, with pageants a cornerstone of fairs and festivals up and down the country, all year round. While in the vast majority of countries around the world cross-dressing is seen as either an act of comedy or simply a weird and perverse thing to do, young Thais are brought up from a young age understanding that to be transgendered is an acceptable option (to an extent), and those who do wish to become a ladyboy are given instant role models, from the ladyboys in the years above them at school, to ladyboy entertainers on TV and celebrated Miss Tiffany winners.

It’s interesting to note that Thailand also has a large number of ‘Tom Boys’ and female to male transgendered people; again, a number that is probably one of the highest in the world, if not the highest (though there are far fewer Toms than ladyboys).

But why are there so many ladyboys working in gogo bars?

While Thai culture does accept ladyboys and transgendered people, it doesn’t fully accept them, and there still remains prejudice, especially when it comes to employment.

While many of the female gogo workers in Bangkok come from the poorer North Eastern areas of Thailand, the ladyboys you’ll find in the gogo bars come from all over the country, as even those Bangkok born are likely to find it hard to secure a career or high paying job, (even with a decent education behind them). Add to this the fact life as a ladyboy can be expensive, especially when you factor in the cost of operations and hormone treatment, not to mention the constant supply of beauty products desired – then suddenly the bright lights of the gogo world become a very attractive option.

Not only this, but ladyboy gogo dancers can feel admired and respected when working in a ladyboy bar (to a certain extent). And when you consider that the average ladyboy gogo dancer can earn as much as 50,000 Bat per month, the next typical career option, working as a cabaret showgirl (dancing 2 shows per night, 6 days per week, for as little as 8000 Baht per month), is far less financially appealing.

But why so many in Nana?

Why are there so many in Nana Plaza compared to Soi Cowboy and Patpong? That’s perhaps down to supply and demand. While Patpong has a couple of well-known ladyboy bars, they do have a bit of a reputation for the hustle, and the sole ladyboy bar in Soi Cowboy is still relatively new. Nana Plaza has long been known for its number of ladyboy gogo bars, and while many girl gogo bars have come and gone, the same 4 Nana ladyboy bars are still standing strong, and are often among the busiest.

Whether they are visited by curious tourists, fun-loving expats, or serious ladyboy lovers that have travelled half way across the globe just to admire a ladyboy in the flesh, the novelty and attraction of Bangkok’s ladyboy bars is clear to see. And the ladyboys themselves are clearly an important part of Thai culture, as well as being a valuable asset to the Bangkok gogo scene.