There are hundreds of online articles purporting to give definitive advice on how to spot a ladyboy (Kathoey) in Thailand. Most of these are copy and paste jobs that quote the same tired old advice that is more closely related to the difference between men and women than anything else. They forget that a lot of ladyboys have taken hormone treatment very early, sometimes before puberty has fully kicked in. This means that some ladyboys are far more convincing than others.
Also worth noting, I think, is that we have not evolved an innate ability to spot ladyboys anymore than we’ve evolved an innate ability to spot, say, gay monkeys. For the vast majority of our history it just wasn’t necessary. As far as I know, spotting gay monkeys is still largely unimportant, unless you’re a monkey breeder, in which case someone may have written a helpful manual on the subject similar to this one. I digress. As a consequence of this fact, taking the advice to trust your instinct is dangerous, if not courting outright catastrophe.
There is no one definitive way to tell a ladyboy due to hormone treatment and plastic surgery. But if you are aware of a number of traits that give the game away, you should be able to spot Kathoey with a large degree of accuracy. Here are some that, in my experience, are the most prevalent characteristics of the species. I’ve listed them in terms of the distance at which, with sound sight and lucid mind, you should notice them. Good luck.
50 Yards (45.7m)
Height – The average height of a Thai woman is around five feet tall (155cm), so if the object of your desire appears to be considerably taller, this should raise the first red flag. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.
Walk – Ladyboys tend to have an exaggerated walk (think model on a catwalk). They usually swing their hips just a little too much to emulate a woman’s walk convincingly.
Dress – Kathoey tend to dress very glamorously, or overtly sexual. Heels and short skirts are the norm. This is due to the fact that they are often entertainers or sex workers, and also because they seem to enjoy glamming it up.
30 Yards (27.4m)
Shoulders/Hips – The shoulders of ladyboys will be wider than the average woman’s, not because of muscle (female hormones successfully eradicate this), but because a man’s skeletal frame is larger than a woman’s. Hips will be smaller. Hips to shoulder ratio is a good way to measure this: if the hips are wider than the shoulders, you’re good to go. Vice versa…
Breasts – Hormone treatment will give a ladyboy small breasts without surgery, but most opt for the surgery if they can afford it, so think fake breasts: large, high, hard.
Hair – Ladyboys, like Thai women in general, are extremely fond of their hair. The difference is most ladyboys can’t leave theirs alone. They will almost certainly have flicked or tossed their hair at least once in the last 20 yards.
20 Yards (18.3m)
Jaw and Chin – A man’s jaw tends to be squarer than a woman’s, and his chin often protrudes more. However, hormone treatment will soften the edges of a ladyboy’s face, especially when taken early enough. So although it’s not definitive, if the jaw and chin look masculine, you’re probably looking at a ladyboy.
Makeup – Ladyboys tend to wear very glamorous makeup, which is often caked on. This is both due to the nature of their jobs and to mask bad skin caused by hormonal imbalances in their bodies.
Legs – The legs of a ladyboy may well be the envy of a lot of women. They are usually very toned and completely cellulite free.
10 Yards (9.14m)
Eyes – The eyes of a ladyboy are usually heavily made up, like the rest of their faces, but more pertinent to this piece is their depth. Men tend to have deeper eye sockets than women and this is difficult to disguise.
Veins – Look out for protruding veins in the arms and neck. Not all kathoey have them, but if they do you’re almost certainly looking at a ladyboy.
Facial/body Hair – Unbelievably, despite the fact that Thai men have little facial hair as it is and there are numerous ways of getting rid of this including electrolysis, some ladyboys neglect this most important detail and choose to shave, leaving a telling shadow.
Feet – There are some that say the angle of the foot is important as men tend to walk more slew footed (toes pointing outward) and women tend to walk more pigeon toed (toes pointed inward). This is nonsense when it comes to ladyboys: they will have perfected an ultra-feminine walk from the word go. If anything, the reverse is more likely to be true. However, feet are important: men’s are larger, of course.
Nose – Noses tend to be larger in men, but any ladyboy worth her salt will have solved this problem with plastic surgery, which is extremely common in Thailand, even for natural women.
2 Yards (1.3m)
Adam’s Apple – Another supposed definitive way to tell a ladyboy that is dubious at best. Women actually have a laryngeal prominence too (I wikipediaed that). The difference is men’s become more pronounced during puberty. As I mentioned earlier, some ladyboys never actually go through male puberty as they take hormonal treatment prior to it. Also, it is a relatively minor procedure to have this shaved off by a plastic surgeon. Still, if she has a noticeable one, you’re pretty certain to be looking at a ladyboy.
Wrists – Wrists tend to be bigger as a man’s skeletal frame is bigger.
Tongue – A ladyboy’s tongue will tend to be larger than a women’s. Bizarrely, you may very well have an opportunity to study this. For some reason, a lot of ladyboys like to stick out their tongue in a flicking snakelike motion. I think it’s supposed to be sexual, but it gives them away completely as I’ve never observed a Thai woman doing it. In truth, it looks slightly demented.
Forwardness – By this stage the ladyboy will probably have spoken to you, propositioned you, stuck out her tongue at you, or if she’s a classy one, will have at least smiled at you – if you’re a man.
Aggression – Perhaps it’s the hormone therapy, but ladyboys are notoriously aggressive, usually with women. Of all the fights I’ve witnessed in Thailand, and there have been a few, all of them have involved a ladyboy. Also, without tarring them all with the same brush, many are very adept pickpockets – both my brother and I have lost an iphone and and a wallet respectively, at their expense (he paid 1000 baht to have it returned).
Speech – A lot of ladyboys have very scratchy, semi-masculine voices. Top Kathoey will have trained themselves to speak softer or even have voice lessons. But the majority sound raspy, certainly not feminine.
Minus 4-9inches (Minus 10.16cm – 22.86cm)
By this stage, you are not only certain, but it’s pretty obvious you just don’t care!
Minus 3 Yards (Minus 2.74m)
Bum – A ladyboy’s bum is firm and perky rather than bootylicious. This is related to the hips, which no matter how much hormone therapy they have, will always lack the classic hourglass shape. Of course not all women have this, so again, not definitive.
So there you have it. If you still can’t tell after applying all this information, does it really matter? Yes? Ok then, ask to see her ID. All Thais carry this, and currently there is no provision in Thailand to change the sex on one’s birth certificate or identification, even after gender reassignment surgery. So if you’re born a boy, you remain so on official documentation for life. But watch out for that right hook. Remember, she punches like a man!
Before you have the opportunity to put these new-found skills to use, you will first have to travel to Thailand. Here’s how to do it on the cheap: How to Book a Cheap Flight