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Ladyboys of the night

By Rebecca Lo | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-20 10:15

Ladyboys of the night

The Pattaya Floating Market is styled after the historic markets where people navigate Thailand's waterways in long boats to purchase fresh produce. [Photo by Rebecca Lo / for China Daily]

Pattaya's cabaret shows have matured into Vegas-style productions with elaborate sets and outrageous costumes. Rebecca Lo discovers adult entertainment suitable for all ages.

After checking into Amari Orchid's Ocean Tower and stepping onto my room's private balcony to enjoy a view of Pattaya's famous bay, I headed downstairs to join my friends at Mantra. They were already well into the restaurant's smorgasbord of a Sunday brunch. I saw heaping plates of giant prawns, pink tuna sashimi and freshly shucked oysters rapidly disappearing, and was glad that I skipped breakfast a few hours ago.

Mantra's seven open kitchens were all in full swing, and the carving station with prime ribs and racks of lamb was just as popular as the dim sum counter.

Over brunch, we talked about how Amari Orchid's ideal location made walking to Pattaya's famous nightlife areas convenient while the hotel was far enough away to avoid its noise.

It's a family resort and offers two sprawling outdoor pools - one with a fun swim-up bar. While Europeans and North Americans prefer the historic low-rise Garden Wing, Asians usually choose the contemporary Ocean Tower.

I was curious about the city's celebrated "ladyboy" shows, which feature both transgender and transvestite performers, having heard about them from friends who have visited Thailand. Typically featuring an all-male cast dressed to the nines as showgirls, ladyboy shows are practically Pattaya's calling card.

Ladyboys of the night

Mimosa’s cabaret shows are polished and professional.[Photo by Rebecca Lo / for China Daily]

Pichchaya Nitikarn, who goes by the nickname Sarah, was our guide to her hometown. She said we were just around the corner from Tiffany's Show. Billed as Pattaya's original "ladyboy" cabaret show and well into its third decade, the dedicated 700-seat theater offers three or four 100-minute performances every evening.

The theater's neoclassical white and gold facade set the scene for a high-caliber and hugely entertaining series of dance skits, all lip-synched while in full costume, including 10-kilogram feathered head gear sets and high heels.

Songs ranged from Tina Turner's Proud Mary to Bollywood numbers. Many included elaborate sets and props. At one point, an elephant appears onstage, ridden by a performer whose seemingly endless legs would be the envy of women everywhere.

After a show that would rival any Las Vegas production, the performers all stood outside in character to pose for photos - for a fee, naturally.

"They charge around THB 800 to 1,200 ($25-$38) per photo," Sarah explains.

"That's how they make their real money."

Looking around the audience members lining up for snapshots, I noticed there were many families who'd brought their children and wondered how parents would explain the show to their kids.

"Kids are no problem," Amari Orchid's general manager Brendan Daly says.

"They love the spectacle. But I don't know how I would explain what we witness to my father."

Ladyboys of the night

Ladyboys of the night

Thai style entertainment

Buy, buy in Bangkok 

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