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How covid changed the face of the Thai Ladyboy bar scene

covid bars pattaya

As the global pandemic swept across the world, few aspects of life remained untouched. The heart of Thailand’s nightlife was certainly no exception, and the ladyboy bar scene experienced a remarkable transformation. Let's take a closer look at some the changes and challenges bars faced and the innovative ways the industry adapted to survive.
The Lockdown Effect
With the onset of the pandemic, lockdown measures led to the temporary closure of entertainment venues, including the ladyboy bars that were once the lifeblood of Thailand's vibrant nightlife. As well as long periods of total lockdowns hit many bars and struggled to stay afloat, ladyboys found themselves facing an uncertain future.

While Thailand had been able to resist the need for curfews and lockdowns much longer than many other nations, once it did, it was clear that this wouldn’t be a short-term situation. Most bar and business owners did their best to negotiate reduced rental costs or could survive through personal funds, but some bars had no choice but to close permanently.

While a brief period of curfews and a small wave of holidaymakers began to arrive over the 2020 Christmas period, the revival was short-lived. After a second major period of lockdowns began in April 2021, a large percentage of the bars and nightlife businesses in Pattaya, Phuket, and Bangkok, closed their doors for good. Thailand’s nightlife districts were ghost towns.

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From Bar to the Online World

While some ladyboy bars managed to weather the storm and reopen their doors, others were less fortunate. The pandemic necessitated a pivot to new business models, and some establishments embraced the online world wholeheartedly. A number of bars began live streaming, giving those trapped far away a chance to view and feel a virtual part of the bar. This also allowed (and encouraged) online patrons to give virtual tips and buy lady drinks, helping to generate much-needed income for the bars and staff.

For many of the bar workers and ladyboy of Thailand’s nightlife scene, not being able to work for long periods lead to a need to be resourceful. As with the bars, many ladyboys began turning to social media, webcam work, and, notably, personal content sales, lead by the boom of OnlyFans and similar platforms.

With many ladyboys and bar workers turning to online work and others unable to make an income, the majority began to leave Thailand’s tourist hotspots and return to their hometowns. For many, this meant moving back to Issan, the region that most ladyboy bar workers called home.

Safety Measures and Adaptation

As Thailand finally began to ease restrictions late in 2021, ladyboy bars were required to implement a range of safety measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. For many, it was a case of ‘too little, too late.’ There were so many new rules hampering those bars still trying to re-open. Rules varied from district to district, but many bars were required to put on a front and operate as a restaurant, having to apply for complicated Sha+ licenses and adhere to a number of hygiene rules and reduced hours, which many saw as absurd. On top of this, client numbers were still a fraction of 2019 numbers, with many entry rules and the need to be vaccinated causing limitations.

Despite this, some bars notably used this time to reinvent themselves and refurbish their establishments, while a number of new bars wonders to take a punt on things returning to normal (or close enough to it). Thailand’s busiest bar town, Pattaya, was starting to see a number of new bars appear (including some ladyboy bars), and there was a general optimism growing.

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The Future of the Ladyboy Bar Scene

As Thailand and the world move towards recovery, the ladyboy bar scene continues to adapt and evolve. It is evident that the pandemic has left an indelible mark on the industry, with online platforms and virtual experiences likely to remain an integral part of the scene even as restrictions are lifted. While many ladyboys have returned to be in and around the bar scenes of Thailand, a good number now prefer to work freelance and use platforms such as Smooci and ThaiFriendly, in order to find customers.

The legalisation of marijuana and the influx of Chinese tourists and Russian ex-pats look like it is reshaping Thailand’s adult nightlife to incorporate more couples and alternative nightlife attractions. While the traditional ladyboy bar experience may never be quite the same, the resilience, creativity, and camaraderie that have defined the community throughout this crisis mean that some form of the old still ladyboy bar scene will remain, however, it will become part of a much more diverse and interesting nightlife scene, where invention and adaptation will prove key.

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