Karaoke-ing with Transvestites Near a Bangkok Floating Market

Karaoke-ing with Transvestites Near a Bangkok Floating Market

Think cheap shopping is all you can do at Bangkok's floating markets?

Filled with a variety of quirks and its unique beauty, Bangkok remains one of the most exciting cities, despite its mass tourism. Trying to avoid Khaosan Road (for obvious reasons), I often seek out culturally-rich experiences when in Bangkok. However, I never expected to find myself singing karaoke with a transvestite under a railway bridge at the Taling Chan floating market.

What might have been an outrage elsewhere was a perfectly normal activity here. Surrounded by cheering and friendly locals, I had the time of my life – and that’s saying a lot because I actually hate karaoke.

Taling Chan Floating Market

Bangkok is definitely known for its many floating markets, with Damonen Saduak being perhaps the most famous of them all. However, I decided to travel off the beaten path and visit the Taling Chan Market instead. Having only a rough idea of where the market was located (as I usually tend to travel without maps), it took me a little while to get there.

There are several buses leading to the market, depending on your location in the city. Should you be residing in one of the many hostels on or around Khaosan Road, you can take bus number 79 almost directly there. Let the friendly bus driver know that you are headed for the market and he will indicate when you should alight. From the bus stop, it’s a few minutes walk to the market.

Image credit: Ninara

The market itself is rather small as compared to others but still, it offers the same quaint charm. Unfortunately, I had arrived slightly too late as it seemed like the market was closing. Many of the boats and stalls weren’t selling food anymore. Nonetheless, I took a walk around and grabbed a small snack.

Monkey see, monkey do

At this point, I was fearing that I had come all the way to the market for nothing. However, that began to change as I noticed a railway bridge across the river. I saw locals walking over the narrow tracks and decided to head up there myself, thinking it would give me a better view over the market and perhaps offer a great photo opportunity too (it did!).

Image credit: Claude37

But little did I know, my walk across the bridge had more to offer than a simple photo opportunity. On the other side, I saw something that loosely resembled a bar, and parallel to the railroad treks was another bigger and more modern bridge for cars. Right underneath that bridge by the river’s shore were benches with a bunch of locals drinking beer. As I didn’t get much to eat at the market, I thought that I might as well have a beer there.

As I made my way closer to the bar, I realised that it started to resemble less and less a traditional bar. I began to wonder if it was actually a bar – but that doesn’t really matter. Most importantly, there were people drinking beer and others selling them. Only as I headed closer did I realise that the benches were directed towards a stage.

The entertainment of the evening

The locals greeted me with great enthusiasm. It didn’t seem like many tourists wander over the bridge and join them for a beer on an average day. After about half an hour, the show began. The background music was turned on and a lady entered the stage. Unfortunately, she was speaking Thai and I didn’t understand anything she said.

However, she certainly caught the crowd. The seating area was being filled with even more locals. Not only were there men drinking beer, but also families with their children, as well as elderly locals. It seemed that all of them knew each other from the neighbourhood, and they were all in the best of moods, clapping and singing along as the lady on stage started performing the first karaoke song of the night.

Along the way, others joined the lady on stage, singing songs together. I was starting to wonder if I could have a try a well, but it didn’t take much longer for her to approach me to join her. However, as she got closer, I realised that she was actually a he! I was surprised at first, but as it didn’t seem to matter to anyone, it didn’t matter to me either.

Show time

Image credit: Babak Fakhamzadeh

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard of transvestites working in Bangkok’s nightlife scene. However, I was under the impression that it referred only to the standard nightlife areas and the well-known cabaret shows. Known locally as “Kathoey”, these transgender women are officially recognised as belonging to the third gender in Thailand, and are hence widely accepted in the country.

Given this, it didn’t make sense that transgender people should only be restricted to Thailand’s sleazy nightlife. Why shouldn’t a kathoey host a karaoke evening with kids and elderly in the suburb of Bangkok? It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary there, and I found myself wondering: Why can’t that be the case elsewhere? Why isn’t differences in age, gender, and sexual orientation celebrated and accepted as the norm? Although this Bangkok suburb wasn’t the most modern neighbourhood I’ve encountered, it seemed incredibly progressive to me.

I have to admit that my Frank Sinatra interpretation during my time on stage wasn’t the smash hit of the evening, but everybody was polite enough to cheer me on, rewarding me with a big applause after my song. As the host of the evening continued singing a Thai song, the cheers grew louder. As I left this hidden gem, I made a mental note to practise my singing, as I was definitely coming back in the future.

About Author

Peter Schimke
Peter Schimke

Peter is a freelance writer and author of the novel ‘Beyond Blue’. He has travelled extensively over the past decade and for some reason ends up where there are no tourists to be found. Cocktail bars, bookstores and skate parks are the places you might run into him. He currently calls Singapore his home, as he his banned from Shinjuku, Tokyo (after publishing his book).

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