Philippines, Manila: whores, midgets, ladyboys or the red lights

The red light district in Manila is quite specific. Aside from prostitutes, you will find midgets and ladyboys there. I decided to explore it with a couple of my friends – out of pure curiosity. It took us two evenings, and I must admit that I’ve felt overwhelmed and… ashamed of what I’ve experienced.

Most of the time I sat with my nose glued to my smartphone. It seemed I haven’t been interested in anything around me at all, but in fact, I’ve been making notes and looking around out of the corner of my eye. No detail could be missed here! But do not wait for any pictures – you are not allowed to take any inside of the clubs. The security is serious about it, but what’s happening on the streets is shocking enough.

red light district philippines ladyboys

Do bear in mind that we did not go there actually to have fun. I wanted to collect some material for my blog. My two male friends accompanied me so that I could feel safer and more comfortable.  This article is not supposed to be judgmental as well.

The red lights district in Manila covers only the Burgos street. During the day nothing happens here, just a few bars are open. When the dusk falls, all the neon signs are being turned on, and the street gets crowded with prostitutes, tourists and homeless people. I must admit, that I felt quite shocked while witnessing a white guy barging about a price with a girl when the rest of her family was sleeping on the pavement nearby.

ladyboys philippines red light district

Just a random sex-club in the Red Light District

We enter a club. It is dark and chilly inside. We order beers and take a seat at a round table in the third row in front of the stage. I have two friends with me – Jay and Marten. Marten asks me to pretend to be his girlfriend so that he won’t be bothered by anyone.

There are a few young girls at the stage, only in their lingerie. But before I take a good look at them a waitress appears and ask us, if we would like to play Jenga. She wears a white shirt, which means she is not a prostitute. We decline because Jenga comes along with „the girls”.

Pin this post:

ladyboys red light district

I take a closer look at the girls on the stage. They seem to be between 18 and 25 years old. We guess it from their looks – you can’t tell for sure with the Asian girls. They look younger than their age. They look bored and grumpy. Some of them sit on giant rocking horses (which, as we notice,  have huge wooden penises), other just stand there, with their arms crossed. They were thongs; one is in a school uniform adjusted to fit into new „job circumstances”. We are not sure if these girls choose to be here, or whether they are forced to do it.

ladyboys manila philippines red light

I look around the club. I am the only white woman in the club and – as far as I can see – the only woman who is neither a prostitute nor a waitress. White middle-aged guys surround us. Some of them hug the girls; some are just hanging around in front of the stage. The vibe in the club is gloomy and kind of sad.

Finally, Jay decides to ask for the price of the „services” at the bar. It turns out that for a meeting by the bar you have to pay 3000 pesos to the manager, and another 3000 to the girl, for the whole night. We have had enough of this now. We leave the club.

ladyboys manila red lights

At a ladyboys club

I am not going to discuss whether a ladyboy is a transsexual person or a woman trapped in a man’s body (or the other way round). To be honest, the differences are tiny, and I am no expert to deliberate on this. Ladyboys are generally accepted on the Philippines, and their presence does not surprise anyone. They are easy to spot – they have more masculine facial features, lower voice, no breasts and no Adam’s apple (though the lack of the two last elements is not that obvious), they wear much sexier outfits and more make-up than the „regular” women.

A ladyboys club is the second place we are going to visit this night. We enter the club, take a seat at one of the tables, and… it seems that we are the only guests here. Immediately all the girls’ eyes are on us. We feel awkward. Marten puts his arm around me to show that we are a couple, so nobody bothers him.

To be honest, I am kind of scared of this place. I cannot take a closer look at the girls at the stage because ladyboys are always staring at us. Even a short glance from our side seems to be encouraging for them. They come closer and closer. Surround us as the predator its prey, and finally, grab Jay’s hand and invite him to dance. The ladyboys are intrusive but still nice. Jay decline and they only return to the dance floor. They try to grab Marten as well, but he just points towards me, and they let it go. They are not interested in me at all – a white girl without money is not what ladyboys are looking for. A white guy on Philipines is a gold mine, though.

When the ladyboys leave us be, I can finally take a good look at them. I must say, that they are much prettier than the prostitutes in the previous club. The smile a lot and are joyful. They do not wear promiscuous clothes. Although some wear very short skirts, others cover their whole body. After realising that we are not interested, they take care of themselves. There is a good beat on, some remix of Jingle Bells and some of them dance dancehall. I am impressed.

ladyboys midgets manila red lights

Midgets in the ring

The other night we go out to explore a club, which offers fights in the oil. We come across midget boxing. There are some sofas in the club, where groups of friends and couples have their beers. In the middle, there is a ring. The whole room is dimly lit, with red and blue strip lights. Dance music is coming from the speakers.

I must admit that I don’t know what’s going on here. At first, two young girls appear in the ring and perform some lousy dance routine. Then four little people enter the ring. These guys are much more into their job – they engage with the audience, clap, cheer, dance and laugh.

ladyboys midgets manila

Then the ring empties and nothing is going on for a few moments. After that, the little people reappear with red and blue pads and gloves. They fight a bit, fall, laugh, wave to the audience, fight a bit again, fall and…. that’s it. All these takes about 7,5 minutes during which I felt a bit like in the middle ages. The girls enter the ring again, try to dance a bit and out of nowhere a white, tall, male tourist joins them.

I am not quite sure what is the deal with the ring club. We have not expected anything, but seriously? We have been charged money for watching a fight and girls, who did not feel like dancing. Doubtful amusement. We spent there just as much time as it was needed to drink one bottle of beer.

Pin this post:

red light district ladyboys

The Red Light District in Manila is a strange place. I went there to see what lays underneath, but I just felt awkward. There is a mental place in my head, where all this is strange and bit odd.

I don’t want to say „bad” because this a very judgmental word and I don’t want to judge anyone, who takes part in this – neither the tourists nor the employees. But from our point of view, this kind of entertainment is quite controversial.

And what do you think?

ladyboys red lights district manila


  1. nice write up, it definitely is a different place, there are tons of ladyboys out on the street and even the midget and ladyboy bars you speak of, can be fun but is a bit shady hehe

  2. Hanna
    I’m mystified as to what you expected to find in the red light district of Manila. I’m sure you would have researched it before venturing there.
    It’s no secret that you will find prostitutes and clients.
    You stated that the vibe (your sense) in a club seemed gloomy and kinda sad (with white men hugging young girls) – presumably.

    Quote: “The Red Light District in Manila is a strange place. I went there to see what lays underneath, but I just felt awkward. There is a mental place in my head, where all this is strange and bit odd. (of course! – you are not looking through a mans eyes).

    Quote:”I don’t want to say “bad” because this a very judgmental word and I don’t want to judge anyone, who takes part in this – neither the tourists nor the employees. But from our point of view, this kind of entertainment is quite controversial”.

    In spite of the fact that you claim you are not being judgemental – you are; by a very thinly veiled façade of acceptance.

    Prostitution is how these girls make a living. This is how they make their way in life for themselves and their families. Not perfect – but that’s how it is.

    • I have no idea how do you know what I expected to find there. I do the research when I travel. Yet, on my blog I write about my feelings. For you, they may be judgemental. For others, that’s how it is.
      Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *