Dressed in a flowing yellow gown with matching earrings, a demure Thai business student wept and embraced her rivals after being crowned the world's most beautiful transsexual.
Tanyarat Jirapatpakon was named Miss International Queen 2007 on Sunday, besting 23 stunning transsexuals who had come to the Thai beach resort of Pattaya from as far as Germany and Puerto Rico for a shot at the diamond crown.
The Thai's extravagant yet elegant costumes and dedication to environmental causes helped carry the day, taking her past runners-up Aleika Barros of Brazil and Chanel Madrigal of the Philippines.
"I feel excited and so happy. Everybody enjoyed the contest and I didn't expect anything like this," the 21-year-old said from atop her throne after winning 10,000 dollars and the title.
In a nation obsessed with beauty pageants and famous for its sexual tolerance, this elaborate contest is taken every bit as seriously as the more traditional competitions.
Contestants' costumes can cost up to one million baht (33,000 dollars), and the audience was treated to all the glitz and glam of conventional beauty pageants, complete with swimsuit and evening-wear rounds.
"This is the night I have been preparing for my whole life," gushed Colombia's Melania Armenta, a 25-year-old model.
Festivities began on Saturday evening, with last year's winner Erica Andrews performing "Mexican Aztec" -- an upbeat, pulsating dance homage to her homeland complete with ancient pyramids, flashing native symbols and historic outfits.
In the costume round, Tanyarat had to compete against a butterfly, a swan and a Mercedes Benz, but the top prize in the category was given to Japan's Beni Tsukishima for her authentic kabuki ensemble.
Tanyarat's angelic white-beaded evening wear, fit for the grandest of galas, gave way to the more salacious floral pink bikini in the swimsuit competition, showing off her shapely legs and slim figure.
But she finally wooed the crowd with dedication to loftier issues.
"Global warming is one of the most serious problems the world faces today," she said when asked how she helps educate people on environmental issues.
"I tell them to 'think about it'. It's your world too," she said.
The crowd, consisting of mostly Thais and the occasional bewildered tourist, cheered loudly for the homegrown favourite but were upstaged by feverish, flag-waving Filipinos who supported four of their compatriots.
Tiffany's Show Pattaya, which runs the event and claims to be the world's largest transsexual cabaret, said more than 25 million Thai television viewers had been expected to tune in.
Known in Thailand as "kathoey," or the third gender, Thai transsexuals have slowly been leaving cabarets for mainstream success in music and other endeavours, helped in part by the popularity of beauty contests.
Participants praised Thailand for its progressive attitude towards sexuality.
"There is still a lot of discrimination against people like me in the Philippines," said 24-year-old Rain Marie Madrigal, from Manila.
"Thailand is like a utopia for transgender people."