If someone had told me last year that I would end up finally biting the bullet and getting a tattoo done I would have probably laughed at the idea “Yeah right. As if”.
To be honest, I consider myself a very hedonistic person who prioritises pleasure and does his best to avoid pain so I was always sceptical of people who go out of their way to get a tattoo.
“Yes, I get it. Some tattoos look cool in the human body but why bother with the pain? It stays forever too! Why not just get a kickass t-shirt? You can change it anytime you feel like trying something new” I used to say.
So what made me change my mind? Well…as all meaningful travel decisions in Thailand this one started in drunken a night out.
There was I, having a beer with my friend Ian (who from this day forwards shall be known as the Tattoo Pimp) and listening to his story about the magical Sak Yant Tattoos of Thailand.
Are you ready to hear it too?
Understanding the Spirituality behind the Sak Yant Tattoos
“Come on mate, these Bamboo tattoos are just the latest fashion statement. If it wasn’t for Angelina Jolie, no Westerner would ever get one done here in Thailand” I rambled Chang beer in hand.
“That’s not exactly true. Sure, some people just get it because it looks cool but there’s a great spiritual and symbolic meaning behind every design” my friend replied.
That night, I learned the story of the Sak Yant Tattoos, a story so vast and complex that I will present you the bullet points version here:
- The Sak Yant Tattoos (Yantra Tattoos) originated in South East Asia (specifically Cambodia) more than 2000 years ago as a blessing for warriors.
- Originally, warriors used the designs in their clothes and armor before it was decided that inking the same blessings to their bodies was a more practical idea.
- The designs of the Sak Yant Tattos are a mixture of animistic believes with Hinduism and Buddhism with Khmer and Sanskrit writings.
- The tattoos are traditionally applied by active Buddhist monks although some of the best Ajarn Masters are former monks who now make their living by inking people.
- Today, each tattoo has a very specific meaning (blessing) and it is adviced for you to speak to the Ajarn Master about your life in order for HIM to chose the best design for YOU.
Pretty rad, uh?
The Day of Wonders: My First Travel Tattoo
“So how are you feeling Raphael? Scared?” my translator and guide Petz asked me.
“Yes but not so much about the pain. Rather, I’m worried that the monk is the one choosing the design. I mean, I love all sorts of geometrical shapes but what if he chooses an animal or something?” I told him as I ate a tasty rambutan.
“You mean like a tiger or a lion?” he curiously asked.
“No. Tigers are cool. I mean like an old sage riding a turtle over a rainbow or something” I told him while making it clear I was totally serious about it.
“Hahaha I wouldn’t worry about that. You’ll be fine” he said and then we got off our Tuk-Tuk to visit the mystic Ajarn Master.
It was time to get inked.
The moment I laid my eyes upon the Ajarn Master I was very impressed by his number of tattoos and I wondered if he did all of them himself or if he had an Ajarn Master friend who helped him out.
I mean, when you walk into a barber shop and you notice the amazing hairstyle of your barber you start to wonder if he’s so good that he did it by himself or if the second barber helped him. I guess it’s the same feeling ain’t it?
Nevertheless, once it was my turn I proceded to give the Ajarn Master a symbolic offering as a token of gratitude and then we began to have a meaningful conversation made possible by my mate Petz.
I won’t burden you with the details about the many demons, insecurities, hopes and dreams that plague my vagabond soul but let’s just say that the Ajarn Master found a design (Ong Phra, Five Bodies of Buddha) that perfectly encompassed what I needed.
They say that bamboo tattoos are less painful than machine ones but I cannot say for certain since I don’t have any machine tattoos. What I can tell you for certain is that the pain is real although it is relatively short (I was in and out in less than 45 minutes).
No pain no gain players!
The 10 Rules of the Sak Yant Tattoo
The tattoo came with rules (basically, a new set of 10 Commandments speaking of which have you read my 10 Commandments of Dating?) and if there’s one thing you know about me is that I hate rules.
Out of respect, I decided to follow ALL of them for at least 24 hours which is a reasonable time frame in my opinion. Here’s the 10 rules of the Sak Yant Tattoo in no particular order:
- Do not eat pumpkin or any other gourd type vegetable. (No more Watermelons??? NOOO!!! WHY???)
- Do not be anybody’s lover who is already married. (Well, this is inconvenient Mrs. Jones…)
- Do not slander anybody’s mother. (No more “your momma’s so fat jokes”?)
- Do not eat food from a wedding, or funeral banquet. (Again, WHY? Dead people don’t need the food!!!)
- Do not eat left-overs. (This goes 100% against my Mexican upbringing!!!)
- Do not duck under a washing Line, or an overhanging building. (I guess this is to stop Peeping Toms from looking at girl’s undies?)
- Do not duck under a banana tree of the type Thaanii. (Fair enough. But WHY???? Is it because of the monkeys? Why would anyone duck underneath a tree anyways?)
- Do not sit on a ceramic urn especially a cracked, or broken one. (Who wants to sit on a broken urn? That’s just bad for your arse!)
- Do not let a woman lie on top of you or sit on top either. (NO WAY JOSE!!! Might as well ask me to be celibate!!)
- Do not permit a man to be brushed by the blouse or skirt of a woman especially during their period. (I can already picture many men being angry at me once I stop them from being brushed by the blouse of their girlfriends…)
As you can imagine, those were the longest 24 hours of my life…
Where to get a Sak Yant Tattoo in Bangkok, Thailand
There are basically three ways of getting a genuine Sak Yant Tattoo in Bangkok. The most popular (and cheapest) one is to visit the Wat Bang Phra Temple located about 60km outside of Bangkok itself.
In this temple, the monks give tattoos every day to foreigners and locals alike in return for a small offering (70 Baht = 2 USD), however, there is always a risk of getting HIV and/or Hepatitis because of the sanitation processes regarding the needle plus you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation with the monk because of time restraints.
The second option is for you to visit an Ajarn Master on your own and negotiate a price directly with him. Prices can range from 100 USD to 1000 USD depending on many factors including the fame and skills of the Ajarn Master himself (if you want to be tattooed by the same one that did Angelina Jolie’s tattoo be ready to pay a premium).
The third, and the one that I chose, was to go with Where Sidewalks End, a tour company ran by my mate Ian in which he provides you with a translator and guide who will take you to visit the Ajarn Master (total price 250 USD) and make the experience of getting a Sak Yant Tattoo a very meaningful one.
You can book your Sak Yant Tattoo here my dear wonder friends (note: the link is an affiliate one which means that I’ll be getting a small commission from every sale).
Who’s ready to get inked???
I hope you have enjoyed this article about the magic behind the Sak Yant Tattoos of Thailand. Don’t forget to subscribe in order to get more awesome updates and tips straight to your e-mail!
Have you ever had a Sak Yant Tattoo inked on your body? How was your experience like? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!
Until next time, my friends!