I woke up early in my cosy capsule room in Bangkok, the previous morning I came from Cambodia and I felt great. But the next moment I became really nervous. Holly shit, I´m getting a traditional thai tattoo Sak Yant in two hours! Should I just call Ian and tell him I´m sick? That would be such a pussy-move and it`s not even my first tattoo! And Ian sent not one but two local guides. And most probably they are on their way already! I better get out of my bed now.
But what is Sak Yant tattoo?
Traditional Thai tattoo Sak Yant is a yantra tattoo (sak=tatoo and yant=yantra in Thai language), also called bamboo tattoo, because traditionally the skin was pierced with bamboo stick. Nowadays monks and Arjans (tattoo artists) use long metals sticks. For me the biggest question was should I go to get a tattoo from a buddhist monk in a temple or from laymen? Both are called Ajarn in Thai, though monks might get the extra title of Phra Ajarn.
Monk or Ajarn?
As my friend Ian explained both the Ajarn (the tattoo artists who wear all white), and the monk Ajarn (in the orange robes) who are trained in the ancient art of Sak Yant are both equally respected in their trade and in their abilities to give the enchantments and protections. They have been trained from similar Kru (masters), and bestowed similar powers.
Monks artist are extremely popular among travellers and getting a tattoo in a temple is unique experience. However to get a tattoo from a monk you have to follow special procedure. Monks start with their tattoo practice early in the morning (I´m not a morning person and I need my beauty sleep BEFORE I get a tattoo) and sometimes there is a huge group of people waiting for being tattooed by a monk. I was not tempted to get a tattoo from a monk who already tattooed 50 other people the same day.
As Ian told me he noticed from his own experience that an Ajarn who does this for a full time living may have higher levels of sanitation and the quality of his yants may be superior aesthetically speaking, as they may charge more for the same service – primarily since they don’t have all their food and living expenses paid for in donations from the public, and so they have to present themselves in almost a more professional setting. This is not true for all Ajarns nor for all monks, of course (just as with any job, hobby, or wizardry).
Am I just going crazy?
Before my tattoo session I was traveling in Thailand and Cambodia for 10 day and observed other people`s tattoos. And to be honest some of those Sak Yant tattoos were poorly made to put it mildly. Beside almost changing my mind this morning I almost changed my mind one day before after I have seen a girl at the airport with terribly made Sak Yant Gao Yord.
However, I decided to get of my cosy bed and going to the lobby of my hostel where two local guides were already waiting for me (Thank you Ian for sending me such a nice guys!). Getting a Sak Yant tattoo is a cultural experience and getting there is part of it.
We took a sky train and local transport in a small mini van. One our way we stopped to get some snacks on the street and some water, I was too nervous to get a proper breakfast that morning.
There is a popular belief that the Ajarn will pick a tattoo that suits your aura but I think this is just urban myth for travellers who are looking for deeper meaning. Of course every Sak Yant have its own meaning and purpose. Ancient warriors used Sak Yants as form of protection and it was believed Sak Yant could protect you from a bullet. I haven´t tried it by myself and I wouldn`t recommend it to try it by yourself either.
Getting a real Sak Yant tattoo
We arrived just in time for our meeting and I was more than happy I wasn’t alone and thrilled to realised there isn`t 30 another travellers waiting in the line. Just one. Getting a Sak Yant is also a sacred experience even tough I wasn’t in a temple I was given incense sticks I burned before entering the studio. While the incense sticks were burning I have to repeat a prayer after assistant while my hands were in wai position. That was it, I was there and there was no way back. Besides 5 or 7 dogs in the front-yard were way too cute and they properly distracted me from my concerns.
Before my turn I was peeking inside and noticed many statues, there was whole shrine inside. This place is way cooler than I expected! Before I sat in front of the Arjan I was offered a shirt and I was wearing buttons on the back.
Before Ajarn started with his procedure I gave him an offering (flowers, candles and incense sticks), which I got from his assistants. After short praying I was told how to sit and wait. According to buddhist beliefs you are not allowed to wear sacred Sak Yant below your waist. Because head is the most sacred part of your body and the lower parts of your body are less sacred and of course the feet are the least sacred. Never show your feet to a monk or an Arjan (or any other people in this matter, this is why Thai people always kneel on their feet). Most of the time you will get Sak Yant on the upper part of your back or arm (if your back is already covered with the tattoos).
I decided to get 5 lines tattoo or five row yantra called Hah Taew. It represents 5 yants or magic spells.
The first row will prevent me from unjust punishment, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place where I live.
The second row reverses and protects me against bad horoscopes and bad fortune.
The third row protects me from black magic and curses.
The fourth row is for good luck, success and fortune.
The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It is also is a boost to the fourth row.
Above each yant row there is a Unaalome or ever decreasing spiral to compete each yant from both sides.
Does it hurt?
I was trying not to think about the huge needle stabbing my skin. I looks worse than it is. First few minutes were quite painful since I am only used to a gun. Luckily there were two assistant holding me and my skin tight. But once I relaxed and started to breath and pray as I was told, the pain simply disappeared. I don´t know how to explain it but for me it wasn`t painful at all after 5 or 10 minutes. Once I relaxed the time passed by quickly and after 45 minutes I was told my Sak Yant is finished. Wow, it took master Arjan 45 minutes and I was more than excited to see my Sak Yant for the first time.
Would I do it again?
I am more than happy to say that all of my fears and doubts were pointless. I love my Sak Yant and is my favourite tattoo so far. The healing process was extremely short and easy. During the process I was bleeding just a little and the tattoo peeled off just a bit.
Should you do it? I really don`t know and nobody can make decision for you. But I know one thing for sure. I would do it the same way I did it the first time: with WSE Travel and their lovely helpful guides.
Disclosure: My Sak Yant experience was part of Travel Massive Contest. However my opinion is as always my own.