Getting a Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand is a thing unique to the country. Traditional Sak Yant Tattoos are ancient Buddhist designs and prayers etched into the skin. They date back over 2,000 years and are believed to offer various protections and blessings, depending on the design. Many local Thais take the practice seriously, and some even completely cover their bodies with sacred Sak Yant tattoos. The art has become internationally renowned and some Hollywood stars have them too, the most famous being Angelina Jolie. If you’ve ever been curious about getting a sak yant tattoo in Thailand, today we’re covering everything you need to know!
1. Who performs a Sak Yant tattoo?
Sak Yant tattoos are done by monks or learned masters known as an ‘ajarn’. It takes years of training and studying the magical arts before they can become a Sak Yant master. You cannot get them from a typical tattoo artist!
2. How are they done?
For one, Sak Yant tattoos are hand poked and not done with a tattoo gun. In older times they were done using bamboo needles, but these have a tendency to break and splinter, which really isn’t what you want when you’re getting a permanent tattoo. Today they’re usually done using a khem sak, which are long metal rods designed in a similar shape to the bamboo needles. They are usually handcrafted and custom-made for the monk or ajarn, if not handed down from his master.
3. Can women get a Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand?
Many Sak Yant monks cannot tattoo women. And some ajarns will also not tattoo women due to a personal preference. There are actually no rules or laws stating that women cannot get Sak Yant tattoos. Some ajarns just do not feel like it is right for them to have physical contact with another woman who is not their wife! In today’s times however, many ajarns’ practice transcends beyond gender.
4. Is it safe and hygienic?
Every temple and samnak (an ajarn’s ‘tattoo studio’) has its own standard of hygiene. It is difficult to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, just like it would be difficult to answer “Are all restaurants in America safe and hygienic?” Some temples, like the popular Wat Bang Phra Temple, wipe down the needle with an alcohol pad after every tattoo, but may use the same pot of ink. Some ajarns in rural areas might also operate in primitive conditions. As they serve the local community and run on donations, many of them may not be able to afford using new needles and ink each time. In more modern cities, many ajarns will not risk damaging their reputation. If their livelihood is to provide someone with luck and blessings, it doesn’t make sense to use tools that would make them sick in the process!
5. Can I choose my Sak Yant design?
Yes, you can. Although, you’ll very likely come across some articles about monks ‘reading auras’ and ‘deciding’ for an individual which Sak Yant design will suit them best. In reality, this is due to language barriers and the individual lacking the information to choose for themselves. In such cases, the monk will usually give a standard Master Yantra. There really isn’t any ‘reading of auras’. Most of the time, a person getting a Sak Yant tattoo knows the qualities they wish to embody. It’s best to go with a local who can act as a translator between you and the monk or ajarn. These days, there are also Sak Yant operators, who bring together Sak Yant masters and people of different nationalities.
6. Does it hurt?
Your skin will be pierced thousands of times with a needle. So yes, it hurts! Like any other tattoo, getting a Sak Yant will hurt more at the bony areas like the ribs and spine. Males also tend to feel it more than females, and those with a lower fat percentage in their bodies will tend to feel more pain.
7. Where can I get a Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand?
Sak Yant tattoos are available in many parts of Thailand – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and more. Wat Bang Phra just 50 km out of Bangkok is perhaps the most famous of all, known for its daily mass Sak Yant tattooing. Many of the articles you find on the internet are from foreigners who got their Sak Yant tattoos here. This is also where the myth of monks ‘reading your aura’ and ‘choosing your tattoos’ originated! Sak Yant myths aside, Wat Bang Phra is the birthplace of modern Sak Yant tourism. Many ajarns credit their start to the temple, and it also gave rise to Sak Yant operators who wish to provide foreigners with a smoother, more intimate process of getting a Sak Yant tattoo.
8. How much does it cost?
Prices vary greatly. Temples like Wat Bang Phra operate on a donation basis, one as an offering that costs a few hundred baht, and the other a cash donation directly to the Sak Yant monk. Other independent ajarns may use a sliding scale approach. Generally, the larger the design and the more famous a Sak Yant Master, the more the Sak Yant tattoo will cost. For example, Angelina Jolie’s Sak Yant master, Ajarn Noo, now charges about $3,000 to $5,000 for a basic Sak Yant tattoo! Some operators like Sak Yant Chiang Mai uses a set fee approach, so guests know exactly how much they should be paying.
9. What are the rules I must adhere to after getting a Sak Yant tattoo?
As the Sak Yant tattoo is a spiritual representation of a desire or intention that is energetically charged, its power relies on a person’s thought and actions. One should not get a Sak Yant unless they are willing to be a good person. Generally, the major teachings of Buddhism applies here: Do not kill, do not steal, do not lust after another person’s lover or spouse, or be unfaithful to your own. Do not lie, do not get intoxicated, and do not speak ill of your mother. In different Sak Yant lineages, some monks and ajarns may expand on these rules. If you are getting your Sak Yant via a Sak Yant operator, your guide will inform you of any additional rules that you should adhere to.