My Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand
A Customer Testimonial
I have lived in Thailand for a few years and have always been fascinated with the traditional Sak Yant Tattoo. Reading blog posts by people who had got them all seemed to talk about a mass tourist place in Bangkok or going to see an Ajarn in a shop on the side of the road. I wanted the real thing! I wanted a Sak Yant Bamboo Needle Tattoo in Thailand while I live here in Chiang Mai
I wanted a Monk in a Temple using the Bamboo Needle, and I was luckily enough to find Nana, a Chiang Mai Local, who had developed a reputation for being able to provide a Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand (Chiang Mai). This is an account of my experience getting a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Real Monk.
Getting a Bamboo Needle Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand
A Customer Testimonial
I guess the first thing is to point out is what exactly is a Bamboo Needle Sak Yant Tattoo? The Sak Yant is a highly spiritual Thai tradition of combining magic and Buddhist blessing. It was originally given to soldiers during Thailand's many battles with neighboring countries, and these soldiers developed a reputation among the enemy of being indestructible. Hence the legend of the power and protective magic associated with the Sak Yant Tattoo developed within the Thai culture.
สักยันต์ - Sak Yant
Sak - meaning "to tap" or, "to tattoo", and
Yant - meaning "Yantra". Originally derived from the Sanskrit word "YANTRA".
Over hundreds of years the tradition of getting a magical blessing from a Monk or from an Ajarn (ex Monk who specializes in the magical art of Yantra Tattoos) has become embedded in Thailand's psyche. For the Thai people getting a Sak Yant (commonly called a Bamboo Tattoo) is as important as having a baby christened, or a 21st birthday party in the west. It is a highly significant rite of passage, filled with honor and respect for the Monk who preforms it, above and beyond the usual high reverence for the Monks in normal life (which in itself is beyond the ability for most westerners to comprehend).
For many of us in the west, it is just a tattoo, a tourist trinket to take home with us, after our holiday in Thailand. What I especially liked about the experience from Nana, is that she is a Thai person who has total respect and reverence for the Monks that she takes people too. She has established a trust among them, and will ensure you fully understand the significance of what you are getting
Beginning the Journey to My Bamboo Needle Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand
Meeting Guide Nana
When I got my first Sak Yant Tattoo from Nana, (I have gone back with her for a second one now) she was working for a concierge service in Chiang Mai. One of the customers (Amy) requested a Sak Yant and blogged about her experience. At the time Nana spent her weekends going out to temples and found a Monk to preform the Sak Yant Tattoo. When the Monk stopped doing Sak Yant Tattoos for women, she found a Cambodian Mystic who would.
In the time since my first Sak Yant in mid 2015, the concierge business was sold, and the new owner decided he required more professional staff, who spoke better English than Nana. He fired her, stating that she offered no value to his new business direction.
Author update note: Luckily for people wanting a Sak Yant Bamboo Needle Tattoo in Chiang Mai. Nana had a growing reputation for her sincerity, honesty and personal character. It seemed readers of Amy's, and other past guests blog's did see the value of her character, over her ability to speak fluent English, and sought her out. Word of mouth referrals and the previous business customers seeking her out for continuing help, Nana was not unemployed for long. She started Sak Yant Chiang Mai in 2016, expanding and opening a shop providing In-House Sak Yants with visiting Monks and Ajarns to her Old city location.
so I meet with Nana at the office and she asked me what the intention of my Sak Yant was.
The Magical Intention of a Bamboo Needle Sak Yant Tattoo
Nana explained to me that the Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand has two major components,
1) The Design
2) The Blessing
Traditionally you tell the Monk, what the purpose of your Sak Yant tattoo is, and they will choose a design for you that fits the intention. Usually the first few Sak Yant's a person has, are one of the 3 common types - they are a kind of cover everything package. It is a good thing to note here, that since these are the most common Sak Yant Tattoos, the artwork quality is usually better since it is something the Monks are skilled in and does often.
Nana explained that you can always select the style and design of the Sak Yant if you wish (after all it is with you for a life time), and that this is not an uncommon thing with her guests on her Sak Yant Experience. Once the design is chosen, the magical script (or words) placed within the Sak Yant and the Blessing itself (The ritual for placing magical powers into the Tattoo) is what determines the additional meaning of the Sak Yant.
She also explained to me that if you let the Monk decide for you, sometimes you will get a one of a kind Sak Yant that has more significant meaning to your life and your path. The original Sak Yant may not look as beautiful as a set design - but if you want a spiritual Sak Yant this is the option to choose. In any case the Monk did not speak English so Nana had to explain to him what my intentions and reasons for getting a Sak Yant Tattoo were.
I choose the 5 Line Sak Yant
The first 3 types of of Sak Yant are ....
The Hah Taew Sak Yant Tattoo (Five Lines)
The Gao Yord Sak Yant Tattoo (Nine Peaks)
The Paed Tidt Sak Yant Tattoo (Eight Directions)
Getting the Offering for my Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand
Along the way of the 35km journey to the country Temple, we stopped off at a local market to buy the offering for the Temple. Nana explained that Thai people, as part of their culture always take an offering of respect to the Temple or Monks when they go there seeking wisdom or a blessing.
Usually the offering involves a few lotus flowers, some candles, incense, cigarettes if the Monk smokes, and if the person has the foresight a small gift from their home country.
Once you arrive at the Temple, Nana helps you prepare the offering and how to present it to the Monk. It was a tremendous help to have someone guide me through the process, while the Monk watches with amusement at my attempts to display honor and respect to him while I am waiting. I was not used to sitting without my feet being out stretched and at home I tend to lie on the floor rather than sit. There was a little bit of discomfort having to sit still and upright for a guy getting up in years like me. But the Thai locals all did it, so I accepted I am a wimp and grinned and bared it.
Getting a Sak Yant Bamboo Needle Tattoo in Thailand
When I arrived at the Temple, there where locals there ahead of me, Nana explained that one had Cancer and was wanting healing and another sending his daughter off to University who wanted good luck in her academic career. The man and his family with Cancer were obviously in a serious mood and the family politely talked to Nana. The Man who was sending his daughter off to school, was beaming with smiles (and I imagine not seeing too many westerners) started chatting in a combination of broken English and Thai.
For me, this was awesome, other Sak Yant experiences I had looked at, were with an Ajarn in a shop along the side of the road. But here I was in a beautiful Temple, waiting to get my Sak Yant Tattoo from a real Monk. Not only a real Monk, but one that was obviously special and important to the community that he served. In the time since my first Sak Yant Tattoo, Nana has developed a special trust with the Monks, and sometimes she can book their time so that guests do not have to wait.
And then it was my turn.
When the Monk asked me to come forward he chatted away with Nana, which she later told me they where discussing what and why I had come today. Of course the Monk knew if I was with Nana, that I was there for a Sak Yant Tattoo, but since most Monks have no need to learn English, I would have been lost if I attempted to do this without her. I was not too concerned about what they spoke about, as all of my focus was on the finer points of the Sak Yant Etiquette
Running through my head was, 'Don't be higher than the Monk', 'Don't point my feet at Statues', 'How many times do I bow (the Wai)' 'Do I swat away this fly buzzing my face ... or is that a bad thing to Buddha and I should let it be'? I was obviously showing a few signs of confusion and a little stress at trying to get everything just right, and the Monk laughed and told Nana to tell me to chill out, I was doing great.
The Monk took my offering and cleaned it up a little, then prepared his tools. The Monk I went to only had the Steel Needle, but this is what I wanted over a Tattoo gun. I later learned that Monks have not used Bamboo Needles in decades, now they use Steel Needles, and use the same sort of hygiene that any modern Tattoo artist uses. So if you see someone mentioning Bamboo Needle Sak Yant in a blog post - look at the photos - the needles are Stainless Steel. The term 'Bamboo Needle' is an outdated term but one that has stuck in the consciousness of people
Side Note: Today Nana has taken this experience from a once in a while side service that was offered at her old company; to providing it almost everyday. She has now, 6 Monks or Ajarns she can take people too, ranging from Sak Yant with Bamboo Needle (Steel Needle), Sak Yant Tattoo with Tattoo Gun, and the Sak Yant Experience for females.
Another point to note is that there is no issue about using reused needles or home made Ink. Sadly this bit of information originated in one blog post about one busy Temple, and has been copied and pasted by others looking to create content in blogs. In Nana's tour experience, new needles are used, and the ink is, and has been safe for hundreds of years.
The Monk pointed to a place for me to sit and began to give me the Sak Yant Tattoo. As much as I wanted to respect the Monk, the Temple and Thai culture, there is nothing in either Thai or my concept of Spirituality that says 'Pain is Good". Before we started on the Sak Yant Experience, Nana offered me a Tylenol pain killer for free, or an extra strength one for 30 baht. I selected the extra strength Pain Killer.
And it worked! I hardly felt anything during the Sak Yant Tattoo itself, to me it felt like someone was tapping a ball point pen into my back. I could feel my skin getting warm but there was very little discomfort or pain. After 15-20 minutes it was all over. I was excited and ecstatic!
Then the slight panic set in again, it was time for the blessing. Now for me I could accept this was part of the ritual, even if I did not personally believe that something magical would happen. Rather the panic was, 'OMG how many times do I Wai', 'how do I hold the bowl properly' .. luckily Nana was there to quietly give me instructions for the blessing part of the Sak Yant Tattoo Experience. That Nana proved to be a godsend every step of the way!
And then it was all over! The Monk blessed the Tattoo and motioned that it was all over. I got up, put my shoes back on, went out into the courtyard and had a cigarette while I contemplated what had just happened. It was all so very AWESOME!
I am so thankful that I got to experience a real Sak Yant Tattoo from a Monk. The whole experience was one of the coolest things I have every done in Thailand or in any Country (And I lived in Las Vegas for 7 years and boy could I tell you stories about that!).
Getting My Second Bamboo Needle Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand
A Sak Yant Customer Testimonial
In June of 2016, I thought it was time for another Traditional Thai Tattoo. While I do not believe in the magic of the blessing, my first Sak Yant was for business success. And boy was it working! But with success comes stress and long hours and I was starting to get a little bit of a short fuse. I figured if the first Sak Yant worked so well, it was time to get one for Jai Yen Yen (Cool the heart - or not to get so excited). I contacted Nana, and she had also decided (since so many customers asked her if she had one) to get a Sak Yant as well. We went together and both of us received the Sak Yant.
This time, I decided to go to the Monk who did both Tattoo gun Sak Yant and the traditional Steel Needle. I had seen some of the amazing Sak Yants on Nana's Facebook Page and I wanted something with a stencil, and a little bit more time in the planning and execution.
The Sak Yant experience had changed only a little. Nana's English had improved a great deal, but I was pleased to see that this was still a personal one on one experience and not a polished tour. Nana has now gotten very busy, with many customers coming to Chiang Mai especially for a Sak Yant, and booking weeks and months ahead of time. She took me along on her day off, as she was getting her own Sak Yant, and trying to get a booking in a free time slot online was proving a little difficult. My advice if you want a Sak Yant, book well ahead of time.
The Monk was friendly and smiled, as he chatted away with Nana, who would help him out, moving lights and stretching skin, while asking me if I was OK. The process was much the same as talked about above, except this time there was only us at the Temple. Nana explained that now she spends most of her day conducting the Sak Yant Experience, and then goes home to call the Monks and plan out a schedule for the next few days guests.
I made a comment about her success and asked her when she would buy her own temple and employ the Monks bringing van loads of tourists. I knew as soon as I said this, (even before the look on her face) it was not the best joke to make. Nana politely put me in my place, saying that even if she wanted to provide more people with this experience - All of the Monk's that she goes too have said to her, that they are busy serving the needs of their communities, and have placed limits on their availability. They only allow her to bring people because of her dedication to sharing the Thai Traditions, and vetting of guests - but are not interested in providing more of their time solely for Sak Yant tattoo's. This is why she spends so much time scheduling the different Monks time, to ensure that the experience remains a special event for her guests and at the same time she does not impose on the Monks who have other duties to perform.
Apart from my little mistake at attempting to make a joke - the second Sak Yant Tattoo was just as enjoyable an experience as my first. Nana, continues to be one of the sweetest and kindest person I have meet in Chiang Mai, and is clearly providing the Sak Yant in Chiang Mai experience from pure motives. This is reflected in the comments from her guests and the customer feedback of their experience with her, and the relationship she has developed with the Monks who provide the tattoos.
Thank you Nana for the wonderful experience.