Getting Tattooed in Thailand

If you follow me on instagram you may have noticed I have spent the last couple of weeks travelling around Thailand with Contiki. Whilst I was away I had a bamboo tattoo on Koh Phangan which resulted in loads of questions about the experience so I thought I would put it into writing for anyone else who is interested in having a bamboo tattoo.

Ever since I had my first bit of ink over 12 years ago, I have slowly been adding to my collection of tattoos over the years. Although a lot of thought has gone into some of my tattoo designs and placements, I am also quite partial to the odd spontaneous tattoo. You’re only young once, hey!

Most of my tattoos don’t have particular meanings, certain pieces remind me of  points in my life, experiences with friends or certain times and places. Tattoos mean different things to different people but for me, if I like the design then that’s a good enough reason to get it tattooed on my body.

Having a tattoo whilst travelling is a permanent reminder of that trip. I have tattoos from my year out in the USA which constantly bring back great memories. So when I booked my most recent trip to Thailand, getting a bamboo tattoo was one of the key things I wanted to experience whilst I was there having always been intrigued by the process. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted or where, just that I wanted one.

So, what is a bamboo tattoo and how does it differ to a regular tattoo?

Bamboo tattoos initially originated among tribes some 2,000 years. Tattoos believed to offer protection and other benefits for the bearer and closely became tied to the Hindu-Buddhist concept of Yantra. Yantra refers to mystical diagrams which are used as an aid during meditation. Buddhist monks would traditionally tattoo these designs to offer power, protection, fortune, charisma and other fortunes for the bearer. Although not carried out by monks today, the practise of bamboo or Yantra tattooing is still widely available throughout Thailand.

The process involves attaching a fine needle to the end of a thin piece of bamboo and tightly wrapping a length of cotton around the two to hold it in place. The needle is then dipped into the ink and gently tapped into the skin.

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Unlike machine tattoos, with bamboo tattooing, the skin is punctured and not torn. This means there is a lot less blood. As the tattoo doesn’t scab, the healing process is a lot faster – usually 3 to 4 days.  Also, as there is little bleeding the ink settles quite deeply and very little colour is lost. resulting in a bright, strong tattoo.

One of the first questions I get asked is ‘what does it mean?’

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The Hah Taew (5 sacred lines) is one of the most popular Sak Yant Thai tattoos with each line having a different sacred blessings for success and good luck. Although the Yants have taken on different meanings over the years, typically the five lines represent:

  1. The first row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favour when the area is grey, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
  2. The second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.
  3. The third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
  4. The fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.
  5. The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It also is a boost to the fourth row.

The next question I get asked is ‘did it hurt?’ or ‘how does it compare to a normal tattoo?’

Having a fair bit of ink work I can honestly say I found the experience to be quite enjoyable. The tattoo itself was just as painful as having a normal tattoo – but tattoos hurt, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Bamboo tattoos take longer than machine tattoos and tend to be quite expensive because of this, but you are left with an intricate design which has been created by hand with a needle and some ink, and that’s quite impressive.

You also don’t have to worry about the aftercare as much either as explained above, which is perfect if you’re travelling around.

If you are thinking of getting some work done during your travels in Asia I wouldn’t blame you. As with all tattoos there are various things to consider beforehand to make sure you get exactly what you want. You don’t want to regret a poor decision so take the time to

  • Decide on a design
  • Decide on the placement of the tattoo
  • Shop around for price, don’t be scared to barter. I got mine 1000THB cheaper than originally quoted.
  • Pay attention to portfolios and previous designs.
  • Make sure everything is sanitary.

and…

Be prepared to want more. Tattoos are addictive.

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