Holy Shit! I Got Tattooed and Blessed by a Buddhist Monk!

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Thousands and thousands of ants peeing on me. And suddenly I’m not nervous any more. I try not to watch the monk. I don’t know if I’m allowed to. So I look around. The old man with the tooth gaps who had been accompanying us since we arrived, gives me a thumbs up and nods. Another man who I thought is meditating starts snoring. I hear a sound which reminds me of the tattoo sound I know. It’s a battery-powered mini fan which hangs in the baby buggy in the room. Does it hurt? Kind of. But it feels different. The thousand ants are crawling through my whole body now.

Sak Yant

Ten minutes later the hurt is gone, the two men, who were holding me tight let loose. The monk starts to whisper. I’m trying to listen. I don’t understand a single word. He’s blowing onto the tattoo. Then he’s whispering again. One more blow and then it’s done. My Sak Yant is blessed and he blew the magic into it. The old man signals that I am to leave the room. One last look, the monk is staring at me, I think he is smiling.

Sak Yant

I wasn’t sure what this day would bring when I got up early oh so early in the morning. I know that women can also get a Sak Yant. But the monk decides on the design and the location. He looks at you and then knows what you’ll need. Protection against evil spirits, strength, health. What will it be for me? I really want him to decide. Also the location. There’s just one problem: on my back, which often gets chosen for the first Sak Yant, there’s no space left.

Sak Yant

My back is full of everything I believe in. Justice, that everything has two sides and that good and evil are kind of the same. Everything has its meaning. It’s a long story. I will tell you once we meet up. But for now I just want you to know that tattoos are not just decoration for me. I actually thought it would take years until I got my next tattoo. And then I heard of Sak Yant. Tattoos, done for hundreds and hundreds of years by monks, which will protect you. Magic tattoos. And I know, this is it.

Sak Yant

And so I’m holding close to this man who smells like old sweat and cigarettes on this Monday morning while we’re speeding on his motorbike through fields in the back-country of Bangkok. Sun is rising blood red above the rice fields, airstream is making me cry and I think: This is one of those perfect moments. A moment which will make you dizzy and giddy for years and you’ll think, this did not happen to me, I saw this in a movie. But it’s real.

Sak Yant

Moments later I sit in a shabby room in the “Temple of some monks”, the Wat Bang Phra. The offerings for the monks include menthol cigarettes, a candle, incense sticks and an orchid. 50 Baht. € 1,20. Men are sitting next to me discussing where my Sak Yant could fit onto my body. They are laughing. They are rolling toilet paper into little bundles. They know what they are doing. I don’t understand a single word. Kristin and me are the only foreigners. Probably the men think we just want the same tattoo like Angelina Jolie. We don’t. We want the real thing. Once the monk arrives (who is the famous Luang Pi Nunn, but we don’t know back then) everything goes very fast. No discussion. He decides. We both get the Sak Yant Angelina Jolie has. Kristin gets it on her back, and I get it on my right upper arm. Yant Hah Taew. 5 sacred lines. The most comprehensive and versatile of all the Yants. It can include loving kindness, charm, good luck, success in all aspects of life, protection against evil spirits and banishment of bad luck. The five lines are small sections taken from Buddhist prayers. I can’t read them. I’m not sure what they mean and which actual blessing they include. But it feels good. And one day I will find someone who can translate them for me.

Sak Yant

Facts Sak Yant:

Health Risk: Although Sak Yant is generally known as Bamboo Tattoo, our monk didn’t use bamboo sticks but a 50 cm long metal stick. It was disinfected in a liquid which could be water or alcohol. As far as I know he used the same stick for everyone. At least he did for Kristin and me. Yes, there’s a risk. But I couldn’t find any information concerning cases of HIV or other STD infections caused by a Sak Yant. But yes, there’s a risk. But one day you will die one death, and I think if I will die because of a sacred tattoo that’s way cooler than getting killed in a car accident. Maybe my Sak Yant is protecting me exactly of this.

Sak Yant

Costs: Besides the transport costs, we spent 50 Baht for the offerings and gave a 110 Baht donation in cash. That’s about € 4. 

How to get there: You can’t make any appointments, that’s why you have to go there as early as possible in the morning. We took the 6am bus from Victory Monument in Bangkok to Nakhon Chai Si district for 60 Baht. Tell the driver you want to go to Wat Bang Phra, he will drop you off somewhere on the highway. Cross the pedestrian bridge from where you’ll already see the motorbike drivers waving at you. They will know where you want to go. You’ll pay around 100 Baht per motorbike. Do it and don’t take a cab! When you arrive at the Wat someone will show up sooner or later to bring you to the right building, where you can buy the offerings and wait for the monk. When we arrived it was around 7:30 and we were the first, that’s why we were also first to get our tattoos. The room was filled with around 15 people when we left. If you arrive later you have to wait in line until it’s your turn. You can find more information on Where Sidewalks End.

Does it hurt? Yes, but I thought it was less painful in comparison to my other tattoos. Could be because of the method, could also be that my upper arm is less sensitive than parts of my back.

Would I do it again? Yes, yes and once more yes. Especially as I didn’t know back then, that there are special rules of abstention with each Sak Yant. I don’t know my rule. Nobody told me. Nobody there did speak English. But I would love to know. Until then I imposed my own one. To speak the truth no matter what. Holy Shit!

You’re thinking about getting a Sak Yant, but you’re not sure if you can do it on your own, have some more questions or want a translater to accompany you? No problem! My friend Ian offers help! You can book your very own Sak Yant experience here.

Once a year there’s a very special festival happening at Wat Bang Phra: Wai Kru. 10.000 people go there, actually to recharge the magic in their Sak Yant, but some of them become possessed by the spirits within their Sak Yant. A magical experience I definitely want to see one day! If you want to see this too, you can book this tour here.

Are you thinking now about getting your own Sak Yant?

sak yant

Hi, I'm Yvonne. Travel addict. Guilty as charged. Right now I'm probably falling off a camel somewhere in a desert, getting a new tattoo from a monk in Thailand or am carrying my luggage through a river in the jungle. But just as well I could be sitting on my sofa in Berlin, in my pyjamas. Good girls to to heaven, bad girls go everywhere. Everywhere sounds much more promising. So be travelous and follow me!

Discussion32 Comments

  1. Hey Yvonne,
    I have bee. Looking into this for a while, and the 3 rules following that tattoo are that you should not steal, not show pride or arrogance, should not walk under stilts, and not eat dog meat. They say of you do any of these things there are chances a person can go mad and the powers of the tattoo are lost forever. I really want to get it done, and I’m turning 18 next month so I want to just go get it done at a tattoo shop, do u think that is an okay idea? I really want one. But on another note, good for you and for those rules, I’m sure you will never do any of them!

    • Yvonne

      Hi Drew, the rules always depend on the monk and the temple. And as “my” monk did not tell me my rules (as he didn’t speak English) we’ll never now. But I’m happy with my own rule. I would not suggest getting a Sak Yant at a regular tattoo shop if you want the “magic” behind it, as only a monk can do this. If it’s just for the looks, well, then yes, you may go to a tattoo shop.

      • “magic” : this is a common comment I found from people having this type of tattoo and it irritates me. If you don’t believe in its magical properties, why bother risking your health obtaining a magical tattoo? For the cool story? Deep.

        Buddhism and Hinduism and plenty of Eastern religions, philosophies and spiritual beliefs have a deep belief in non-scientific and supernatural places, beings, symbols and values. The core of this tattoo is more often than not disrespected by not following its rules. The monk knows this but they perform these tattoos anyway. Abstinence of drugs and intercourse is pretty basic and well-known even if you only know the basics. There is no ‘own rule’, there are many many rules that one would have to follow with discipline which is nearly impossible as a Western person.

        But at the very least you could not patronise its magical components by calling it ‘magic’. You and every other blogger who took a huge unnecessary risk look like idiots for the sake of a unique experience that isn’t even that traditional. Many less cheap monks (but still dirt cheap compared to Western parlors) perform extensive rituals pre-tattoo, use the proper bamboo stick, have good hygiene – a new needle for each person! and don’t treat this tattoo as if they were in a production line churning out products every 5-10min. There is a limit to the people tattoo which ensures standards are upheld and you do get an explanation behind the tattoo with guidelines on how to take care of it. But you choose to sit in some dirty shack with people who don’t care what you know or not know about the tattoo! Deep and cool I’m sure.

        Oh and in reference to Jolie: she sat in a clean minimalistic environnement for her magic tattoos. She wasn’t stupid. In fact, these ‘cool’ stories about people taking risks with their health look like idiots as monks care deeply about maintaining good health, they take great care to ensure they are funtioning on a high level spiritually, physically and mentally. Your story is an indicator you don’t care about these things and the people who tattooed you don’t care either.

        Fact is that these type of tattoos have become so popular in recent years that some monks or tattoo artists don’t care about high standards anymore as they know that any Western tourist is going to risk their health for the ‘cool experience’.

        I will be going to a proper monk or tattoo artist as to not get a lifelong disease that needs to be controlled with – surprise surprise – Western medicine.

  2. i wish i had read your post before…coz when i went i dint know properly so as confused waiting on the highway…but the experience was like yours…i got two sak yants with different ajarns…the 1st one called gao yaod from the same monk as you…and than i went to the other monk…i had a design in my mind but i was told they make it according to the aura…the other ajarn kind off read my mind and made that specific design on my back…i was so elated..i used to muay thai in thailand and the very next day after getting sak yant i get to meet the superstar buakaw..i am goin back there again

  3. I forgot the the whole translation of the yant as my brother has it. But judging by your script …it will be like this… you will have metta everytime ppl see you…Metta meaning compassion…and there will always be Beneficial people in your life…ppl who will help you in what ever work / business you do…protection and etc .

    Different masters have different rules to my understanding.

    But the basic thing that i understand you have to abstain when you have sakyant is…
    You cant eat tiger / snake / elephant meat. Which i think you would not. STARFRUIT. is a strict no no.
    The other things is you can curse / swear but not people’s mother. And no adultery with ppls wife / husband and of course in your case …another gal’s husband. Good luck.

  4. You mentioned you were nervous about the sak yant going on your back. Did you express this to the monk?

  5. Hi Yvonne,
    I really enjoyed reading about your experience. I’m also interested in getting a Sak Yant tattoo, i was just wondering do you have any say in the placing of the tattoo? or the type of design? or does the monk decide? And what happens if you don’t like it can you change your mind and not get it done? (lets say he says it has to be on my chest, i have no tattoos at the moment and i wouldn’t really want it to be visible).

  6. Congrats to you! I can’t wait to get my Sak Yant tattoo while traveling through Thailand. Check out Expert Vagabond’s post on the subject – He was given a list of his restrictions. Some are pretty interesting and others pretty darn hard to follow (not eating left overs).

  7. Hi so inspiring to get one!
    I have an Elephant tattoo done by the ‘tapping’ technique
    Anyway i found the translation of your tattoo i thought you might like it if you haven’t seen it
    “May your enemies run far away from you.
    If you acquire riches, may they remain yours always.
    Your beauty will be that of Apsara (a celestial dancer in Khmer mythology)
    Wherever you may go, many will attend, serve and protect you, surrounding you on all sides.”

    Beautiful!
    Love & Light
    Jes

  8. I went to Wat Bang Phra in May and looks like I got the exact same thing!
    It was an amazing experience, such a peaceful little town as well.

    Going back to Bangkok in 6 weeks, going to go to go back again for sure!

    And if anyone is thinking of asking for one of the tattoo designs on the wall, DONT!
    Luang Pi Nunn (The main monk who does the Yak Sant) will get offended as he specifically picks out your tattoo based on what he thinks fits your aura and will just ignore you and give he was going to give you in the first place. Haha

    Love and Light

    Alex

  9. The feel of a thousand ants peeing. Yvonne this is a brilliant story. Your Sak Yant looks fantastic. I hope one day we meet and i get to hear the saga of your back tattoo.

  10. The monk we are bringing to Edmonton,Canada is Ajarn Bpom.

    Ajarn Bpom has his own temple and travels to different parts of Asia to perform blessings and Sak Yant tattooing. All money received for his work is given to his temple as monks are not allowed to own or have monetary items.

    The cost for a five line Hah Taew Thai tattoo is $200.00, this includes his blessing.

    https://www.facebook.com/sacred.buddhist.tattoo

  11. echt hart ja..hier in dland zahlt man 100 euro für ein tatto und ihr bekommt eins vom mönch und gebt denne gerade mal 110 baht? das ist shon ne frechheit

  12. Pingback: Blessed By a Monk: My Magic Sak Yant Tattoo • Expert Vagabond

  13. Pingback: Why I moved to Berlin (and Why I Haven’t Mentioned it Until Now)

  14. Why your generation chooses to deface your bodies with tats + piercings is beyond me. Before Angelina, Cher + other celebs got inked, tattoos were for drunken sailors + outlaw bikers. Now they’re for lemmings who don’t realize life is full of change and what looks good and means something at 20, 30 or 40 may be neither attractive nor meaningful at 60, 70 or 80. Here’s my take on the whole thing, written in 2005, when you were probably just a kid: http://www.ocmetro.com/t-tattoos_and_body_art_072105.aspx.

    • Yvonne

      Oh hi Melissa,
      thanks for taking your time to share your thoughts AND THANK YOUUUU for thinking I was a kid in 2005. Will tell my Mum and Dad, they’re always happy to hear about their amazing genes they gave me to look so much younger than I am.
      I do agree with you that just getting a tattoo because one thinks IT’S COOL is probably a bad idea. I know people who do regret getting that green alien on their shoulder or this band logo on their ass. And don’t even let get me started thinking about these ex-boyfriend/girlfriend tattoos. But I do strongly disagree with you about calling “my” generation “lemmings”. And that “we” have no idea what we’re doing. If someone gets a tattoo they hurt no one else besides themselves. And whatever they choose – it’s their body and their life, which means it’s totally no one else’ business. It was my decision to get these tattoos (and yes, I took a lot of time thinking about it) and all do have a very special meaning to me. And no, I’m not a kid anymore nor was I when I was getting these tattoos. Plus: https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/old-people-with-tattoos BAD-ASS! LOVE IT! 😀

    • richard haworth

      Hi it really does amaze me when people like yourself who have such a negative opinion on the subject of which these post are made waist your time in reading them only to make a negative comment , I have my childrens faces tattooed on my arms , Its wasnt a drunken spontaneous decision im not a sailor and i dont ride a motorbike , and im certainly not a lemming , and does not matter what age i was when i had them done i will consider them to be as meaningful to me when i die as they were the day i had them done . Most people that are interested in having a sak yant tattoo including myself are strong believers in having a positive outlook on life and to treat everyone with respect , maybe you need a little of that yourself ?

  15. HIi i grew up in bangkok and have lived in los angeles the last 5 years- so i’ve always been aware of these sacred tattoos. however, ive recently been thinking of getting one on my next trip back to bangkok when i go to visit family. But i am genuinely concerned about the hygiene and catching any diseases so i started reading blogs. ive read on so many blogs that its as simple as ‘its a risk you take’ or that if it was really unsafe, why would so many do it. That doesnt comfort me what so ever because most of these people who are thai locals who go to get these tattoo aren’t necessarily educated about diseases transmitted through needles. I’m not at all trying to be condescending but it is the reality. Its still at the end of the day a third world country, most people aren’t informed about health issues, STDs etc. i would know because i grew up there! Any advice about how to look pass this whole hygiene thing?

    • Yvonne

      Dear Natalie, I can’t tell you what you want to hear. There is a risk. No one can deny this. If you don’t feel good about it, then don’t do it. You can get a Sak Yant from a “regular” tattoo artist too. It might not be spiritual and it won’t protect you, but at least it’s a safer option.

    • Anybody who has gone to dirty places (smoking, blood-stained cloths or toilet paper on the floor, no new needles etc…) are taking unnecessary risks.

      There are beautiful temples who employ high standards of cleanliness and who take their time to make the experience as authentic as possible which does take longer than 15min! Sadly there are too many stories about and from Western tourist whose experience is not at all the normal standard and this paints a bad picture of this sacred practice. There are also many people who have had great hygienic experiences but they seem to drown into the idiotic antics of tourists who think they are edgy.

  16. Hi Yvonne,

    I was wondering if you are able to bring your own tattoo ink with you to the place you went to get the Sak Yant tattoo? Just curious because I am a little weary about having the same ink used for every person.
    Thank you!!!

    • Hi Lindsay, you absolutely can’t bring your own tattoo ink or own tattoo needle. It would be really disrespectful. If you don’t feel good about it then you should better get a tattoo from a tattoo artist, you would miss the spirtual part of it, but still could go to Wat Bang Phra and get a “regular” blessing for your tattoo.

    • You do know it’s the needle, or device used to pierce the skin that is that cause of a transmissible disease, and not the ink, don’t you?
      I’d be less worried about the ink, and more worried about what might be lurking on a needle or steel rod that’s used on ‘everybody’ than the ink.

  17. Hi Yvonne

    I really like the sak yant tattoos, I’m planning on going to Thailand and getting one. I just wondered if you got to decide on what design you wanted and the placement or is this up to the monk.

    Thanks

    Maddie

  18. I just wanted to say that your blog was so informative and thank you for documenting your journey! I did wuss out and take a round trip cab – I was so afraid of getting their late and/or getting lost! I still got their first, as well and received the same tattoo this morning. I I’m still in awe of it and the entire process 🙂

  19. Any sacred tattoo will last for a few years only. The divine power was embedded in the black ink. So do not be a fool by any arjarn. They do not have any power in their hands.

  20. Hi there Yvonne! I really enjoyed reading your article. Often when I am reading travel blogs I get bored of the writing style but not with yours, well done 🙂

  21. I stumbled across this post by accident on my search for a 3rd experience.

    My first sak yant (tiger on one side of my back) was performed by a monk at the very Wat Bhang Phra about 18 months ago. Fantastic experience and immediately fell in love with it. I vowed to go back for part 2 to be completed (a matching tattoo on the other side of my back).

    Unfortunately, the costs of travel, accommodation, time off work etc from the UK was prohibitive this time, so I did some research and ended up completing part 2 in London only a few days ago! It was performed by an Archan who trained at Wat Bhang Phra. He is apparently the top 3 of sak yant masters in Thailand.

    I am so so into sak yants now. Congratulations to those who are “with me” on this. If you are not, why knock it & allow others to enjoy what they enjoy doing. Each to their own as they say….

    Sak yant blessings
    D

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