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Sak Yant tattoo: about that time I got one and was blessed by a Buddhist monk!

You might have seen a Sak Yant tattoo before but probably you are not very familiar with its origin and significate? Let me tell you what’s so special about Sak Yant tattoo before I tell you about that time I got one!

The Sak Yant tattoo is deeply rooted in Thai culture, has a rich history, and has deep spiritual meaning. The name Sak Yant tattoo comes from the Khmer language; “sak” means to tap or tattoo, while “yant” refers to sacred geometrical designs or magical diagrams. These tattoos blend Buddhist and animist beliefs, and they are said to offer protection, luck, and other spiritual benefits.

Sak Yant tattoo was originally exclusive to warriors and monks, enhancing their strength, courage, and spiritual power. Traditionally, a Sak Yant tattoo is hand-poked using a long bamboo stick with a sharp metal tip, accompanied by chants and blessings from a skilled monk or Ajarn. Each design holds specific meanings and powers, and during the tattooing ceremony, the monk channels spiritual energy into the design, infusing it with blessings and protective powers; eventually, he decides what design to tattoo.

The experience is believed to be transformative, and I firmly stand by this belief! Let me tell you my story about that time I got a Sak Yant tattoo!

four people sitting
The men holding me tight while the monk draws the tattoo

I am feeling like thousands and thousands of ants are peeing on me. And suddenly I’m not nervous anymore. 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 was meditating, starts snoring.

I hear a sound that reminds me of the tattoo sound I know. It’s a battery-powered mini fan that hangs in the baby buggy in the room. Does it hurt? Kind of. But it feels different. The thousand ants are now crawling through my whole body.
Ten minutes later, the hurt is gone, and 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 Tattoo is blessed, and he blew the magic into it. The old man signals that I am to leave the room. One last look and the monk is staring at me. I think he is smiling.

Tattoo on the upper arm
The famous Yant Hah Taew tattoo

I wasn’t sure what this day would bring when I got up early this morning. I know that women can also get a Sak Yant Tattoo. 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, and health. What will it be for me? I really want him to decide, as well as the location. There’s one problem: on my back, which often gets chosen for the first Sak Yant Tattoos, there’s no space left.

Woman sitting in a hotel bed showing the tattoo on her back
The tattoo I have on my back

My back is full of everything I believe in. Justice, everything has two sides, and good and evil are the same. Everything has its meaning. It’s a long story. I will tell you once we meet up. But for now, I want you to know that tattoos are not just decorations 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, will protect you — magic tattoos. And I know, this is it.

A man showing the tattoo on his back
A wonderful Sak Yant tattoo

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 backcountry of Bangkok. Sun is rising blood red above the rice fields, the airstream is making me cry, and I think: This is one of those perfect moments: a moment that 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.

Green pack on cigarettes
Offerings to the monks

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 sit beside 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 I are the only foreigners. Probably, the men think we want the same tattoo as 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 Tattoo that Angelina Jolie has. Kristin received it on her back, and I got 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 don’t know 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.

Two women with sunglasses looking backwards
Kristin and I with our Sak Yant Tattoos

Some facts about Sak Yant Tattoo:

Health Risk: Although Sak Yant is generally known as a Bamboo Tattoo, our monk didn’t use bamboo sticks but a 50 cm long metal stick. It was disinfected in a liquid, but I couldn’t say if it were water or alcohol. So, keep in mind the health risks when approaching this spiritual practice. 

Woman with hairband and a tattoo on her arm
Proud of my Sak Yant Tattoo

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, so you must go there as early as possible. We took the 6 am 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, and 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 correct 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 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 than my other tattoos. It could be because of the method, but it 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 abstention rules 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. To talk about the truth no matter what. 

Are you thinking now about getting your own Sak Yant tattoo?

If you are looking for a place to stay in Bangkok, I recommend you to stay in one of these places:

  • Nouvo City Hotel: a budget friendly accomodation, near Khao San Road
  • Aloft Bangkok: a more exclusive hotel, offering a rooftop pool and gorgeous views of the city
  • Neera Retreat Hotel: cute boutique hotel, just 10 minutes away from the temple