Blessed By A Monk: My Magic Sak Yant Tattoo

Wat Bang Phra Thailand

Tattoo Temple: Wat Bang Phra

Nakhon Chai Si, Thailand

Over 40 people watched in silence as this famous monk repeatedly penetrated my flesh like a sewing machine. His needle sent waves of hot searing pain into my back.

Traditional Sak Yant (also called Sak Yan, or Yantra) tattoos are hand-etched onto the skin using ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers.

They are believed to give the wearer magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil.

Sak Yant tattoos have been around for over 2000 years.

Buddhist monks originally engraved Sak Yant into warriors seeking protection and strength in battle. Often covering their entire bodies from head to toe in magic symbols to prevent knives and arrows from piecing their skin.

Wat Bang Phra Thailand

People Will Wait Hours for a Sak Yant

My Very First Tattoo

I’ve never had a tattoo before. If I ever received one, I wanted it to be special. Not some drunken challenge in the middle of the night. So when I learned about the magic-infused tattoos given out by Buddhist monks, I was intrigued.

The more I learned about them, the more I wanted one.

No machines are used to create a Sak Yant design. These traditional Thai tattoos are engraved into skin with a long metal spike or bamboo sharpened to a point.

The needle is dipped into ink and repeatedly jabbed through your flesh by hand.

Monks will often choose a sacred design as well as the location of your tattoo based on your aura. This sounded perfect! I’ve had trouble picking a tattoo, so why not let a monk choose for me?

Donations Sak Yant Thailand

Donations of Cigarettes, Flowers, and Incense

Wat Bang Phra Temple

The best place in Thailand to receive a Sak Yant tattoo is a Buddhist temple called Wat Bang Phra. It’s located about 40 minutes West of Bangkok.

For hundreds of years the temple has been a pilgrimage site for Thai people wanting to receive the protection of a magic tattoo.

It’s also home to the most famous Sak Yant practicing monk in Thailand, Master Luang Pi Nunn.

The grounds of Wat Bang Phra are composed of a series of beautifully ornate temples surrounded by colorful statues. I made my way towards the tattoo building located in back.

Luang Pi Nunn Thailand

Master Luang Pi Nunn

Cigarettes As Payment?

Outside the entrance I purchased a temple offering consisting of orchid flowers, incense sticks, and menthol cigarettes for 75 baht ($2.40 US) before removing my shoes and heading inside.

Everyone is expected to present these simple gifts to the monk as payment for a Sak Yant tattoo. The items are then recycled so the process can be repeated, with money from the sales helping with upkeep of the temple.

An old man led me into a dark room filled with dusty golden Buddha statues. Photos of Thailand’s King Rama IX and elder monks adorned the walls.

Ceiling fans slowly whirred overhead, but the room was still hot — as there were 30 to 40 people packed inside.

Sak Yant Full Back Tattoo Thailand

That’s a Lot of Magic!

Waiting For My Turn

It seems I’m not the only one wanting a tattoo today. Master Luang Pi Nunn is in demand here, and etches up to 50 Sak Yant tattoos a day. If you don’t visit the temple early enough, you may not get one.

Due to some miscommunication with a moto-taxi driver that morning, I arrived about an hour later than expected. I’d just have to wait my turn and hope for the best!

So I found a spot on the floor and attempted to make myself comfortable over the next 4 hours. The long wait allowed me to witness many others receive their own tattoos.

Eventually Luang Pi Nunn took a break while the rest of us continued to sit in silence, listening to bird song and cats meowing outside. By now I was up front though, with a great view of his tattoo workspace — and I have to admit it was a bit shocking!

Tattoo Workspace Thailand

Not Exactly a Sterile Workspace…

Sak Yant Tattoo Safety

The safety of Sak Yant is debateable. It can be a risky practice. The needle itself is usually wiped with an alcohol pad after each tattoo. Or it might be placed in a bottle of alcohol while a separate needle is used for the next person. But the same pot of ink is used with everyone, and blood can mix with the ink.

This opens up the possibility of contracting HIV or Hepatitis. There are no hard statistics though.

After getting a close look at his tools, I got a bit nervous and briefly thought about backing out. The workspace consisted of a few cushions surrounded by bloody rolled-up pieces of toilet paper, a nasty bucket of inky water, old plastic bottles full of rubbing alcohol, and grime caked onto the walls…

I’d also just watched at least 12 people get jabbed with the same couple of needles. And who knows how many went before I arrived.

But then I realized that if it was truly dangerous, there wouldn’t be so many people waiting in line to get one. Right?

Or is the whole room just full of crazy people with a death wish?

Sak Yant Needle Thailand

The Needle

Snake Venom Ink!

I didn’t have long to ponder though, as the monk soon returned and it was my turn to help hold the next person’s skin while he worked. This gave me an excellent view of the whole process. It was mesmerizing to watch.

Suddenly it was my turn. Pulling off my shirt, I respectfully bowed three times before turning my back on the man who was about to repeatedly poke a sharp needle into my skin.

Occasionally a monk will deem a person unfit to receive a Yant if they don’t take it seriously, refusing to work on them.

Two local guys held my skin tight as I braced for first-blood. Not knowing what image I was about to get.

Each monk concocts his own special blend of magic tattoo ink too. The recipe is secret, but is thought to contain Chinese charcoal, snake venom, palm oil, and even human remains!

Sak Yant Monk Tattoo Thailand

My Turn!

Taking The Pain

When the needle first punctured my skin, it felt like a bee sting. Followed quickly by a swarm of bees launching a full-scale attack.

My muscles tensed up and I began to sweat. Squeezing a pillow in my lap while attempting to look tough for the 40 Thais attentively watching the foreigner for any signs of weakness.

But surprisingly it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Initially I was afraid my eyes would water, or worse, I’d pass out in front of a room full of people…

Yet after only 10 minutes and a thousand needle strikes later my new Sak Yant was nearly finished!

To complete the sacred tattoo, Luang Pi Nunn chants a Kataa (or magic spell), and blows it into the design unleashing its power.

Gao Yord Sak Yant Tattoo Thailand

Finished: Gao Yord (9 Spire) Magic Tattoo

Yant Gao Yord

So which tattoo did the monk give me? It’s called the Gao Yord, or 9 Spire. A powerful and sacred tattoo that protects the wearer from violent physical attacks and magic assaults. It’s also supposed to bring good luck.

The 9 spires represent the 9 peaks of Mount Meru — a legendary mountain from Buddhist and Hindu mythology that is thought to be the center of the universe.

Atop each peak sits a small Buddha, with the spirals above them representing the path to enlightenment.

Inside the boxes are symbols written in Khom, an ancient Cambodian alphabet, but the language itself is Pali Sanskrit. The same mantra is actually written on each side. A mirrored image of itself. It reads: Gu Ti Gu Ya Tha Saa Wae Taa Saa Gu – Gu Gu Ti Saa Tha Ya Gu Saa Taa Wae

Apparently there are also 11 special rules that go with my Sak Yant:

  • I cannot eat star fruit, pumpkin, or any other ‘gourd’ type vegetable. (no more pumpkin pie?!)
  • I cannot be anybody’s lover who is already married. (sounds reasonable)
  • It is absolutely forbidden for me to slander anybody’s mother. (no problem)
  • I cannot eat food from a wedding, or funeral banquet. (well that sucks)
  • I cannot eat left-overs. (I’d love to know why…)
  • I should not duck under a washing line, or an overhanging building. (um, ok)
  • I definitely should not duck under a Thaanii banana tree. (harvesting bananas isn’t a hobby)
  • I cannot cross a single head bridge; but large or small bridges are not forbidden. (have no idea what this means)
  • I should not sit on a ceramic urn. Especially a cracked, or broken one. (do toilets count?)
  • I cannot let a woman lie on top of me, or sit on top either. (shit!)
  • I cannot brush by the blouse or skirt of a woman, especially during the menstruation period. (how am I supposed to know?)
Sak Yant Tattoo Thailand

All Healed Up

Would I Do It Again?

Yes. Absolutely. I may get another one too. In fact I’ve learned that the magic needs to be replenished each year with a fresh blessing by the monk. So I’ll have to go back anyway.

Thai people from all levels of society take the practice very seriously, and many cover their bodies with Sak Yant tattoos.

You’ll frequently find the designs on soldiers, doctors, monks, actors, and politicians as well as criminals and mafia assassins.

Many women also get them. Angelina Jolie is probably the most famous. But because it’s forbidden for monks to touch female flesh, they use a cloth or gloves to prevent contact.

Some people choose to receive an invisible tattoo, using palm oil on the needle rather than ink.

I’m very happy with my new Sak Yant, it was an extraordinary experience that I’ll never forget. Especially with this permanent souvenir on my back. ★

More Information

Location: Nakhon Chai Si, Thailand [Map]
Cost: $2.40 US
Useful Notes: You’re encouraged to make an additional donation. An envelope with $3 (100 baht) placed in the monk’s alms jar is common. For detailed directions to the Wat, check out my friend Ian’s great post.

Do you have any tattoos? Would you ever consider getting a Sak Yant? Share with us in the comments below!

This adventure was made possible with help from Clearly Filtered. They make really cool filtered water bottles that will help you save money & ensure clean drinking water while traveling.

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Comments & Questions

  • Ian Ord – Where Sidewalks End

    Hey mate! Great post! It sounds like we had very similar experiences :) I should have looked up the rules to go with my own protective Sak Yant, though I’m sure I’ve already broken a few of the rules. If you find you’ve broken any of them, you’ll have to come back next year for the Wai Kru festival where you can get your tattoo “recharged”!! Brilliant experience. Glad you went through with it.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Thanks for your awesome directions Ian! I’m pretty sure a few of these rules will get broken… :D

  • Charli l Wanderlusters

    I have to say I’ve always said that I’d never get any form of tattoo or piercing that would leave a scar if I changed my mind and wanted it removed. I know every one gets tattoos for different reasons but I really connected with your desire to have such a special memento of your experience. Love the design too!

    • Matthew Karsten

      I’m just glad he didn’t pick a design that went on my lower back… ;)

  • Sofie @ Wonderful Wanderings

    I must say I still can’t fully picture how they do it. In my mind there’s no way that could’ve been done by hand in only ten minutes.
    Respect for the monk.
    I have a lotus flower tattooed on my wrist. Have gotten it after years of pondering about what I wanted. I always knew what I wanted it to represent, but I didn’t know how to ‘picture’ that. Until I stumbled upon a certain Nepalese saying:)

    • Matthew Karsten

      It’s very impressive to watch him tattoo by hand like that. And you are participating by holding down the skin of the person who goes before you, which was pretty cool.

  • robyn

    Although this type of tattoo is not my cup of tea (I’m more into getting work done in a more sterile controlled environment) I’m glad you were able to enjoy the experience.

    • Matthew Karsten

      I don’t blame you Robyn, I seriously considered changing my mind after taking a look at those tools… :)

  • Mo Draj

    Great story! Well done for doing it Matt! :D

    • Matthew Karsten

      Thanks Mo.

  • Rachel

    I think that’s amazing that westerns are able to participate in an old practice like that. I’m very much looking forward to when I’m able to get my tattoo.

    • Matthew Karsten

      It’s a pretty special experience Rachel.

  • Audrey | That Backpacker

    Looks great. Did they tell you about the 11 ‘special rules’ before or after the matter? ;)

    • Matthew Karsten

      Actually no one told me about the rules Audrey. I just found out about them while doing research on the tattoo for this post!

  • TammyOnTheMove

    The tattoo looks great. This sounds like an amazing experience, but I am not sure I’d could bare the thought of not being able to duck under a washing line, or an overhanging building ever again.

    • Matthew Karsten

      It will be extremely tough to follow this particular rule Tammy… :D

  • Ellen Keith

    By far the most interesting and entertaining travel post I’ve read in awhile. I would really question the sterility of those needles, but let’s hope that everything was safer than it seemed. What a memorable and meaningful tattoo!

    • Matthew Karsten

      I’m pretty confident I’ll be fine. :)

      And am actually glad I needed to wait so long to get mine, so I could watch everyone else first. It really solidified the experience into my memory.

  • Kristin Addis

    Welcome to the club, Matt! Now we match (sorta) ;)

    • Matthew Karsten

      Your Gao Yord turned out much bigger! But I think it’s more detailed too.

  • Steve Miller

    Personally, I think I’d have to go back and get the answers to the “why” questions regarding your tattoo.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Right? It’s driving me nuts. Some of the rules are pretty strange.

  • Delphine

    “Would I Do it Again?

    Yes. Absolutely. I may get another one too.”

    Tatoos are just like potato chips… you can’t just have one… !

    Take care ;-)

    • Matthew Karsten

      haha. So true Delphine! Now I understand. Hope you’re doing well. :D

  • Curmudgeon

    So, no leftovers for you. Well, that gives the rest of us a chance to eat, before you gobble it down. Rules are rules. No sense tempting the gods.

  • Andrea

    Very interesting…do you think you’ll follow all the rules forever? No leftovers is pretty hard core….

  • Morgan

    Well I’m hooked! Thought I was done after my first, but I may have to make a stop while in Thailand. The repeated needle use and bundled bloody towels may take some coercing, however.
    Gotta ask – Were you given any specific rules to follow to keep from contracting anything? Most tattoo artist will ask you not to swim for a period, keep water off of it as much as possible, and require you to put lotion on it frequently.
    Good luck with those rules…no left overs sounds brutal!

    • Matthew Karsten

      Nope, no health suggestions Morgan. But it did scab over in only 2-3 days, which I hear is a lot quicker than one created with a tattoo gun.

  • Juandy

    Wow… A great work of art…

  • Wade

    In case you didn’t notice, in the picture with the two guys holding your skin up while you get the tattoo, that the guy on the right is wearing a blue “Hillary for President” shirt…that guy has really got to come to grips that it aint going to happen! Poor fella ;)

    • Matthew Karsten

      ha! I did notice that Wade. You never know, there’s always 2016! :)

  • Sam

    Hey great post! I’d like to know how you are doing following your rules of abstention. I reeeaaaalllllyyyy want one but the rules scare me a bit. I’d hate to bring down the wrath of the gods upon my head for letting a woman get on top… What’s your experience been like?

  • Arianwen

    What an experience! I hope that tattoo protects you against sudden attacks of blood-borne diseases too! It looks awesome though, and it’s so original. I really enjoyed the list of prohibited things. You’re not going to stick to that, right?!

  • Noah @ Somewhere Or Bust

    I think we need a second post after 30 days describing how many rules you’ve broken. I read this in two parts, taking a break to handle a few things, and feel I violated a handful of these edicts.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Let’s just say that a handful have been breached since I received it… :)

  • Erica

    I worked at a tattoo shop for 3 years and the state of sterility horrifies me. I was seriously considering this and I think my mind has been made up now.

  • Pau Briseno

    Thanks for sharing ur experience!. I have been in BK for 2 months and staying here for another too. I was considering getting one because one of my friends told me about it but after doing a lot of research i finally decided not to. I would love to have one, i think it would be a pretty awsome experience, something magical and special to me, but atfer seeing the tools and the potencial risk of getting a disease, i think i will play safe and get a tattoo in a shop.
    Thanks for the info!… I loved ur tattoo!

  • Yvonne

    So awesome that we’re now a gang of tattoo-bro and sis :D and I’m sooo jealous that you got such great pictures. When Kirsten and I went we saw all these “no pictures” sign and didn’t dare to take any pictures! :D
    Think we all should meet up and go to Wai Kru festival together!

  • Nicole @ Green Global Travel

    I like the idea of coming back with a memento. I think I’ll stick to a coffee mug ;)

    Very entertaining post :)

    • Matthew Karsten

      That works too Nicole. :D

  • Daniel

    I’ve already gotten some ink on my travels, and I love body art. I’m also Buddhist, and haven’t been inked appropriately yet. So at first I was thinking to myself: “Awesome! I want one!” Despite the pain of the procedure.

    Then I saw the workspace and immediately wussed out. I could not have shared needles with dozens of other people. Coupled with the rules, I don’t think I could manage it. But I hope that the magic of your tattoo is keeping you happy and healthy on your travels. You’re a much braver man than I will ever be.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Joy

    What an interesting story / experience! I especially love the rules!

  • Vuthmail-thailand

    I can tell you some about rule of sak yant

    The most important for the guys who got sak yant is ” Buddhism five precepts “.
    the rest is for your discharge as below
    1.-Most of sak yant master prohibis and Wat Bang phar is aslo “Don’t eat the star fruit only ” not a pumpkin
    Because of the star friut is wil degenerate your invulnerable or Discharge you magical sak yant

    2.-About married women .. In fact it meaning the female who have somebody look after.
    If you have often of this … your magical wil degenerate and that make someone hate you.

    3.-Slander or damn or dispraise anybody’s mother … My master told this prohibite reason for ” Make yourself consciously ”
    The asian people is respect to mother who born us. Don’t slander.
    My master said to me ” Some of adherent get loss control he slander anybody’s mother while armed fighting this adherent the wound cutting ” The magic montra can’t protect you if you slander the blade can be harm you immediately ”

    4.-Cannot eat food from a wedding, or funeral banquet. Not both of them … You can eat it but only the food for Ghost is prohibit …. ( If Ghost spirit eat that food then you can’t eat it ) . Cause of beliving the montra magic power higher than ghosts
    . When ghost eat that food you should not eat it.

    5.-Eat left-overs food … it’s not serious for that.

    6.-duck under a washing line, or an overhanging building. Both of them is not true. Only the female underware Because women menstruation is stain to those underware. So you can duck any lines don’t worry.

    7.-Not duck under a Thaanii banana tree. This is correct as above in 4.- becasue Thai beliving some Thanni banana have some ghost haunt (Stay in) . Don’t to worry about casue of Thani banana tree son’t have in your country 5555….

    8.- Don’t cross a single head bridge. In southeast country ancient time they use boat not car this mean bride for get in the boat which it have only single head not across whole river or canel. Got that … For this reason somebody can hurt you by mistake like somethings drop into your head then don’t duck under the single head bride.

    9.-Cramic urn. Especially a cracked, or broken one. The reason is it dangerous to sit on broken ceramic. another reason is in ancient time they put the burning death body into Urn. It not suitable to sit on.

    10.-Woman lie on top of me, or sit on top either. This is not nonsense. Some belive that will discharge your magic power while you have sex with women on top will cover your yant may degenerate the magic. Don’t serious on that. I do more 555..

    11.-Cannot brush by the blouse or skirt of a woman, especially during the menstruation period. None sense but don’t get menstruation dirt.

    As I told you the most important for the guys who got sak yant is ” Buddhism five precepts “.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Thanks so much for clearing some of those up Vuthmail! :D

  • Inah Sagun

    I just got mine too! I have several tattoos already and each one means something to me. I was so nervous while waiting for my turn, not knowing if Master Luang Pi Nunn would give me a Sak Yant (I read from other blogs that monks can refuse sometimes). I was also nervous about which one he would give me. I was silently praying for the Yant Ha Taew and that’s what I got. I’m really happy and I will definitely go back to visit the temple for more.

  • Prelution

    Your post was the fourth blog that I read about this, and it is getting me closer and closer into wanting one. I will be there in like four months. I have a question for you:

    What is the healing process of this tattoo? I saw that you said that it was scabbed over in like three days. But what was the over all time to heal? I would like to know because I am going to be there for a month and bangkok is my first stop. Plus I plan to travel to many beach locations after and will want to be in the ocean and I know that swimming can damage a tattoo (personal experience but only with a tattoo gun).

    • Matthew Karsten

      They heal very quickly compared to gun tattoos. I believe I read somewhere that you can go in the water & sun after 2 days. But you may want to double check that.

    • Sjakoera

      I read this somewehere, don’t know if it’s true ‘though: ‘The tattoos are applied using a bamboo rod, a technique which is about 3,000 years old. A fine needle is attached to the rod and then tapped into the skin. Because the skin is punctured and not torn as it is with a gun tattoo, the healing process is quite different. Pain is reduced and there is no bleeding or scabbing. The entire healing process only takes about four days and there is no need to cover the tattoo or avoid the sun or sea. Another benefit is the color tends to stay strong much longer with a bamboo tattoo.’

      • Matthew Karsten

        Sounds right to me. They also attach the needle to a long metal rod, which is more common than bamboo these days.

        • Robert Williamson

          Yes, long bamboo stick sharpened to a point (called a mai sak) or alternatively with a long metal spike (called a khem sak).

  • Audrey

    great post !

    from what you’ve seen, did the women also take off their clothes ?

    • Matthew Karsten

      No, just moved them around to make an opening to work on. Most of these tattoos are done on the back.

  • Sjakoera

    Hahahahaha, thanks for your story! Especially your comments on the rules you have to follow made me laugh! Great :)

  • Kristin

    That tattoo is amazing! I want a Sak Yant one day.

    • Matthew Karsten

      I love mine! But it’s the whole experience that makes it special. Because there are probably a few hundred thousand people with the same tattoo, the design isn’t really unique at all like some tattoos.

      You should join the Sak Yant club Kristin. :)

  • Monica

    Hi I getting a tattoo of a lotus flower on my foot I was going to get an om symbol coming out of it & om mani padme hum at the bottom of the flower i have been told I will offend Buddhists for doing this I do not wish to offend anyone I believe strongly in what it represents can you help please.

    • Matthew Karsten

      As far as I know, monks won’t tattoo just any design, only the traditional ones. But there are plenty of independent tattoo artists in Thailand who will ink any design you want.

    • Gavin

      Hi Monica, not sure if you have your tattoo yet (if so, nice one!) but thought i’d fill in a couple of gaps. Anything relating to buddha (inc words) should not be placed below the waist as this will cause offence, as will any image of buddha from a tattoo studio. Below the waist is the “dark” side. Sak yants are not tattoo’s, they are magic and the thais take them very seriously (you can get invisible ones too). so anything relating to buddha is above the waste, if you get a sak yant and it’s animal like (tigers/hanuman/sing etc), it can go anywhere the monk or ruesi wants to put it. hope this helps!

      see you in the stars,

      • Matthew Karsten

        Great tips Gavin. Thanks.

  • Kristen Sarah

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I got one done in Thailand and it was the worst pain ever but the most rewarding. I love the silence of the bamboo compared to the noisy gun. Your tattoo looks beautiful!

  • Hunny

    Thanku buddy for sharing your experience. I got a tattoo the day I turned 18. I love tattoos because they can help you express yourself. I plan on getting lots of other tattoos in the future. Hopefully I can get my second one soo.

  • Daniel berg

    This is my sak yant

  • Herman

    Hey bro,
    i got hae taew,Just yesterday!

    i will back to there on next year to get the second one.

  • min

    I’ve wanted a Sak Yant for ages but I just don’t think it’d be worth the risk of getting infected by a blood born pathogen like HIV or Hep C.

    Weren’t you worried about that? The envirmonement is so unsterile, and they re-use needles, inks and don’t use gloves…..would you get a tattoo in a western parlour that did the same? I don’t see the difference.

    I love the art form and style, I prefer hand-poked/machine free/traditional stlye tattoos than anything done with a machine and have done since I was a kid, but I just can’t take the risk with these.

    Did you get a blood test after, or had one since? I guess it’s a bit too late by then though.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Sure there’s a risk, but the risk driving in the van to get there is much greater. Car accidents kill many more people. :D

      One look at the 40 or so locals lined up to get one helped ease my fears. If it was a huge problem there, word would get around. That Wat is one of the most famous places to get a Sak Yant.

    • Gavin

      the difference is this: a tattoo in a tattoo studio is just a tattoo, a permanent mark that hopefully you’ll be happy with for life. A sak yant is a magic thing, hence the ceremony after the image is placed where the magic is put inside the image. if you do not believe in magic, get a tattoo at a tattoo studio. If you want something else and are a follower of buddha, then maybe get a sak yant as the magic will follow you, irrespective if you believe in magic or not. i hope that explains the difference. :-)

  • Maeva

    Visiting Phuket and got mine today :) :) So happy with it :)

  • Ari Chatz

    Did you see the tattoo before you got it done? I’m not sure I’d be willing to get a tattoo that I hadn’t seen before. Although I suppose it does save you having to obsess over the decision.

  • Tom Fogarty

    Hi Matthew

    This is a great article, thanks for sharing! I’ll be in Thailand this Xmas and I’m hoping to get a Sk Yant at the temple on 16th December. Do you know if the temple is ever closed and what time is good to arrive to get a place?

    Thanks a lot!


    • Gavin

      open all year – the monks doing the sak’s will change though. some days are more special than others! Good luck (use an antiseptic wipe on your skin before the sak is placed, and an antibiotic cream for a day afterwards too – hot climates and open wounds etc!)

      • Tom Fogarty

        Thanks for the advice Gavin – much appreciated! I’m planning on getting there at 8am, do you think that will be early enough?


        • Gavin

          Hi Tom, 8am is fine, and whereas you might still have to wait a while, like anywhere, it is interesting to wait and watch. Language will be an issue (unless you speak good thai) but just take it slow and easy and everything will make sense. Good luck.

  • Gavin

    one last thing about hygiene – Hepatitis B is very easy to catch if you are exposed to it in the right (or wrong) way (HIV takes a lot more effort to catch by comparison, if “effort” is the right word) – definitely make sure your jabs are up to date, know the risk before you go – Thai’s are often of the opinion that the sheer fact they are getting a sak will protect them from any risk. Go into this with eyes wide open. goodluck.

  • Austin G

    Do you know if you can talk with the monks for a while before getting a Sak Yant? I am fairly religious, and would want to make sure we were both comfortable with me getting one, and I feel a conversation before hand would allow for a more fitting choice.

    I am a Christian, however, most of my beliefs overlap with those of Buddhists (except we may be a tad more lax on the alcohol and sex front). But I would want to talk with an expert, which I would consider a monk to be, to ensure I did not disrespect their views.

    All that aside, like you, I prefer any tattoo I had to have a really good story to go along with it.

  • ludwig

    I got 2 sak yants november and dezember the first was the 4 lines and the second the 9 spires same yours
    The first need 3 days the second just 9 hours till healed
    Realy amazing just 1 day nothing swolen nothing red looks same i have it 1 month
    I was at wat bang prah too and always around 8-9 am
    I didnt wait long
    But i never see a monk
    Only people in white dresses.
    My gf told me they are ex monks still doing the yats
    Maby the monk tatto in another room i did t see ?

    I was arriving with tuktuk and an guy with white clothes lead me to the room where i recived my sak yant
    Some did it outside some in the room
    The first was 5 minits the second about 40

  • Anja – Punta Cana

    You are brave, I would never receive tattoo with used needle. But its all about fantastic experience, so, never say never…
    In one of your replies you said that you didn’t heard about rules prior to tattoo ritual, so maybe you can forgot some of rules, ocasionally, specially 1, 4 and 10 :)

  • Dan

    “I cannot let a woman lie on top of me, or sit on top either. (shit!)” haha, hilarious man. Epic post! I got a tattoo of the world on my back in a hostel in Rome :) but I think your story is a little more hardcore … way cool!

  • Luca

    Great experience i just wanna say to you what time should i go there to get the tattoo not waiting so much…thanks

  • Roy

    Hi, I would like to have one of this magical tattoo.. How to get there? Can I catch a motor taxi from Bangkok city?

  • Nina Carmen

    Great post. The Sak Yant is amazing. What a fantastic experience. I am going to Thailand in 3 weeks and I was thinking about getting a Sak yant.

    I’m not sure about the monk choosing the position of my tattoo though. I would LOVE to get the Ha Taew on my side (ribs… ouch!) but obviously that wouldn’t be a guarantee. Did you say most of them were done on the back?

  • Kerstin

    Thanks for all the information. Really insightful. Planning on going next month. Can’t wait. Will be my first traditional Thai tattoo experience. Could I ask what you did to keep it clean and not get infected after though? Yours looks great.

  • Eric

    What was the healing process like? Like what did you do to help it heal and keep it disinfected?

  • Tasa

    My friend! those rule are to protect you, so that it keep your tattoo purify for your safety. If you break it you won’t get a wraps from god but it deem useless and have no power. Everyone of those rule mean a lot, if wish I could explain to you more in detail. Remember your tattoo is sacred, it is not a tattoo you get when you just came out of a bar hammer.

    • Matthew Karsten

      It’s plenty sacred to me Tasa. But I have a hard time believing that everyone with a Sak Yant follows all these rules to the letter. :D

      I may just have to get the magic recharged next year.

  • vera

    Ive always been intrigued and fascinated with Sak Yant tattoos, but unfortunately I come from a very conservative and strict family…asian parents..Would the monks be understanding and open to the invisible ink? Or do they mostly prefer to work with dark ink? How would I be able to request it?

    • gavon

      Hi Vera,
      one thing most people do not realise on this thread is that the visible sak yant is not the important part – the design and the magic that is put inside is the important part – many thai’s choose invisible (and the women always do unless they are “bar girl” types) – as for real ink – there are some shockingly bad ones (if you compare to a genuine tattoo but these are not tattoo’s). Its the magic that counts and what you do afterwards. :-)

      • Gavin

        so as for your question – invisible is fine and preferable for many Thai’s. It’s not what the sak yant look like that counts, it’s the intention of the person who is getting it that matters (hence sometimes people get refused because what they want does not have a good intention behind it). Good luck.

  • Robert Williamson

    Great article and tattoo . At the age of 62…. still in great health, I flew from Canada and ended up in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand for four months,. Went with some Thai friends to a monk that has been doing sacred Sak Yant yantra tattoos for about fifteen years. I was the only westerner there… and received the Gao Yord nine peaks at the top of my back with kehn sak. It took almost half an hour…. there are many variations of this tattoo in Thailand and Cambodia… mine was a bit more elaborate than average. About ten minutes into it… I was wondering if it was such a good idea… it hurt… but then I just concentrated on other things and blocked the pain. It’s supposed to be much more painful than the tattoo gun. I’ve never had a tattoo with the tattoo gun so I don’t know. Later, I returned on a few more occasions…. ending up with five sak yank yantra tattoos on my back, and two on each arm… getting them can become addictive…. even with the pain…which you quickly learn to adjust to..or even enjoy… like hot sauce .. But they look wonderful… and have meaning.. and they lead to great conversation if someone sees them now that I am back in Canada.. I even got the needle that did two of my tattoos… they are inserted into a brass or bronze rod that the monk used… double point needle. He makes his own ink… including a bit of cobra venom according to the Thais that go to him…. Thanks for the web page and your article…

    • Matthew Karsten

      Sounds like you had a wonderful experience Robert. I too have never had a gun tattoo, so I can’t compare the pain. While it hurt, I was expecting worse. Maybe just psyching myself out too much. Very happy with my Sak Yant!

      • Robert Williamson

        Thank you for your reply Mathew. The ceremony and blessings going with these tattoos was nice also. And my friends had helped me with knowing what to do at the temple during the time there. I still wear one of the Sai Sin cords put on my wrist by a monk. I took the other ones off after seven days, but the one left… I’ll wear it until it falls off. Visited many wats talked to monks, and spent time in Buddhist ceremonies. After receiving my tattoos… my Thai friends told me “Now you are Thai” and told me that no matter where I was in the world, that i am Thai in heart and spirit. Their words touched me. I can’t wait to return someday even if it takes me a few years before I can return…. as long as I still have my health and strength at my age. Chiang Mai.. and the rest of northwest Thailand in the mountains, isolated tribal villages like the Lisu villages.. is a wonderful part of the world. The people are amazing… the food fantastic, (I lost 22 pounds) It felt like I was leaving home when I left after four months to come back to Canada. Thanks again Mathew for your webpage.. and Best Wishes.

    • Charlie-O

      Robt, just wondering if you could tell me where you had this done? I live in CM and I am looking for a quality tattooist.

  • Gavin

    with the rules – different masters have different rules, but one they all have in common is keeping the 5 precepts (Buddha). 1. no sexual misconduct. 2. no killing. 3. abstention from false speech. 4. no drugs or states of intoxication. 5. do not take what is not given. Irrespective of whether you follow Buddha or not, these make a very decent ethical framework for your life. endeavour to follow them if you get a sak yant, and endeavour to follow them anyway if you do not! see you all in the stars, G.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Thanks Gavin, your comments here have been very helpful. :-)

      • Lia

        Is that temple the only one? Can I get one in phuket?

    • Siddhartha Joshi

      Such beautiful words Gavin…and yes, see you all in the stars :)

  • Banker in the Sun

    WOW. If you’re gonna get a tattoo, it’s GOT to be like this. My favorite part are the rules! What are you going to do at Thanksgiving? Or after a really great date?

    • gavin

      thanksgiving….well, if you intend to rob a bank by way of celebration, lie about it afterwards, kill the arresting officers, have sex with a young girl (or married woman) then get so blind drunk you cannot remember your own name so you take a line of coke to wake up, then you have a very messed up idea of celebrating thanksgiving (or indeed celebrating anything). Does that answer your question? :-)

  • Anand

    Wow! Dope! Except for rules 10 and 11, I’m really feeling this. Definitely going to have to get one sometime in this life.

  • mchan

    Thanks for the helping story. I am going to Thailand this summer and the tattoo is on the list; however, I am trying to search for one that will definitely do one on a woman. Do you know if this temple did?

    • Matthew Karsten

      Yes, they will tattoo women here. I watched two local women get the invisible ink ones, and have a friend who got hers here as well.


    i want one done i think its an amazing tattoo art form .. tattooing is a wonderous thing sometimes

  • Stephen Schreck

    Haha Awesome man! I love the thought of no knowing what you are getting. I have a bamboo tattoo for Koh Lak, best way to get a tat done.

  • Vuthmail-Thailand

    Hello again !
    As I read many posted by a lot of people who worry about the steriliize or any infections.
    I have 2 options for you.

    1.- You can bring your own needdles or
    you can make the new one with stainless steel diameter 1 cm or a bit less and 70 cm long.
    Sharpen at one end with central groove.

    2.- you can ask Ajarn to change a new needdle by following these phrase

    ” AJarn krup pien keam hai douad na krup ” – the below is mean of those phrase

    Ajarn – is the monk
    krup – is the phase for shown your respect and polite .
    pien – is changing

    keam – is needle
    hai – is asking or begging
    douad na – need

    you can copy all of these phrase in your smart phone and use some kinds of voice assistance read these
    phrase before you get start your sak yant or you can asking thai people around you read my Thai alphabet
    and told the monk to change the new needle ….. Thai alphabet as below

    ” พระอาจารย์ครับ ขอรบกวนเปลี่ยนเข็มสัก ให้ด้วยนะครับ ”

    Hope this can help you to go SAK YANT with no worry about infecting and sterilize.

    Vuthmail-Thailand 18.02.2014

    • gitana

      hello thank you for posting this great advice. i have a question: what about the blood in the ink? how do we address that concern?

  • Vuthmail-Thailand

    When you finish your SAK YANT. All people who got YANT already should go to see
    ” Luang Por Sam Aaang ” at the big hall for another magic bless. Luong porp Sam Aaang is the head abbot.
    you can copy this phrase for any voice assistant to read it
    “rob kuan paa pom pai haa Luang Por Saam Aang tee kreuktee yai duad krup”

    or asking thai peoples around you to read my Thai alphabet to take you to see Luang Por Sam Aang
    ” รบกวน พาผมไปที่กุฎิหลวงพ่อสำอางค์ เพื่อเป่าสำทับอีกครั้งด้วยครับ”

  • Charles L

    I’m really interested in getting a sak yant but I’ve already got a tattoo on my back would this have any implications if I was to get one?

  • Jonathan Look, Jr.

    I went to the “tattoo temple” about a year ago to do some photography work. Just seeing this process made me want to get one myself. I have always been ambivalent about tattoos but I think often that I may have to go back. It is kind of call me.

    • Matthew Karsten

      It’s certainly a special way to receive your first tattoo!

  • Jon Rogers

    Hey I was wondering if you follow the rules of the tattoo? My buddy did the same journey outside of bangkok, and actually surprisingly got the same tattoo and he didn’t really take it serious, and is a huge fan of pumpkin pie. This past thanksgiving we all went home to visit family and he had pumpkin pie for dessert the next day he got hit by a truck that shattered his leg, collarbone and fractured his skull, that wasn’t the first time he ate an item of the squash family but it was the most he had gorged on it eating almost half the pie cuz we were pretty high, and it still being in his system. I am a pretty firm believer in respecting the wishes of holy men, and he now is somewhat terrified of breaking the other rules, luckily he has a girlfriend and knows her menstrual cycles.

    • Matthew Karsten

      No, I’ve broken some rules. Nothing bad has happened yet…

  • Mia Gordon

    Ouch – looks great after its all healed

  • Helena Reishin Holmes Ⓥ

    Thanks so much for article & links to your friends too :-) your blog has been really helpful so many thanks _/_ After seeing a Yant too many years ago to remember,waaaay before taking my vows or even starting Muay Thai, I wanted one. Now so many years later & fully understanding, I have my first :-D now I want to go back tomoro for a second one to keep me on my journey :-) I won’t be back for awhile so am wondering if he will allow a 2nd one in as many days??!!

  • richard

    No offensive , but by looking at someone you can not tell whether they have a blood borne illness. I would call this high risk of contracting a blood borne pathogen (HIV, hep B, hep C). Getting HIV, hep C is a very serious illness. Not something I would risk, or would recommend to anyone. I am sure you have gotten checked, and I hope your are fine.

    • Matthew Karsten

      Yup! All checked out, and no issues.

  • Kim C

    This is definitely how I want to get my first tattoo. Can you ask them where to place it though? Thanks!

    • Matthew Karsten

      Generally specific sak yants go in specific places. You could go to a regular tattoo shop in Thailand and get it anywhere you want, but I don’t think the monks will do that.

  • Siddhartha Joshi

    This is really cool Matthew! I love the tattoo…and would get one if I ever get a chance :)

  • Em

    I literally laughed out loud at the last two requirements… mostly because of your response to them. I have enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences in such a fun & detailed way. Best wishes to you.

  • Phoebe

    Hi I’m planning to get one soon, I was wondering if we can pay extra to have my own brand new ink and can you request to change the needle to prevent infection? Thank you

    • Matthew Karsten

      You can request a new needle I believe, not sure they’ll let you bring your own ink though. At least not from the monks. But there are tattoo shops that would let you do that I’m sure.

      • Gaurav

        Hi, me and my friend got a tattoo on Monday , like 2 days back !! We both are feeling uneasy !! Can’t explain the feeling … My Thai friend suggested me to pray to the master !! I did …. Any suggestions ??

  • roni

    that’s very interesting, makes me consider getting one!

  • Christopher Sharpe

    This is a truly fascinating story, and an interesting first choice of tattoo! Hope you can keep to your new rules too.

  • Marco

    Hi, i’m going to Bangkok next August and i’d like to have a Sank yant too..
    I read that your first is decided by the monk, but i like the two tigers..should i ask for it or i have to come back for the second one after a few days? Where did you find the rules for your tattoo ?

    • Matthew Karsten

      You can request a specific one if you want, letting the monk pick isn’t a requirement. I only learned about the rules online when I was doing some research for this article.

  • Epic Gap Year

    If I were to ever get a tattoo, this would definitely be the route I’d want to go!

  • panzerthecat .

    My luck has been shit my whole entire life. I wish I could go back with you and get one.

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  • Alexandra

    Hello there. Can anyone please tell me what this sam yang is and what it means?

    • Alexandraa

      whoops Sak Yant*

  • John Dow

    Hi! Can you chose were the tattoo can be made? Like if a want it on my throat or hands and knuckles. Do you Think its possible?

  • Guest

    I wonder if the concept is the same as what is used in the Maori tattoos, though they’re less like pointalism, and more tribal in appearance. Buddhist concepts are a great thing to live by whenever possible, and it’s great that you took it seriously and have passed it along to all of us! Enjoy South Africa! It’s my home and absolutely gorgeous!!!

  • KyleOlsen14

    I wonder if the concept is the same as what is used in the Maori tattoos, though they’re less like pointalism, and more tribal in appearance. Buddhist concepts are a great thing to live by whenever possible, and it’s great that you took it seriously and have passed it along to all of us! Enjoy South Africa! It’s my home and absolutely gorgeous!!! (note: you are braver than I to have that done for sure)

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