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

Receiving My Sak Yant Tattoo!

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. ★

Are you worried about needle safety? Check out this Sak Yant Tattoo Tour

More Information

Location: Nakhon Chai Si, Thailand [Map]
Cost: ฿75 THB (about $2.50 USD)
Useful Notes: You’re encouraged to make an additional donation of ฿100 THB placed in the monk’s alms jar. For detailed directions to the Wat, check out my friend Ian’s great post.

READ NEXT: Best Travel Tips After 4 Years Traveling

Have any tattoos? Would you consider a Sak Yant?


Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 4 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions


  1. Chintan
    July 1, 2015

    This looks interesting but also scary, i have one tattoo but i was in pain for a weeks even when it was done with machine. This one needs a guts! Good one :)
    Recent Post: Why Monsoon is the Best Time to Visit Kerala, India?

  2. Sushma
    June 29, 2015

    Great Buddhist experiences along with tattoo art. I prefer to travel South Africa next month. I would be including these events too in my itinerary. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wayne Seto
    June 27, 2015

    I’ve always wanted to get one of these tattoos, but I get a little nervous when it comes to the share pooled of ink. Hats off to you man! I just can’t make that jump a this point. It was a fascinating read. Great post.
    Recent Post: I Am The Walrus: My Jaunt Through The Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, India.

    • Matthew Karsten
      June 27, 2015

      Hey Wayne! Glad you enjoyed it. Risky, yes. But sometimes you just have to say “fuck it”. I’m sure this attitude will catch up with me one day, but it feels damn good to take a few risks now & then.

  4. Maddie
    June 16, 2015

    I absolutely love that tattoo as well as the other photos! It looks like you had a really nice time and I hope to have a similarly great experience upon my trip. You definitely know what it means to be a great traveler and get the mot of your experiences. Awesome post, thanks for sharing!

  5. Mima Isono
    June 4, 2015

    I almost stopped reading after looking at the needle, so scary. Permanent ink, that’s ordinary but snake venom? I can’t imagine. I fast forward to the final result. The tattoo looks nice after done. I wonder if you have been warned what will happen if you break any of the rules?

    With this tattoo you’ll have difficulty to experience public onsen (hot spring) in Japan.

    Mima Isono
    Tokyo Blogger
    Recent Post: An Epic Hike to Tiger Nest Thakshang Monastery Bhutan

  6. Darby of Green Travel Antics
    May 30, 2015

    Well, this is certainly one way of getting a meaningful tattoo! And there’s quite a story behind it… literally hundreds of years of tradition. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get anymore tattoos, but this might be an exception.
    Recent Post: 20 Beautiful Reasons To Visit India

  7. ara
    May 25, 2015

    Chinese chronicles describe yantra tattooing among the Khmer cultures of southwestern China and northwestern Vietnam at least 2,000 years ago. Over the centuries the tradition spread to what is now Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and parts of Myanmar. Today it is most popular in Thailand, whereas in the country of origin, Cambodia, the tradition has almost completely vanished due to the wars killing millions.

    The script used for yantra designs varies according to culture and geography. In Cambodia and central Thailand, pure ancient Khmer script is used, while in northern Thailand one sees yantra tattoos bearing Shan, northern Thai, or Tai Lu scripts, and in Laos the Lao Tham script is employed.[6] The script spells out abbreviated syllables from Pali incantations. Different masters have added to these designs over the centuries through visions received in their meditations. Some yantra designs have been adapted from pre-Buddhist shamanism and the belief in animal spirits that was found in Southeast Asia and incorporated into Thai tradition and culture.

  8. Seraina
    May 23, 2015

    I really enjoyed this blog post! I am about to travel through South-East Asia in a few weeks and I was thinking of getting a tattoo done while travelling. I’m not really sure yet if a Sak Yant tattoo is the right choice for me though… I am hesitant about getting such a spiritual tattoo done, when it’s not my culture at all. I like how you approached this issue though – respecting and sharing the cultural tradition, yet taking all of the rules attached to it with a grain of salt. :)

  9. Anita
    May 18, 2015

    Wow wow wow what an experience! You are pretty brave, especially since your are taking the risk of catching a disease. It is meaningful and beautiful :) the list of the things you can not do after it sucks though!

  10. Marie
    May 15, 2015

    This is an amazing post!

    I am a tattoo passionate and I do believe every tattoos you get should be linked to you, your story. I always talk for months before I get inked, research for symbols and meaning, find the good person to make it… And compose an image that is close to me (my next tattoo -June, hooray- was a 4 years process…).

    What you got is so powerfull. I don’t know if I’d have the courage to do it (especially for the rules – I’d be scared… Do you respect them?*)

    The photo of his workplace is just … wonderful! That you actually did it even though it’s so far from what we’re used to in terms of clean/ antiseptic whatever. Also that you’ve seen the whole process before getting the tattoo, it’s really good for any foreigners that would try to have a tattoo for fun.

    It is beautiful. In every aspects…

    *Pity for the woman sitting :) -ahahaha.
    Recent Post: How I grew up with comics, video games and anime.

  11. JB & Renee
    May 9, 2015

    Very entertaining post! I had a good laugh reading this. I have a tattoo as well but it regrettably belongs to the “drunken challenge in the middle of the night” category. If I could do it all over again, I would get something like this. I love how the monk decides what tattoo to give a person based on their aura. I wonder what mine would look like?
    Recent Post: Spend a Day in Jinhae, Home of South Korea’s Biggest Cherry Blossom Festival!

  12. Serene
    May 5, 2015

    Hi Mathew,

    Can I check with u that is this the invisible transparent tatoo from the temple?

  13. winny
    April 22, 2015

    cool same like temple
    Recent Post: Jalan-Jalan di Objek Wisata Tokyo Seharian

  14. Carl
    April 18, 2015

    Traveling the world is one of the best ways to live.. man i swear

  15. john willis
    April 16, 2015

    This would definetly be the way i would go to get my tattoo… :) imma have to save up!

  16. isaac franklin
    April 12, 2015

    Power is results and that tattoo WITH all the magic is a very very powerfull representation of cultural arts in the world today showing class responsibility in mental substanance.

  17. Anita Hendrieka
    April 11, 2015

    Wow what an amazing experience and a great memory to have with you forever. The tattoo turned out amazing! :)

  18. Maja
    April 10, 2015

    Interesting story and a beautiful meaning behind it! That’s the best souvenir :)
    Recent Post: Falkland Islands – Albatross

  19. Erika Kirsten
    April 9, 2015

    This was a great account of your experience. I have “visit Thailand, receive Sak Yant” on my ultimate goals list after weight loss and better health. It’s definitely my number 1 goal/reward. I’ve been learning about Buddhism for a couple of years and I’ve fallen in love with the beauty and spirituality of it. It has been so important to me and my life, especially after the death of my grandmother. So getting a Sak Yant tattoo would be a very spiritual, meaningful experience. This was a great way to understand the process. Thank you so much! and the photos were wonderful, as well. :)

  20. Christanto JK
    March 27, 2015

    Hi Matthew, thanks for sharing your experience on this website. I more curious about the tattoo effects rather than the design. So do you feel more luckier in life or something? Have you ever experienced immune to attacks? Considering all of the restrictions, it should give some good effects in return. Cheers!

  21. kongphon nitikijphaiboon
    March 22, 2015

    Its no TNT hat you can’t duck under a Banana tree just better to avoid doing so, because according to folklore and superstition, mythology and what not ผีตาณี “thanee” the south east asian equivalent of a succubus or a lady spirits that will tempt you to do all sort of mischievous things things tends to resides with in a banana trees.

    As for clothes line it’s about paying respect to the master(monk) who gave you the tattoo, because a holy man is belongs in high place not ducking under socks pants undies and knickers and what not in Thai society anythingbthat you wear below your stomach is considered low.

    Lastly sames goes for not letting a women lies/sits on top of you and not being brush by her clothes it’s also because of the monk, Buddhist monks/nuns are not meant to have direct contact with the opposite sex, to keep them from being tempted and straying away from the path and so on

    • Matthew Karsten
      March 23, 2015

      Thanks for the clarification Kongphon, that makes more sense.

  22. sid
    March 20, 2015

    Hi! I have a question to all readers who have had their sak yant tattoo.. I am very (100x) interested to get one when I visit Thailand this coming May; I am only in Bangkok for the first 3 days of my two-week trip, and I’m planning to do it on the 3rd day. My concern is that, I will be involved in a lot of physical activities for the rest of my trip (e.g. white water kayaking and jungle trekking in pang mapha, rock climbing in railay beach, etc) and I’m afraid it will have any negative effect to my freshly-done tattoo (I understand the tattoo will take 2-3 weeks to fully heal?)… can anyone of you guys give me clarity on this please.. thank you so much cheers

    • will
      April 1, 2015

      its only 2-7 days to heal . nothing is a problem. just avoid sunshine at that place . so put a sticker on the first week and sure not shower with soap that place. only water .

      soap affect the color .

      best after tatoo u go some farmacy and bye small creme against infection …name : dettol . put 1 or 2 times

      be blessed by your sacred sak yant


  23. Deepika
    March 14, 2015

    Wow. So unusual and never heard of.. Great story!
    Recent Post: Photo Essay: Sunset at the Butterfly Island

  24. Victoria veksland
    March 13, 2015

    Is the temple open and tattooing on Sunday’s?

  25. Afroza Khan
    February 24, 2015

    Wow now I want my first tattoo to be a Sak Yant! Booking my Thailand trip right now!!

  26. Sarah
    February 19, 2015

    Read this post four months ago when I just started my trip through south east Asia and knew right away that this was something I just had to do. Used Ian’s directions and it went perfectly. I arrived at the temple half an hour before they opend so I was one of the first ones to get tattooed. We sat outside this time and the monk (actually while he was smoking) gave me the Gao yord in just five minutes. Having no idea how this looked I was on my way out when a woman wanted to see my new tattoo and then asked me if I wanted another one, the Hah Taew (the five spires). Well, I need all the luck and protection I can get, so of course I wanted another one. She then took me to see Master Luang Pi Nunn who was re powering the magic on some of the locals (Some of them I could recognize from your pictures!). I bought new flowers, cigarettes and incense and then sat down to wait for my turn. He worked with a tattoo machine that day actually, but was still as fast. My five spires was also done after just amazingly five minutes, and it’s beautiful. I didn’t exchange a word with the monks and they didn’t touch my skin. Actually, master Luang used a marker pen to put my head down on the pillow in front of me haha.
    I left the temple feeling so happy about the experience, all thanks to this awesome post!
    Lots of love!
    Sara (Sweden)

    • Matthew Karsten
      February 19, 2015

      Thanks for the update Sarah! Glad to hear it went well. I’m actually in Bangkok right now, and met with Ian earlier tonight. We were talking about our Sak Yants, and the Sak Yant festival that’s happening in March. I need to go and recharge mine…

    • Jub
      March 17, 2015

      Hey Sara,

      Thanks for the trip report, much appreciated.


      Recent Post: An Epic Weekend Trip To Doi Inthanon

  27. daniel
    February 16, 2015

    Your tattoo is beautiful! Seen it on TV before but after reading this I really want one and experience the whole process. Thanks!

  28. Darren C
    February 14, 2015

    I quite often see Thai men with sak yant or similar tattoos covering their whole back, would they do that in 1 sitting ?
    Recent Post: Pattaya Hotel Joiner Policy

    • will
      April 1, 2015

      a normal tattoo will be at the size of 10 x 10 cm not more

      the full back tattoos take days and days .

      its to painfull to do in 1 times.

      and him not have times for that .

      better go back year after year

      be blessed


  29. Alfred Goh
    February 6, 2015

    Visited Wat Bang Phra 31st Jan 2015, followed the direction by Ian’s guide, fortunately only one the way, motor taxi from Big C mall charge me 200baht, reason is far away.
    A better suggestion, catch the 0545 am, mini van, 60-80 baht at Victory Monument (Anusawari in Thai) for Natkhorn Chai sri, ask to drop at Tesco Mall, Natkhorn Cha sri, Natkhorn Pathum.(the driver will announce your location, you will be let off, along the highway, when you get off, Tesco Mall is opposite direction)
    when you get off, walk towards the overhead bridge, cross over, walk to the mall, along the main road and catch a motor taxi 80-100 baht, is only 15 mins to temple.
    After your sacred Tattoo, maybe you would want to walk around the temple ground, which is recommended.
    come out from main gate, cross over, there is a shelter shed, catch motor taxi back to Tesco 100 baht.
    However, you need to tell the rider – pai Tesco, kap lot too pai khrung tap/BKK. (im going to Tesco for taking mini van back to BKK)
    He will drop you at the Tesco parking lot near the main road or highway, and there is a shelter bus stop.
    walk into it, and to the table and mention, ‘ pai BKK, Anuwasari’, (going to BKK, Victory Monument).only 60 baht, make sure you keep the pink slip, just in case.
    Everyone will have to get off at the final destination.

    • fran
      March 13, 2015

      Better if you just speak English, you can’t say what it comes out if you read that “pai ni pai nan khrap” stuff and expect to be understood by any Thai. You need tones and length of vowels to speak Thai. Keep it to basic, clear, slow English language. Easier and more nice actually. They all speak the English they need to get their job done with tourists, and they are usually happy to show that they can speak English, instead of trying to understand what the hell you are blabbering and in what weird language :)

  30. Steven
    February 2, 2015

    That description of the meaning of the tattoo cracked me up.

    Really great writing, glad i stumbled on your site.

  31. Uptourist
    February 2, 2015

    You’re really a brave soul. Getting a tattoo in a far off place and even using snake venom ink. oh my!
    Recent Post: 22 “Must Do Activities in Bangkok, Thailand

  32. Makayla
    January 28, 2015

    Thanks a lot Jessica! That helped a lot!

  33. Jaeron
    January 28, 2015

    Hi! I just got a 9 Gao Yord tattoo today. I would like to ask how did you know or get the dos and donts? Was not able to ask Master Luang Pi Nunn since I don’t speak Thai language. Hope you can share it with me. Thanks!

  34. Jessica
    January 28, 2015

    Hi makayla,

    I went to wat bang phra about 3 weeks ago. I was not able to be tattooed the traditional way by 1 of the monks (the most popular monk there) because I’m a woman and he could not touch me. There was another popular monk there with a tattoo gun that could tattoo me but I wanted the traditional Sak yant. The donation is 75baht for either of the popular well known monks. There are many other monks giving the traditional Sak yant tattoos for the same price at wat bang phra, but not as popular or well known as the ones I mentioned before. You can give, and are encouraged to donate more, but that’s up to you. im not sure if the monks change per day that are tattooing, I’m just sharing with you my experience. I was able to choose my tattoo and the place, but again these things may vary with the monk you choose. It’s an amazing and spiritual experience and not something that is just art on your skin. I hope that helps, good luck.

  35. Makayla
    January 27, 2015

    I am planning on going to Wat Bang Phra a in a couple days for a sak yant but I am still a little confused on a something. I have read that the monk choses the tattoo and where it goes on your body, but I have read some more recent comments on here that you actually choose what is it and where it goes, and that you actually have to pay for your tattoo. Has anyone been to wat bang phra recently?

    • Matthew Karsten
      January 27, 2015

      You can choose a tattoo, but you don’t have to. Each tattoo goes in a certain place though, so if you choose one, you can’t choose its location. At least not with the monks. At a tattoo studio you can get anything you want. I’m not sure if payment has increased, but you do have to pay for it with a “donation” to the Wat.

  36. Teaching in Thailand
    January 23, 2015

    Last Saturday I went with my friends to a temple in TakI got my first sak yant (even my first tattoo). First thing was to get the blessing from the abbot to get a sak yant. The abbot then directed me and my friends to another building where we would get our tattoos. The tattooing itself would be performed by a student (he used to be tattoo artist in Pattaya) of the abbot. We were handed a bunch of papers with different designs to chose from, I wanted one design and go a straight “NO”, and he told me that for a tattoo like that the offering should be at least a pig head, a chicken, fruits and whiskey and that only an abbot/master could make a tattoo like that. So instead I ended up with a Bpaaet Thit on my left sholder and a Mahaniyohm on my right shoulder (approved by the abbot). After we were all finished we went back to the abbot and he blessed the tattoos. For that I payed a staggering 900 Baht (500+400 Baht) and my friends who did Haa Thaaew payed 300 Baht.
    For the tattooing area I must say that it looked like night and day compared with your photos, everything clean, one person one needle (he had a rack with rods/needles and sterilized them by boiling between use), flame and alcohol for disinfection before start tattooing and so on.
    I wish that I could have comment with photos to show the tattoo area and my sak yants.

  37. kavi
    January 16, 2015

    Hello Matthew,
    Great article and very exciting read.
    I have a couple of questions if you don’t mind answering!

    1) how many monks tattoo a day?
    2) what time do the monks start tattooing? I am going tmw and would like to be one of the first people for the day.

    Thanks in advance and will continue to follow your blogs! Keep up the awesome travel!


  38. Jessica
    January 15, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this amazing story of your Sak yant, I too just recieved my first tattoo from wat bang phra. I recieved the paed tidt yant which is for protection in all directions. I waited 2 hrs only to find out the monk would not tattoo a woman, disappointed as I was about to leave I was lead to another monk in another one of the rooms at the wat, where he agreed to give me my yant. It was the best experience I’ve ever had. And will be going back the next time I’m in Thailand. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Matthew Karsten
      January 15, 2015

      Glad to hear you got one Jessica! It’s a special experience for sure.

  39. Buriram Paul
    January 9, 2015

    This is a very good accounting of getting a real sak yant. To add just a little to the custom aspect: Phra Ajarn (Monk Teacher) Luang Pi Nunn is also my teacher and as such he has become my life-long monk. As he has given to me I am expected to support him as my teacher. Monks do not have a retirement plan and look to their students in old age. If you make it back to Thailand, then it is nice to return to Wat Bang Phra even if you don’t need another sak yant to “recharge your magic” and support your teacher. BTW: The 100 Baht donation is generally a Thai economic level of donation and Westerners generally are a little better off. Giving is a matter of the heart. Remember: If we give little, then we get little.

    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2015

      I’d love to return one day and meet with Luang Pi Nunn again for a recharge of the Sak Yant magic. Hopefully this year actually.

  40. Nina - Where in the World is Nina
    January 5, 2015

    This is awesome! Been living in Thailand for years now and was thinking of getting one… I’ve got a tat while here, but one from a monk would be awesome! :)

  41. Gabriel
    December 31, 2014

    That’s so awesome. Getting a tattoo has been on my list of things to do for a while now but I also wanted it to mean something. Not only that but I want to go through a lot of work to get it as well like climbing a mountain to the monk who sits atop and can tattoo me, or through a forest, desert, etc. Just something that will give the tattoo more of a story, meaning and worth to myself.

  42. Gao
    December 30, 2014

    Do you know if the place will be opened on the weekend? I’m planning to go there and get a tattoo during the water festival. Now is it better to get it before or after the water festival?

  43. Rob
    December 19, 2014

    @Emma & Sarah

    Do you also get to choose the size and placement?

  44. Natalie Pukasemvarangkoon
    December 18, 2014

    Hi Matt, Im Thai, born and raised in Bangkok but have been living in Los Angeles the last 5ish years- so i grew up aware about these sacred tattoos. My biggest hesitation has always been the rules that come with it and have heard several ‘horror’ stories about those who have broken those rules. Of course, depending on the tattoo, each one comes with different set of rules such a no drinking, no sleeping on your back (so only on your side?) for a certain amount of time, and so on. Have you continued to stick by the rules set for your tattoo? Have u broken any of them and if so, have you experienced anything from it? E.g rash, illness etc. Because your rule about how a female can’t lie on top of u or sit on top seems incredibly restrictive lol

    • Matthew Karsten
      December 18, 2014

      Hi Natalie! Yes I’ve broken some of the rules. Nothing bad has happened yet, in fact my luck seems to be getting better. But next time I’m in Thailand I plan to “renew” the magic.

      • Maureen
        March 29, 2015

        Matthew, I absolutely enjoyed reading your story. I love tattoos, but when I saw Luang Pi Nunn’s working area….oohh hell no lol. I have OCD and work in the health field, I would have a heart attack. I’m Cambodian living in Virginia almost all my life, born in the refugee camp in Thai during the 80’s. I enjoy learning and hearing anything about my culture (Thai/Cambodian). I will never be brave like you to get the tattoo, unless I bring my own needle, towel, ink, and a strong disinfectant spray :). Your comments on the rules had me laughing so hard lol. Did you break rule #10??

    • Kate Orcutt
      January 2, 2015

      My thoughts were the same on the whole “rules” thing. Of course, this is completely dependent on what you believe… silly superstition or integrity breaker?? I personally wouldn’t be able to go through a whole ceremony and commit to those rules… unless the monks you know, winked while they were saying them. Haha!!

      MATTHEW!! Thank you!!! Your story, among other courageous tales, were the encouragement I needed to quit my cush, corporate job and start traveling full time. IT’S BEEN TWO MONTHS & IT’S FRICKIN’ FANTASTIC. I’m headed to South America from Feb-April, and as of tomorrow i’m making my way down the US from NY to FL. Anyway, someday i’d love to meet-up with you!

      I’m glad you got your Macbook Pro back. What a story!! I’m also a traveling animator/videographer so i’ll be bringing my pride and joy MBP 15″… The fear of losing/destroying/theft is looming. My dad just plopped a package of zip ties in my lap and now i’m looking into travel insurance… Is there a company you like best? I’ll search through your blogs for an answer if there isn’t one…


      • Matthew Karsten
        January 2, 2015

        Hi Kate! So glad to hear I helped inspire your adventure. Have fun in South America.

        I actually wrote a post about travel insurance here. Definitely get some.

  45. Tom Vaksvik
    December 16, 2014

    Thailand is a very beautiful country and also very famous for their tattoo art. I like the various designed tattoos and the process of making the tattoos. The blog is very informative and interesting.

  46. Rana Singh
    December 15, 2014

    Amazing Tattoo. Loved your photography skills too.

  47. Olesya
    December 7, 2014

    Matthew, I heard that monk aren’t do yant to a first Ill plan to visit Adjan Kob in Autaya (can wrong with spell), but today I saw your post and was interesting..saw comment from a girl, which did Sak I’ll go to Wat Bang Phra will monk do a Yant for me? Thank you in advance for reply..)

    • Matthew Karsten
      December 8, 2014

      Yes, they will tattoo women. I watched it myself. They use gloves or a cloth to prevent touching female skin.

  48. Kevin K
    December 5, 2014

    I went to Wat Bang Phra today and got my Tattoo. When I was there there was no price for a tattoo just a 75bath for a offering & 2X 100 bath donation.
    The photos and the article are spot on, but I would definitely recommend that you get there very early I got there at 8am and there was 10-15 people ahead of me. within the next 20 mins the room was full. The waiting was part of the experence observing Master Luang Pi Nunn work is amazing. I was the only Farang the but was treated with nothing but respect. If you do go this is something not to take lightly, you should show great respect to the Monks & the temple. This is something I have wanted & to experence for many years. I will be back for many more.

  49. dan
    December 3, 2014

    That is an amazing tattoo

  50. Emma & Sarah
    December 1, 2014

    Hey-ya fellow sak yant lovers!

    Today Emma and I received our first sak yant tattoos from the monks (typically 5 monks tattoo daily) mentioned in this fantastic blog. While the experiences, meaning and adventure was once in a life time, a heads up for future fellow-go’ers the temple NOW CHARGES for the tattoos. I received a Bpaaet Thit (แปดทิศ translation: eight points) at 4,000 Baht while Emma received her Haa Thaaew (ห้าแถว translation: five rows) at 2,500 baht and this is extra to the 75 Baht you pay for offerings. This seemed to be a very new thing as during my time being tattooed several ‘helpers’ with tattoo books kept interrupting to ask for prices of each tattoo (even during the blessing at the end of my tattoo experience). The tattoos have a rough range of prices that start at 2,000 to 7,000 or more Baht, BRING EXTRA MONEY as there are no banks or currency exchanges close to the temple except for a local ATM at a 7-11.

    Also what is new at the temple is you MUST choose your tattoo BEFORE you face the monk, he will no longer ‘choose’ for you but rather advise you on your choice and placement. AND BEWARE, there are TWO floors where the monks tattoo. The first floor WILL USE a tattoo machine, so if you have your heart set on a traditional sak yant tattoo, look for the stair case located at the back of the room (ref. 2nd photo Matthew posted)

    Our experience was a fantastic one and very unique story to tell our future generations. We both cannot wait to travel back to Thailand for a second round of these spiritual and stunning pieces of life.

    • Matthew Karsten
      December 1, 2014

      Oh wow! I’d heard from a few others that things were changing over there. Thanks for the update.

    • Kevin K
      December 5, 2014

      I didnt have to pay extra only a donation & offering. All the monks that were Tattooing today were using machines. Also Master Luang Pi Nunn chose for me. All the visitors there today some with there whole body covered readily accepted there tattoos with a machine. I didnt see 1 done the traditional way except for young lady who got an invisible tattoo with oil.

  51. Gemma Two Scots Abroad
    November 23, 2014

    Well this is far more impressive than tweety pie on your belly drilled in by a drunk in Magaluf at the age of 17 for your first tattoo (this did not happen to me, I was more of an early 2000s Chinese symbols kind of girl – it ‘does’ translate to angel…)

    Welcome to the tattoo club, brace yourself – it’s addictive.

  52. Rose
    November 20, 2014

    Um, i hope you don’t break any of those rules for the tattoo. Obviously you did not do enough research to know that the spirits will punish you if you break any of them. These tattoos are quite dangerous to get unless you stay faithful and take it seriously.

  53. Brentlee Ryan
    November 18, 2014

    I LOVE THIS!!! I want to do this someday as well!! This is so cool, I don’t even know what to say! On the bucket list for sure!

  54. That Dude Kurt
    November 16, 2014

    Hey, very cool story. I am currently living in Chiang Mai Thailand and am very interested in getting one of these tattoos and have a few questions. Though Bangkok is just a short trip away I was wondering if anyone could recommend a place up here in the north. I also have a lot of other tattoos and would hate for the monk to choose the 9 spires on the nape and after pulling my shirt off seeing a giant back piece. Though none of my tattoos are disrespectful at all they are not sak yaht tattoos.

    • Steve
      April 23, 2015

      Mate, I was recommended two places, Wat Makieng in Doi Saket, and Ajarn Pi, he’s on Facebook… I have yet to go to either yet, but I understand the Ajarn at the Wat speaks excellent English and was trained by the Yant Master at Wat Bang Phra.. I recieved several of my Yants there and a couple from Arjans around Thailand
      Good luck

  55. Kieren
    November 13, 2014

    Hi Matt.
    I recently just received my sak yant in wat bang phra from the same master, so i guess we’re brothers in a way lol. However I’d just like to poi t out you only get a say in what you have or where you have it if it’s not your first yant. For your first one the monk choses. It is almost always the 9 spires on your nape, i tried asking for a different part of my body as i was severely sunburnt but the monk just told me to turn around. For some reason though he used a tattoo machine with mine, not a needle, so i presume he’s widening his skills? One other thing do you kniw much about the chances of catching an infection? There were only 2 guys before me and only one with the same needle, both looked pretty healthy to me but im still really worried about contracting something incurable.Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated. Cheers bud.

  56. nikita shaw
    October 23, 2014

    where would i be able to get one of my own needles?? i am thinking of getting one with my partner next month when we visit but i don’t want to risk using a needle that someone else has used

    • Calvinn Tham
      October 29, 2014

      Hi everyone. I just had my tattoo done by Ajarn Rong Pee Noi Wat Nok 2431 somewhere at Thonburi (40mins taxi to there). I got a Yant Phutson is regarded as Maha Yant (highest level of Yants). It is believed to support wearers to be loved, promoted, lucky and charming.
      Ajarn do it for you from 11am to 7pm. I was recommended by my Thai Friend.
      No long que just you and Ajarn.
      PS: Respect the temple and Ajarn. Thank you.

  57. Alexander
    October 21, 2014

    Hye mathew, I wonder what gonna happen if unintentionally break the rules?

  58. Sarah
    October 21, 2014

    I recently traveled to Thailand (Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Pattaya). My last day in Bangkok I woke up at 530am and left the hotel at 6am to make the ~60 minute ride to the temple at Wat Bang Prha. When I arrived at about 710am I purchased the offerings (as listed above), removed my shoes, and headed inside where I expected to spend most of the day. According to my driver (who had several sak yant tattoos) the Masters and Monks don’t start until about 8. Since we arrived so early there were only two men waiting (they ended up holding the skin for the next several people- including myself). I presented the Master with the offerings and waited until the first two men were done- both men received more than one tattoo that morning, quite impressive!! The pain is tolerable but much different than a regular tattoo (I have 8 prior tattoos and thought the pain can’t be too bad lol). But as described in this article, the first poke felt like a bee sting, immediately followed by another and another and another. Your muscles tense up uncontrollably and you sweat more than you’d think possible! From start to finish it took about 15 minutes and then I, along with the 9 spires on the center of my back, was off to another room where I was blessed by a Monk. Both experiences were absolutely breath taking- but the tattoo aside, being in this temple and receiving such an amazing gift is an experience that cannot be replicated.

  59. Lauren Hughes
    October 20, 2014

    If I ever got a tattoo, this is the kind that I would have. However, I am not sure that I would be cool with the risk that comes along with this type of tattoo…

  60. Jai Dee
    October 5, 2014

    Hello this is a special thing for my people in Thailand. I respect farang who wish to get one and have no problem with it. I am just curious as to why if not part of your culture or religion you wish to have this tattoo.

    • Kevin
      October 24, 2014

      I’m sure there are many different reasons why people want Sak Yant; I think it breaks down to two main reasons.

      1. One of us farang went to a foreign country and wanted to have something cool and exciting to take home with us. As Thai culture differs greatly from American culture, the Sak Yant look ‘cool’ and ‘exotic’, and provide an opportunity to brag about their life experiences. I personally feel like these are the wrong reasons to get any tattoo (especially Sak Yant), but to each their own.

      2. Someone has been exposed to Thai culture, and appreciate it. They respect it, and recognize Sak Yant as a method to integrate it into their life. They consider it an internal spiritual experience.

      Obviously there are other reasons, but I think most can be categorized into one of these two.

  61. Jazza - NOMADasaurus
    September 30, 2014

    Hey Matt, how did you manage to get these photos? When I got my Sak Yant done in March there were big signs everywhere saying no photos. Rather than run the risk I just kept my camera in my pocket. Would have loved to have taken some snapshots though. Great experience eh!

  62. Craig
    September 25, 2014

    Very cool tattoo (and a great story to boot!) If I ever get a tattoo, I’d want an epic story like this to go with it

    • Matthew Karsten
      September 28, 2014

      The story behind it was my favorite part of the whole experience.

  63. Benjamin
    September 24, 2014

    I’m in Bangkok right now and thinking about following in your footsteps! I have a couple of questions I’m not sure you can answer for me!

    1. Can I choose the placement of the tattoo?
    2. Will having previous non religious tattoos increase my odds of being rejected?

    • Matthew Karsten
      September 28, 2014

      Each Sak Yant goes in a particular spot, so I’m not sure if the monks will let you choose a different spot. However you can probably place it anywhere you want if you go to a normal Thai tattoo artist. As for previous tattoos, I don’t think that will be an issue.

  64. Sigurdur Bjorgvinsson
    September 23, 2014

    What a great place to get your first tattoo, If I am ever getting a tattoo it will be something unique and special similar to what you just did. I admire your strength to go trough with this even though the work space was not the cleanest and you might have caught some disease from the needle.

    A great post with a great story, and great tattoo.

  65. Hrvoje
    September 16, 2014

    Remember to take your own needle next time :-)

  66. Gunna
    September 12, 2014

    Hi i was just wondering,long ago i uad a monk from thailand came down to malaysia and did a prayers tattoo on me,its been many years now and its fadding off,am i allowed to do a cover up tattoo on it or is it a bad sign? Tq

  67. Lily Lau
    September 12, 2014

    This vagabond Matthew knows how to take the best of every place he visits :) Thank you for your inspiring posts, I definitely need to travel more, and better if it’s like a vagabond!

  68. Hadrien
    September 7, 2014

    Hi! do you know a Monk or a ajarn sak yant, able to make me a lucky tattoo next to phuket? it’s the end of my trip and I can’t go to bangkok or koh samui.

    thank’s you

  69. diane
    September 5, 2014

    i have a tattoo that i need translating please as my husband has one done recently and it needs a bit more explaining as he forgot a little of it. would you do this for me if i send you the picture

  70. KyleOlsen14
    August 17, 2014

    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)

    • Matthew Karsten
      September 4, 2014

      You need to take it seriously, otherwise the monk will refuse to work on you. I’m not a practicing Buddhist, but I do relate with many of their philosophies.

      South Africa is wonderful Kyle, beautiful country you have here.

  71. John Dow
    August 16, 2014

    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?

  72. Alexandra
    August 11, 2014

    Hello there. Can anyone please tell me what this Sak Yant is and what it means?

  73. panzerthecat .
    July 26, 2014

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

  74. Epic Gap Year
    July 18, 2014

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


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