Blessed By A Monk: How I Got My Magic Sak Yant Tattoo

Wat Bang Phra Thailand

Nakhon Chai Si, Thailand

Over 40 people watched in total 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 piercing their skin.

Traveling around Southeast Asia while living out of my backpack, I learned about these tatoos from some fellow travelers and thought it sounded like a cool experience.

Wat Bang Phra Thailand

My Very First Tattoo

I’ve never had a tattoo before. Long ago I decided that 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 sak yant tattoos given out by Buddhist monks in Thailand, 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 the 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?

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Donations Sak Yant Thailand

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, inspiring them to travel long distances.

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 the back.

Luang Pi Nunn Thailand

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 the 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
 

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 arr forived 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

Sak Yant Tattoo Safety

The safety of Sak Yant is debatable. 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
 

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

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

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

Sak Yant Tattoo Thailand

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 eventually one day anyway.

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

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

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

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

I’m very happy with my Sak Yant, it was a wild experience I’ll never forget. Especially with this permanent souvenir on my back!

Sak Yant Tattoo Details

The monestary is located at Nakhon Chai Si, Thailand.

My sak yant tattoo only cost ฿75 THB (about $2.50 USD), however after a few years it turned into a backpacker Disney Land and they are now charging MUCH more. I’ve heard from others that it has completely lost its authenticity.

There are now safer ways to get your own Thai tattoo, just read Ryan’s sak yant story here for an example.

Also, the monastery I visited holds an annual tattoo festival called the Sak Yant Wai Kru, which is quite an experience! ★

Travel Planning Resources for Thailand

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Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

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Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: Thai Magic Tattoos: The Art Of Sak Yant

Have any questions about sak yant tattoos? Would you ever consider getting one? Drop me a message in the comments below!

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my journey.
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401 thoughts on “Blessed By A Monk: How I Got My Magic Sak Yant Tattoo”

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    • 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

    • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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…

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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?

    • 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. 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!

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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)

    • 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.

  19. 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?

  20. 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 ?

    • 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.

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

  22. 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

    • 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.

      • 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 ??

  23. 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.

    • 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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??!!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?

  29. 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”

  30. 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

    • 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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?

    • 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.

  33. 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?

    • 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? :-)

  34. 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.

  35. 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…

    • 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!

      • 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.

  36. 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?

    • 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. :-)

      • 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.

  37. 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.

    • 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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?

  40. “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!

  41. 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 :)

  42. 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

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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!

    Tom

    • 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!)

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

        Thanks!

        • 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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. :-)

  48. 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.

  49. 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!

  50. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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,
      G

    • 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. :)

  51. 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).

    • 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.

    • 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.’

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

  52. 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.

  53. 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 “.

  54. 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!

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

    Very entertaining post :)

  56. 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!

  57. 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!

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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?!

  61. 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?

  62. 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 ;)

  63. 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!

    • 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.

  64. 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.

  65. “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 ;-)
    Delphine

  66. 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!

    • 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.

  67. 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.

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

  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. 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:)

    • 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.

  71. 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!

  72. 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.