It hurts! Get a Sak Yant blessed tattoo is not for everyone! However, every drop of sweat, every deep breath I took, and the pain I felt were worth. A Sak Yant bamboo tattoo is not about beauty or fashion. It´s a blessed Buddhist tattoo, with magical powers and commitments, a unique spiritual experience we had in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I was the first one to do it. I knew that if I watched Rob being tattooed I might give up on doing mine. With all respect I sat in front of the monk and pointed where I would like the tattoo. I was shaking, like a feather in a windstorm. Until that moment I didn’t know the design of my Sak Yant blessed tattoo. My heart trusted Ajarn Rung, and what he had choosen for me, but my body was shaking, a mix of anxiety and fear.
Rob hold my hand, I closed my eyes, the silence filled the place. Suddenly I heard a few whispers, a soft hand touching my back and an even softer voice asking if I was ready. That was the moment the needle ripped my skin. That was the moment the magic begun! I could feel every punch, the ink penetrating deep in my skin. I felt pain!! But in less than a minute I stopped shaking, I was breathing normally, and all the anxiety and fear were gone. It felt warm, happy… I felt blessed!!!
It took 15 minutes to finish my Sak Yant blessed tattoo. In my back, under my right shoulder, I have a “Mongkut Kaew”, that can be roughly translated into “Crystal Crown”. Ajarn Rung [the monk who does the Sak Yant tattoo] choose this design based on our talk, on what I want to protect in my life, and on what he perceived from my aura and energy. It´s a personalized drawing, a modified version of a pre-existing tattoo. From now on I’m blessed with good health and love in my relationship. And I truly believe on this!
After watching me doing the Sak Yant blessed tattoo it was Rob’s turn. He also choose to do the tattoo on his upper back. Here is his thoughts, what he felt and how especial was the moment:
“We tried to schedule our Sak Yant blessed tattoo a couple of times and always something comes up and we have to postpone the tattoo. Then as faith the day we got the Sak Yant was the day we celebrated 10 years together, it was meant to be. I didn’t sleep well on the night before, way too anxious. On the way to the Sannak, the anxiety just increased. There I saw one draw that caught my attention and the meaning was perfect to me: protection for travels, wisdom and good wealth. I talked to the monk and my anxiety was gone. I found that the pain was ok, better than the machine tattoo. As soon the monk finished the tattoo & blessed me, I felt something strange. I want to stay quiet, kind of contemplating that powerful moment. It lasted about 3 days. It was a strange but good feeling. Will I do a Sak Yant blessed tattoo again? Absolutely!”
The pain, the blessing and the tattoo were the result of long story, researches and meeting the right people. We have done many tattoos before [we both have 6 tattoos] and we were craving for a new one. During almost two years travelling the world, every country we visited we looked for a studio to do a new tattoo. But it never happened, till last November when we met Ian and had the guts to jump in a spiritual experience. Before get inked, we asked him many questions and collected as much information as possible. To be sure and ready for it. Here is everything you must know before receiving a magical Sak Yant:
So, How to get a Sak Yant Blessed Tattoo in Thailand?
Our Sak Yant bamboo tattoo was very meaningful, a unique experience for us. That’s because we did it with people who understand the culture and respect the traditions. A simple bamboo tattoo can be done in many studios across the country, but the blessed Sak Yant tattoo is done by few monks, and for foreigners is hard to find the right place.
That´s why we decided to do the Sak Yant tattoo with the help of Ian and Alex from Where Sidewalks End. They guided us into the Lanna Ink Experience, into the world of blessing tattoos, northern Thailand culture and spiritual experiences. Couldn’t ask for better guides. If you are like us, conscious about safety issues, responsible tourism and really want to connect with local culture, do your Sank Yant tattoo with them. We strongly recommend those guys, doing a tattoo is a big decision, it will stay forever on your skin. So better be a blessed one, not a curse that you will regret for life.
Where to do a Sak Yant Tattoo in Thailand?
You can get a Sak Yant tattoo in many places around Thailand. We did our Sak Yant in Chiang Mai, the heart of Lanna culture, the perfect place to do learn about the story and superstitions behind the tattoos. To find the right place and the best Ajarn [the monk who does the tattoo] you need to know the right person, someone that can guide you, that can explain the meanings, and the most important thing: will help you to understand and respect this ancient culture.
If Chiang Mai is not on your travel plans [what is a shame, the city is amazing and has so many interesting things to do and see] you still can get you blessed bamboo tattoo in the Thai capital. The team of Where Sidewalks End have the Sak Yant Experience in Bangkok too.
Most of the tattoos are done inside the temple. Here in Chiang Mai it was inside a Sannak, a different kind of temple used more for tattoo, blessings, spiritual treatments and cure. The Sannak we went is outside the city, a few minutes driving from Chiang Mai old town. It´s a very simple place, full of Buddha images, some offers and peace. Surrounded by trees, chickens and birds, the place is completely different from any tattoo studio we have ever been. There are no chairs or sterile materials, but truly welcoming and magical vibe.
Is Sak Yant safe? Is it safe to do a blessed bamboo tattoo?
This is the first question people ask us, specially the ones that have never done a tattoo or have never been in Thailand. The answer is NO!! Do a tattoo is not safe in general, doesn’t matter if you are doing a traditional machine tattoo, if it will be a bamboo tattoo or even the blessed tattoo. Said that, let’s explain the facts. Any kind of tattoo involves needles, blood, inks, flesh and trustworthiness on who is doing it.
Find the right place and right person to do the tattoo is the key. As the Sak Yant tattoo is done inside temples, don´t expected the cleanest and sterile place. That´s why is so important to know where to do, and trust the Ajarn who is doing it, he is the one responsible to keep the needles clean, to do the natural ink and to bless you. Remember, Sak Yant tattoo is not about beauty or perfect designs, it´s a cultural and spiritual experience. You must understand that before having the bamboo inking your skin.
Who can do the Sak Yant Tattoo? Can women get the blessed tattoo?
Yes, Yes, Yes… Any person can receive the blessed tattoo, even woman can do the Sak Yant tattoo, no problem. The Buddhist rules say that a monk can’t touch a woman [and the girls should not touch a monk either], so the number of Ajarns willing to do the Sak Yant on women is small. Another thing, most of the monks will not allow taking photos while tattooing a woman, that`s why we have no photos of me receiving the tattoo.
Another important thing to remember, for Thai people the Sak Yant tattoo is very powerful and has meanings beyond our “western” understanding. Many people decided to do the tattoos as a cure for health problems, or as a way to protect the family, to bring luck… So when doing the Sak Yant you must act with respect. Respect to the place, respect to the monk and to the other people that are in the temple seeking protection and blessing. It´s not a tourist attraction, neither a souvenir.
How to choose the perfect Sak Yant tattoo design?
What are the meanings of a Sak Yant blessed tattoo?
For me this is the most important and meaningful part of the whole Lanna Ink Experience. You don´t choose the blessed tattoo, the Sak Yant chooses you! At the Sannak our guide handed us some books filled with ancient drawings, many Sak Yant designs that dates back several generations. To be honest, some of them were quite bizarre while others are so beautiful that hypnotize you.
The Ajarn doesn’t speak much English so we had a local guide to translate the conversation. I looked into the books and found a drawing that I liked. So I asked what it was for, what type of blessing it would bring to my life. The answer was: to avoid hate! The Sak Yant design was pretty but didn’t match with my need. So I decided to open my heart to the monk, and let him decided what my Sak Yant design should be.
There are two things that I care the most in my life: my relationship with Rob and my health. My mum passed away in 2012, after 9 years fighting against breast cancer. I also lost an aunt because of the disease, so I know I have to look after myself and pray. I told all this to the Ajarn, he thought for a moment, and after a few minutes he told me he knew what my Sak Yant drawing should be. And I trusted him!
Rob was different, he looked into the books, found one he liked, and the meaning was exactly what he was looking for. That´s why it is such a unique and spiritual experience. Your moment choosing your Sak Yant design might be completely different from ours, more intense or more relaxed… But for sure it will be magical! Don’t worry, and trust the monk, Buddha know what is better for you.
Does the Sak Yant bamboo tattoo hurt?
The Sak Yant is more painful than the machine one?
Yes, it hurts!! For some people it’s freaking painful, for me and Rob it wasn’t that much. I would say that it`s a different pain if compared to the machine tattoo. It´s a punctual pain, you feel the needle going inside your skin, like a sequence of stabs. But it´s fast, precise and no blood. For me it was less painful than the traditional tattoo I did on my back/ribs.
Sak Yant Blessed Tattoo Rules!
You have been blessed with a Sak Yant tattoo, now you have powers and also responsibilities. Different from the art tattoo or bamboo tattoo, after a Sak Yant you have to commit yourself to some values. All the rules are linked with Buddhism beliefs, and the most important ones are:
» Not harm any living (or non-living) thing
» Show respect to your parents and elders
» Be a contributing member of society and never do anything that harms it
» You are not supposed to have any sexual relationship when a woman is menstruating [that’s odd]
What happens if you don’t follow the rules?
People believe that if you break the Sak Yant rule you might get possessed by the tattoo [by the meaning of it, or the animal, or character that the tattoo represents]. Although, our guide and the Ajarn told us that part of it is just psychological reaction. What most people agree is that if your break the first three rules you lose the power of your tattoo. All the blessing and magic will disappear.
» Some practical stuff about Chiang Mai & Sak Yant Tattoo
» Chiang Mai is one of the biggest cities in Thailand, and it’s famous for the nature and Buddhist Temples [there are over 300 temples in the city]. All the details about what to do, where to stay in Chiang Mai, best hotels, how to get there and weather information you can find on the post Unique Things to do in Chiang Mai!
» Are you a blogger or a full-time traveller? We have you covered! We wrote an article talking about the how Chiang Mai became the official address for digital nomads. Why Chiang Mai is the place to be, and why the digital entrepreneurs and expats love it.
» Still have some doubts about how to do a Sak Yant, all the rules and the safety issues. Don´t think twice, leave your questions on the comments, or go to the Where the Sidewalk Ends website, with them you will be safe and sound!
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