I feel the sharp point of the massive needle piercing the flesh of my spine and my whole body tenses and I begin to sweat. Over and over this needle attached to a bamboo chute stabs into my skin as I hunch over two pillows wondering how long this pain will last. Am I being tortured you ask? No, I am actually getting my first bamboo Buddhist tattoo in Thailand by a Buddhist Monk. Crazy!
Why a Sak Yant Buddhist tattoo?
A bamboo tattoo in Thailand is called a Sak Yant. They are said to have magical powers as I will explain later. First let’s start at the beginning. I have always been a fan of tattoos in general. In fact I had 5 tattoos before ever reaching Thailand.
After researching Thailand a bit before arrival I had heard of these so called bamboo tattoos performed by a Buddhist monk called an Ajarn. I knew as a seeker of unique experiences and lover of tattoos I just had to do it. Just didn’t know anything about getting one.
How I received a bamboo Buddhist tattoo?
Luckily the universe aligned itself to my need and a fellow traveler name Ian from Where Sidewalks End had the knowledge and resources I needed to fulfill my goal of getting a Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand. Didn’t just want to go to a tattoo parlor.
I wanted a bona fide bamboo Buddhist tattoo from a Buddhist monk. Now that is a mouthful. Found out Ian is part of a company that runs a program that bridges the gap between travelers and the monks that provide this service.
Now I would not recommend just heading out to Thailand and randomly finding someone to give you a bamboo tattoo. Remember this is a permanent artwork on your skin and being in another country it is always a good idea to do loads of research and best to have a middleman to make the process go smoothly and safely.
One of the main reasons I wanted to utilize Ian and Where Sidewalks End was that I was not just looking for a bamboo tattoo. I was looking for an experience to go with my Buddhist tattoo.
So after coordinating a date with Ian to get this done in Chiang Mai, the day finally arrived. Sarah and I would be getting bamboo tattoos and word on the street was they are more painful but quicker than a regular gun tattoo. Alex, who is Ian’s business partner and director of Where Sidewalks End Travel Department lead our Sak Yant experience that day.
Sak Yant history
Now Alex is a wealth of knowledge. He is actually an anthropologist and has done extensive research on Sak Yants and Buddhist tattoos in general, so having him with us was beneficial. He told us that historically Sak Yants are said to be magic and bestow mystical powers, protection and good luck.
The Buddist monks who provide these bamboo Buddhist tattoos are said to be similar to medicine men or spiritual doctors. People come to them when they need good luck, are ill or need some sort of protection, especially for travel. It is also very popular with Muay Thai fighters
Temple away from the temple
After a great history lesson and learning the formalities of getting a Sak Yant Buddhist tattoo we arrive to our destination. We are not at some grand Buddhist temple made of gold. We are pulling up to a quaint Thai property tucked away in the jungle. A barking dog and a old Thai lady greets us and through Alex our translator, tells us to remove our shoes and leads us into a makeshift shrine of sorts where we see multiple religious statues, offerings and a raised seating area where the monk does his ancient work.
After a few moments of taking pictures and exploring the area we see a pickup truck arriving to the property. It is the monk. He has been transported from the temple where he lives to this place where he provides this magical and ancient discipline.
As he enters the makeshift temple I keep in mind the formalities Alex has told us. Never be higher than the monk while sitting or standing. Never points your toes toward the Buddha. Approach the monk on your knees and back away in reverse the same way.
The pain is coming
We spoke with the monk through Alex for a while. We discussed the various types of Sak Yants and what kind of magic each one gave to the bearer. Traditionally, the monk would choose your Sak Yant for you based on your aura and your needs.
These were going to be on our bodies forever so we wanted the best of both worlds. We wanted a tattoo that had meaning and magic that was inline with our lifestyle and beliefs but also a tattoo we like the look of and in a place we didn’t mind getting tattooed.
Sarah went first and after watching her, knowing she had a higher pain tolerance than me, I was a little worried at how I would handle the pain. You can read her experience here. Now I have been in the Army, I’ve been in Law Enforcement and I have done Obstacle Races, but for some reason I find tattoos pretty painful. Call me crazy!
I had decided to get a Northern Thai version of the Paed Tidt Sak Yant. This particular Buddhist tattoo protects the bearer while traveling in 8 directions of the universe. My version is the same, but gives protection in 16 directions of the universe. Apparently the monk decided that I was able to handle this type of magic. He said that sometimes he will refuse to do certain types of Sak Yants on people because they may not be able to handle the magic and it can drive them crazy. Luckily I’m already crazy!
I have to admit that it was quite painful. A long sharp object piercing the center of your back repeatedly is not enjoyable of course. Although I think it adds to the experience. The look of the bamboo and needle and the surrounding environment only adds to the experience.
In the final moments I found myself chanting under my breath in order to mask the pain and I almost imagined being brought back in time. The Buddhist monk was saying prayers and blessings as he was finishing my Sak Yant and sealed the magic with a blow of his own breath on my back.
At last it was done. I bowed and slowly made my way on my knees away and back to the others. Believe it or not it had only taken 20 minutes. The monk smiled and I believe, like us, he was happy to have shared this ancient art with us. The pain soon subsided and I was very glad to have a badge of experience and to share the story with others. In the end the pain was well worth it!
Time for food
We departed the monk and stopped off at a local eatery for some traditional soup called Khao Soi. It was delicious and is now my favorite Thai soup after Tom Yum. We talked some more with Alex about our experience and thanked him for helping us through it.
Get yours too
If you would like to have your own experience with getting a Sak Yant bamboo Tattoo in Thailand. I have to highly recommend Where Sidewalks End. They not only can facilitate your Buddhist tattoo experience but they also provide many other unique experience in Thailand as well.
Thanks again for stopping by Fit Living Lifestyle and reading about getting my Buddhist Tattoo! Headed to Thailand and interested other unique adventures. Check out a Jungle Trek in Thailand or a Raw Vegan Retreat in Chiang Mai
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World Traveling Blogger, Social Media Expert and Nerd who has a passion for Adventure and Fitness.