If you haven't heard of Sak Yant tattoos they are traditional Thai Buddhist tattoos that are said to provide magical protection to the wearer. I had read about Sak Yant tattoos on various other travel blogs and had seen so many beautiful examples that I quickly decided it would be the perfect tattoo to get while I was travelling in Thailand. I had decided before I left for my trip that I wanted to get a tattoo while I was away to commemorate my travels but did not decide on what kind until a few weeks before. I am quite a spontaneous person and will often make such decisions shortly before I carry them through which isn't necessarily right for everyone, that's just my personality and decision making process!
I had done a lot of reading up about these kind of tattoos as I wanted to have a clear understanding of the history and meaning of them. I was drawn to them for the beautiful designs of the tattoos themselves and also the magical protections they are said to provide. Obviously I don't genuinely believe the tattoo will provide me literal protection but I like the symbolism behind it. I had read the most common place to get a Sak Yant was at the Wat Bang Phra Temple where the famous monk Luang Pi Nunn chooses both the design and placement of your tattoo. Personally I wasn't overly keen on the lack of control I would have in the decision of my tattoo if I were to do it this way, so I looked into alternative places to get my Sak Yant. I had also read about concerns on the cleanliness of being tattooed at Wat Bang Phra Temple as apparently the same ink is used for each person, so I didn't want to take the risk and wanted to ensure the entire process would be sanitary.
After some research I found out the tattoo could be performed by an Ajarn who tend to operate outside of temples. By visiting an Ajarn you can have control over what tattoo you receive in a more sanitary environment whilst still experiencing the authentic Sak Yant process. After researching a few I decided to seek out Ajarn Neng as he is based in Bangkok and due to the quality of his work. I found his contact information online and was able to find an address. It turned out to be incredibly difficult to get to. No taxi driver seemed to know where it was and when we eventually found someone who agreed to take us there, he was not able to find the exact location. In the end I asked a local woman if she knew where to find him and she very kindly ended up giving me and my friend a ride on her motorbike! It was terrifying having three of us on there but I was so grateful for her help.
I didn't chose the final design until the day which I'll admit sounds a little crazy. I already had ideas and examples of the type of design I was looking for and when given a few more examples to look through I was able to find the perfect one. Ajarn Neng refers to this design as Yant Maha Lap and explained it is supposed to be a talisman for good fortune and will bring the wearer good luck. I thought the design itself was beautiful and I felt its meaning was appropriate for me so decided to go ahead with it. I also love the placement at the top of my back. It isn't somewhere I ever would have considered getting a tattoo before but it is a common placement for Sak Yant tattoos and I am so happy with it.
The tattoo itself took around 15 minutes to complete and I won't lie, it bloody hurt! I have had two other tattoos with the usual technique and the Sak Yant was by far the most painful I've had. You can feel each individual prick of the needle and as you can see from the pictures, its a big needle! One benefit of being tattooed this way, however, is that the completed tattoo heals quicker than it would if it had been done with a tattoo gun. A tattoo gun has lots of small needles that drag across the skin multiple times whereas the traditional Sak Yant tattoo method involves the needle only going over the same spot once or twice, so the skin actually heals much quicker.
Before the tattoo process could begin I was asked to repeat a Thai Buddhist prayer and kneel before a collection of Buddhist statues. I was asked to hold incense whilst repeating the prayer, unfortunately as I was so nervous and shaking I ended up burning myself on the hot ash as I knocked it all over myself! I also had to present an offering of 1500 Baht after the Ajarn himself recited a prayer and then it was time to begin. During the whole process two assistants helped to hold me still and ensure my skin was taught so that the design would not be distorted. It felt a little weird being held in place but as I was still shaking I was grateful for it! Once the Sak Yant was complete Ajarn Neng recited his final prayer and blew the magical power into the tattoo itself and lastly added a square of gold leaf for additional good luck.
Although I am not Buddhist or religious in any way I could really appreciate the spiritual element of the process and felt so privileged to have been able to receive such a meaningful tattoo. It inspired me to learn a little more about Sak Yant's and the history behind it and I have found it very interesting reading up on them. Looking back on the whole experience it seems a little crazy and a little spontaneous but I am so glad I did it. It was an incredible, albeit painful, experience and I have a wonderful story and meaning behind my tattoo!
For more information on Ajarn Neng click the links for his Facebook and Website. Also a big thanks to Abi for taking photos of the whole experience!