Asia

Getting a Sak Yant tattoo with a metal rod in Bangkok

Well, technically, what I got isn’t quite a Sak Yant. Sak Yant translates into “blessed jab tattoo”, and mine wasn’t blessed.
Allow me to explain.
Sak Yants are sacred tattoos based on the Hindu-Buddhist concept of yantra. They are mystical designs, believed to come with magical powers that provide their bearer with protection, health, fortune… However, these “powers” have to be “activated”, which is why they’re normally done by a monk who then gives the proper blessings.
I had been considering getting a Sak Yant for quite some time, and eventually I was set on it.
There are many different Sak Yant designs, with different meanings. The one I wanted to get is the Paed Tidt, for two reasons. One : I love the design. Two : I love its meaning. It is known as the 8 directional Yant, because it represents the 8 directions of the Universe and has a kata to protect you in each direction you may travel in.
I was quite keen on the tattoo being done by a monk. It sounded like an awesome experience and a great story to tell. It’s become kind of a thing among travel bloggers and backpackers, but I didn’t mean to be cliche by getting one. I actually really like the designs and I think it’s an awesome way to embed travel memories on your skin. Some will scream “cultural appropriation !” but to hell with them…
After some research, it seemed that if I wanted the real experience, I’d have to take considerable risks in terms of health.
You see, the thing is, you have to go to a temple (the most famous one being Wat Bang Phra), and in most of those temples… They reuse the needles. Sure, they wipe them off with alcohol, but they also use one big pot of ink for everyone, and blood inevitably gets mixed with the ink. Hello HIV or hepatitis ! No thank you. Strangely enough, I haven’t read or heard any stories about people contracting any sort of disease after being tattooed in such a place, which is surprising when you consider they tattoo dozens of people each day… Still, I wasn’t going to take the risk.
The common alternative is to get the tattoo done by an ajarn. Ajarns are tattooists that are also “qualified” to bless your tattoo, but they’re not quite the temple and monk thing. And also, they’re expensive ! A Sak Yant done in a temple will only cost you a small offering worth around 10$, whereas an ajarn will cost you something in the area of 250$.
Having found that around Bangkok there didn’t seem to be any risk-free temple, and not being willing to spend 250 bucks, I resorted to a standard tattoo shop on Khao San Road, that had a tattooist trained to do Sak Yants with the metal rod. It only cost me 100$.
For sure, it doesn’t make as great a story as if it had been done by a monk. But at the end of the day, it’s still a cool tattoo that is associated with great travel memories, and to me it’s all that matters. On the plus side, I didn’t risk getting AIDS, and I didn’t get ripped off paying for an ajarn, which as far as I understand is an expensive monk knock-off.
A question that some of you might want to ask is : does it hurt being tattooed with a metal rod ? In my experience, not so much, it stings but you get used to it. Obviously it depends on your pain threshold, which part of your body you get tattooed on… etc. For reference, I’ve been tattooed thrice before with a standard tattoo gun, twice under my biceps and once in my back. To give you an idea, the Sak Yant hurt more than the one in my back but less than those under my biceps.
It was done in about an hour and a half, and I must say I was impressed by the skill of the tattooist. He was inking on a pre-drawn outline at first, but then he went free hand for everything inside the circle ! It  can’t be easy to remain accurate with those long rods, but he knew what he was doing.
Now, my tattoo is meant to protect me on my travels, right ? Well, I had my wallet lost/stolen within 24 hours of getting it done ! Perhaps a curse from not receiving the blessings ?
Anyway, I still love it ! To conclude, here’s a photo of my Sak Yant after healing :
Have you had a Sak Yant done before ? Are you planning on getting one ? Let me know in the comments !
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Tom Davidson

Tom Davidson

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