I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy. – Anais Nin
April 2017, I traveled to the Buddhist Monastary called Wat Bang Phra to get a “Sak Yant”, which is a traditional tattoo. I got mine from well known Master Luang Pi Nunn. Sak Yants have been a very popular tattoo experience, however a lot of western people would likely first recognize it as the tattoos made famous by Angelina Jolie, who sports many across her back.
We researched before leaving the USA, so we were pretty well aware of the requirements and necessary planning to get these tattoos. That being the case, we took a taxi from Bangkok city and it was probably at least an hour drive. We hired the driver for the day, since we knew it would be a long trip to/from, as well as an unknown amount of time to wait, get tattooed and see the temple.
We arrived around 7:00am and entered the temple grounds. It was early, but already there were other people there and many cars arriving. Outside there was a table where you must purchase an offering, in order to enter the temple. It was a combination of flowers, and incense, with an additional cash portion. It was essentially the “price” for the tattoo, and I think in USD, it was about $10.00 or less.
Once you get inside, you must take off your shoes and sit down in a line. The offering bowls are in the center of the room. Once it’s near your turn, you put your offerings into bowls for the Buddha and to support the Wat. On one side of the room is a line for “locals” and people who have been there before. They are tattooed using the traditional “stick” method. On the other side of the room is a line for tourists. These tattoos are given by use of a modern tattoo machine but still by the hand of the monks. It’s very hot, humid, crowded, dusty and quiet. I remember looking at the wall, where it was backlit with neon light, had thick trails of dust/cobwebs, and a large gecko looking creature was hanging out – and thinking to myself that it had an aura of magic, or even gave off a feeling akin to an indie-noir film. We sat on the floor in silence for probably around two hours before we got tattooed.
The monk sits in the center, and there were two men who sat on either side. These men swapped out from time to time with new people, but their purpose was to assist the monk by holding the person still and stretching the skin so the monk can tattoo. This is especially imperative with women, as the monks are not to talk to or touch a woman. There was a small cushion to sit on and small bolster style pillow for people to hold. The monk used a rubber stamp like template to apply the design and pressed it quickly to my upper right shoulder area, since I already had multiple tattoos on my back the monk chose a spot he felt was appropriate. Tattoo ink is rumored to be a combination of all sorts of things, but more than likely (modernly) for tourists, it is regular tattoo ink. I will say that they do not change the ink at all (in the time I was there) and change the needle about every 20 people. Luckily I was first up after a fresh needle change out, so that helped ease my mind a little, however upon arrival back to the United States, my travel partner and I both got blood tests done and were (thankfully) cleared of any blood borne diseases. The tattoo process itself was remarkably fast. Likely took around 5 minutes or less and was done! The healing process was fine as well, and I have never had any issues with it.
It is said that the five line Sak Yant I got means the following:
1. The first row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favor when the area is grey, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
2. The second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.
3. The third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
4. The fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.
5. The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It is also is a boost to the fourth row.
Read more about Sak Yant meanings here.