Sak, meaning tattoo in Thai, Yant, Thai pronunciation of yantra, is a form
of yantra tattooing. It dates back over 2,000 years. Originally the tattoo
was performed by Tai tribes in the region ranging from southwestern China
all the way through to northwestern Vietnam. Today, it’s predominantly
practiced in Thailand but also to some extent in Cambodia, Laos and
Myanmar. In Thailand, the tattoos are performed by Buddhist monks or wicha
practitioners. The tattoo is meant to provide a spell of protection, power,
fortune and the like for the bearer.
The history of the tattoo dates it back as far as 2,000 years ago. Over
time, the practice spread all over south-east Asia even to Indonesia and
the Philippines. Originally, the tattoo was meant for warriors and to help
them in battle by providing them with a blessing. The tattoo delivers
magic, good health and good fortune. Each region had, and still has, their
own version of the tattoo differing in pattern as well as scripts.
I’ve been thinking about a tattoo on and off for the last few years. I
haven’t been able to commit to one because I haven’t been able to choose a
design I felt was right. It’s a big commitment after all. I always felt a
tattoo needed to have a good meaning. I couldn’t just walk into a shop,
pick something out of a book and get it done. But, a few years ago I heard
about Sak Yant tattoos. I have fallen in love with the idea more and more
I’ve read about the experience of others who got it done and learned quite
a lot about the process. First, the monk or ajarn (tattoo master) has to
deem you worthy of the tattoo. Second, they decide what the tattoo is and
where it goes based on your aura. Sometimes, they speak with you about who
you are. Sometimes, they read your vibe and decide for themselves. And then
they just do it.
If you’re thinking about getting one there are two ways you can go about
Visit a temple
Based on the blog posts I’ve read, most people choose to go to a temple.
It’s what I was going to do too. You can find a temple offering a Sak Yant
tattoo all over Thailand and in other parts of southeast Asia as well. The
closest and most popular spot near Bangkok is called Wat Bang Phra. As you
enter the temple, you have to buy a gift for the monk who will tattoo you.
The temple has ready made gifts that they essentially reuse. It’s usually
made up of flowers, cigarettes and incense. I am uncertain about the price.
I’ve read about someone paying 40BHT (~1.25USD) for the offering in 2016 on
their own blogs. But I’ve also read on TripAdvisor that someone paid
5000BHT (~140USD) in 2016 too. I’m sure it’s different per each temple but
those two prices were both for Wat Bang Phra. Go figure, I guess.
You will wait in a room filled with people. It’s advised to get there as
early as possible in the day so you don’t have to wait too long. In the
room, you will get to watch the monk tattoo anyone who is in line in front
Here is why I didn’t choose to go with a Sak Yant from a temple. They reuse
the needle. They do clean it in a mystical solution that no one seems to be
able to identify. Everyone does hope it’s some sort of alcohol and
disinfectant solution. More or less, it’s pretty shady as far as sanitation
goes. UNAIDS 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic reports no cases of
contracting HIV or AIDS from the Sak Yant tattoo needles. The needles in
use have no reservoir for the ink. Therefore, it can’t also absorb blood
either to pass it from person to person. Especially so if they clean the
needle between uses. Either way, I wasn’t sold. So I chose to get tattooed
privately by an ajarn.
Visit an ajarn
I booked my tattoo through Where Sidewalks End. It cost me $250USD. That is
double of the higher end price I found on TripAdvisor for the temple. I
honestly chose it because of their promise of a sterile environment. And it
I got picked up by my guide at my hostel. His name was Valentino. He was
friendly and pleasant. His job was two-fold. He was supposed to get me to
and from the home of the ajarn and he was my translator. It took us maybe
45 minutes to arrive. At the home, there was another man waiting for a
tattoo as well. I went first because mine was much smaller.
However, before anything took place we had to pray. We prayed with the
ajarn’s assistant by repeating chants after him while holding incense in
our hands. We prayed to Ganesha. It took about 10 minutes. At the end, we
placed the incense by the statute to burn and entered the room where the
ajarn was all set up for us.
The ajarn asked me to tell him about myself. Of course, Valentino was
translating the whole time. I told them that I never envisioned myself in a
specific, typical lifestyle. I never wanted a specific career. I always
imagined living life by doing things exactly like this tattoo. I want to
see the world because it makes me feel alive. I want to collect experiences
and stories. The ajarn and Valentino chatted back and forth. Valentino
wanted to know if the ajarn had a recommendation for me. He did. He
suggested a 9 spires yant called Gao Yord.
Each ajarn and each monk have their own tattoo designs. The general shape
and idea are based off the traditional Sak Yant designs but the details
vary artist by artist. The script written for the tattoos are not words but
chants. The mixture is written with Thai, Khmer and old scripts. The
scripts are unique per artist. What is written on my back is only legible
by my own ajarn (okay, and his disciples). The script is called kata. The
ajarn is the only one who can read it because he is the only one able to
enact the spell cast upon me.
Like I said, I received the 9 spires tattoo called Gao Yord. The design of
Gao Yord represents Mount Meru. It’s considered the centre of the mind,
body and soul. The Gao Yord is meant to help balance the three.
Each Sak Yant is personal whether you get it done at a temple or by
visiting an ajarn. The ajarn suggested the Gao Yord for me to help me
figure out who I am as a person. He asked me about my age and concluded I
am way too young to know anything about myself yet. The tattoo will serve
two purposes. It will protect me from the evils of the world and it will
help guide me in learning about myself and finding balance in myself.
I agreed to his suggestion.
As the ajarn was getting ready to start I watched him as he opened a brand
new needle from a sealed bag. That right there was worth all the money to
me. Anyways, before the inking took place his assistant told me to silently
pray while it’s getting done. It would help keep my mind occupied and away
from the pain. While I prayed I was supposed to think about what the tattoo
meant to me and anything else I needed from it. I wanted courage and
confidence. So that is the total and super personal meaning behind my
The process was supposed to take 30 minutes to finish. But mine took 60
minutes because I was very uncomfortable. I had to sit on the floor with my
needs against my chest. The pain was also not that pleasant. I couldn’t sit
still and I kept on fidgeting. This, in turn, meant the ajarn had to be
much more careful about not screwing anything up by taking his time. The
guide and the ajarn were making fun of me while he was tattooing me. The
ajarn didn’t understand why I kept on fidgeting if it didn’t make the pain
any lesser. Thanks, guys… ಠ_ಠ
When the whole thing was finished, the assistant cleaned off my back.
That’s when the time came to enact my spell. The ajarn put his hands on my
shoulders and chanted the spell of my tattoo’s script. I received a little
Buddha statue to help enact the power of the tattoo as well as a small
prayer card. I am to pray the prayer each day before I leave the house. And
My experience was fantastic. The only thing I wish is that the guide,
Valentino, took a whole lot more photos. But I’ll survive. All in all, I
highly recommend going to an ajarn. I felt the experience was extremely
personal and private too which made the whole thing a whole lot better. If
you want to book your tour through Where Sidewalks End, go for it. They do
it in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai.