Take a Stab at Thai Culture: The Ancient Art of Sak Yant Tattoos

The Legendary AJarn Thoy

The Legendary AJarn Thoy

Bangkok, Thailand, 2015

I was preparing my offering of cigarettes, incense, flowers, a bottle of booze, and some cash while famous Thai tattoo master Ajarn Thoy stabbed an ancient geometric pattern into the bald head of the man ahead of me.

What is Sak Yant?

These traditional Sak Yant(or Yantra) tattoos originated somewhere in Southeast Asia as early as the 4th century. The hand-etched ancient geometric designs have been worn by warriors of ancient past to protect them during battle and to ward off evil spirits.

Tattoos are scripted in Ancient Khmer language and are believed to bring magical powers, fortune, or good luck to he who sports the ink.

Buddhist monks engraved warriors with tattoos from head to toe in order to prevent knives or arrows from piercing the flesh!

My offering

Don’t forget your menthol cigarettes!!!

 Tattoo Virgin

This was my first ever tattoo, so naturally I was a bit nervous, but also very excited that Ajarn Thoy gave me his blessing before we began. Ever since I read about this spiritually injected art form, I was determined to get one while I lived in Bangkok.

As I waited my turn, Ajarn Thoy dipped a long pointed (and very sharp) needle into a thimble of ink and repeatedly jabbed it into the head of a man seated in a Lotus position.

Buddha on your head? Sure why not

Buddha on your head? Sure why not

If you dare, you can let the monk read you to choose a design and ink location based on his vision of what will benefit you in life the most.

 

No “Monk”ey Business in Here

I read that it was improper to wear shorts in front of a monk, so I was already sweating while sporting my work pants as Catherine and I were sitting on the floor flipping through notebooks of designs. Although I found out that he is actually just an Ajarn(‘teacher of magical chanting or spell caster’) and not a practicing monk.

Ajarn Thoy doin' work!

Ajarn Thoy doin’ work! Check out his sleeve/body armor….damn!

I of course removed my shoes before entering the room and gave a proper wai (bow with hands pressed to the heart or forehead) to Ajarn Thoy as soon as I locked eyes with him.

Visitors are expected to give an offering consisting of menthol cigarettes and booze, incense, flowers, and a small envelope with cash inside.

 I also threw in a little American flag pin since I had read it was thoughtful to include something personal in the offering.

Inside the studio

During the tattooing, I took turns looking at each statue in the eyes in order to distract myself. There were probably 50-60 and some with 3 heads. 

Batter Up

Thoy gave me his blessing and confirmed with a picture on my phone that I indeed wanted the famous 8-spire tattoo of Paed Thit. I saw him change needles and he confirmed with me that they were clean and we were ready to begin.

And the jabbing begins

And then the jabbing began

Paed Thit, or Eight Direction Yant, gives the wearer good fortune while travelling in each of the earth’s cardinal directions.

Paed Thit geometric design

Paed Thit geometric design

The pain at first was brutal! It was as if my arm were a piece of cloth under a Singer Sowing Machine. Two men pulled my skin taut as Ajarn Thoy unleashed his craft onto my right tricep.

Some Sak Yants are performed with an estimated 7,000 jabs of the bamboo or metal needle!

After about 40 minutes, my Sak Yant was complete. Thoy blessed the tattoo with a Buddhist chant, called a Kataa, while circling the ink with his fingers as I wai-ed before him. He cupped his hands and gave my fresh etch a hefty blow, unleashing its mystical powers.

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It is important to note that he etched this stunning piece of artwork completely from memory. He only used a marker to mark the lines of the 8 cardinal directions as a point of reference.

How To Get Your Own Sak Yant

After Angelina Jolie(Image here) got her first Sak Yant back in 2004, it became popular for westerners and celebrities to make the journey over to find their own Ajarn.

But don’t throw all caution to the wind; Sak Yant should not be just some trendy trinket you pick up while on vacation. It has a complex historical and spiritual significance and the process should be honored and respected to those who pursue it.

Research different designs beforehand and read about their powers and meanings and choose one that you identify with the most. Most Ajarns will have books or pictures for you to choose from as well.

Don’t expect any in depth conversation about significance or anything for that matter. If in doubt, bring a Thai friend to translate for you.

The most famous place to receive the magical ink is Wat Bang Phra, about 60 kilometers or 1.5 hr drive from Bangkok. They hold two very unique tattoo festivals each year. It looks insane (literally), but I still would go.

Check out some footage here…

My temple, Wat Tong Nai, was located just off Bangkok’s main Sukhumvit Rd., on On Nut soi 25. The cost was 2,000 baht (or $60 usd), which from what I read is a bit overpriced.

All I know is that if there is a next time, all I have to do lift up my right shirtsleeve, flex the gun (or lack thereof) and watch the price plummet.

Lookin' sweet after some tiger oil

Lookin’ sweet after some tiger oil

I certainly enjoyed the experience, and although painful, I could see myself getting another one during my stint here in Thailand. It was undoubtedly an amazing memory that I will literally cherish forever.

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Lastly, here is the only video I have of the work being done. Thanks for reading!!

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24 thoughts on “Take a Stab at Thai Culture: The Ancient Art of Sak Yant Tattoos

    • I just showed up at the temple, he wasn’t there, but I made an “appointment” with a girl to come back the next day. I highly recommend Thoy, he was very nice and his work is flawless.

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      • I am traveling to Thailand but want to make sure Ajarn Thoy will be present during my dates. How do you recommend I do that? I would call but do not speak Thai (but my sister has been to see him three times and I know I want him as my Ajarn). Thoughts?

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      • Hey Margaux, I think the only way to make an appointment is to show up. Just go to the temple in the early afternoon, he is there most days, if not, a girl that works/lives with him can make you an appointment for the next day. When are you coming to Bangkok? Id be happy to help you out and make a trip out there, its about a 10 min motorbike ride from my house down On Nut road

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      • Aloha Davis,
        We will be arriving in Bangkok for two weeks in October (6-21st). Not sure if we will save the Sak Yant for right before we head back home, but know for sure we will be going. My sister said the same as you–that Ajarn Thoy is there most days, and if not, he gets called in for appointments the following day. I am always welcoming assistance and meeting new friends, so if you would like to exchange emails or social media to keep in touch, let me know! You can email me at margobrief@mac.com going forward…

        Margaux <—- ps do you speak Thai??

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  1. Hi David and thanks for sharing your experience. I will be un Bangkok at the end of this month and I want to get a sak yant the most hygienical way possible. I am deciding between ajarn thoy and ajarn bpom (which would be through bangkok-ink and that doesnt really convinces me). Do you recomend ajarn thoy in hygienic terms? Did you go there alone or with some guide? Last.. How long did it took you to heal? As after bangkok I will be in Chiang mai and the islands.. I am kind of concerned about the after care.
    I hope you read this! Regards!
    Nadia from Argentina.

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    • Hey, Ajarn Thoy is famous in Thailand and does some of the best work. Thai people even recognize it and talk to me about him when they see mine. I would definitely recommend him. I just used vasoline afterwards and it took only a few days to feel normal again. I would recommend staying out of the sun directly for a few days afterwards.

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  2. Hi! I will be in Bangkok from April 14-19 and am planning to get a tattoo from Ajarn Thoy. I initially planned of getting one at Wat Bang Phra, however I am quite concerned with the ink being contaminated. Alsoinquired prices with Ajarn Fu and Bangkok Ink but prices start at 5,000 Bhat! Too steep!! Anyway, how much does he charge for say, a 5 line sak yant? Also, how far is Ajarn Thoys place from Pratunam area? Many thanks in advance for your response!

    Yvonne
    Manila, Philippines

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    • No it is not that far, less than 30 minutes in a taxi. I am not sure about the pricing for the 5 line, though mine is quite large and it was just 2,000 bht. His temple is on On Nut rd, soi 25. The temple name is in my article. I know you can get great work, also cheaper than 5,000 at Wat Bang Phra, so if you really want to go there, I wouldnt rule it out. Best of luck!!

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  3. Many thanks for ethe reply Davis. Im good with the price you quoted re Ajarn Thoy’s fee. Im quite concerned tho about the ink (multiple dipping if in one container- sorta defeats the purpose even if they sterilize the needle, right?).

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    • Im not sure about the multiple dips in the same container. I believe he had several little containers of ink and each customer got their own. I’ve never read or heard anything negative regarding his work, so I think youre in good hands.

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  4. Hello Davis! I’m traveling to Thailand in September and most definitely want to see Ajarn Thoy for a sak yant tattoo. Any thoughts on how to find out if he would be there at the time of my visit? Keeping my fingers crossed! I’d love to exchange emails if that’s fine for you! And if you have any recs for things to do/places to see that would be so awesome! Cherelle29@outlook.com

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    • Hey Cherelle, theres no real way to tell if he will be around, as far as I know. You just have to show up at the temple and hope that he is available, or make an appointment for the next day as I had to do. Hit me up when you are here and I’ll try to help you out!

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  5. Pingback: 6 Must-Dos of Bangkok You Won’t Find in Your Guidebook | That Dang Farang

  6. Hi Davis, I’m leaving for Thailand in a couple days and will be staying from Aug 18-Sept 21. I’m visiting family in Saraburi but do not mind finding my way out to Bangkok for a sak yant by Ajarn Thoy as I’ve been planning on getting one for many years now. Is there a way to get in contact with you about this? 🙂

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  7. Pingback: Sak Yant: Getting a Traditional Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand - HIs and Hers Travels

  8. Pingback: Blessed with a Sak Yant – Vicious Kitten

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