Traditional Thai Tattoos: The Souvenir That Lasts a Lifetime

Bringing Culture Home: All About Traditional Thai Tattoos

Getting traditional Thai tattoos will be something you can tell your grandchildren about. Forget the modern needle, it’s all about bamboo! Before you make the plunge, it’s best to know the history of Thai tattoos to bring extra meaning to the experience.

While Thai bamboo tattoos are often written off as a trendy fad, it’s far from it. Traditional Thai tattoos are a Buddhist tradition sported by monks all across the country and won’t disappear anytime soon (literally). It began as a spiritual activity but has evolved into a part of everyday Thai culture and spread even further past that as tourists flock to the Land of Smiles. Popularized by Angelina Jolie’s back tattoo (and its appearance in Wanted), bamboo tattoos in Thai script are a growing trend!

Origins of Traditional Thai Tattoos

Sak yant, as the locals say, began about 3000 years in the Khmer Empire. The original purpose of these aesthetically pleasing tattoos were to ward off evil spirits. Monks and soldiers at the time believed that they could become invincible if fully covered in bamboo tattoos, increasing their strength in battle and in the mind. While modern day monks don’t dream as big when getting their tattoos, it has retained its spiritual background. Sak yant is a sacred tradition and Buddhist monks still host ancient rituals at certain temples in Thailand.

The Process

As we mentioned in the introduction, traditional Thai tattoos are done with bamboo. How does that work exactly? Glad you asked!

First off, forget everything you know about tattoo shops and getting inked. It’s irrelevant info at this point, since Thai tattoos are done by hand using needles attached to a bamboo pole. While this sounds archaic, the process is still highly revered in the tattoo world and takes an incredible amount of skill to do properly. In fact, it takes artists several years of training to learn the process!

If you’re shy to the pain of getting a tattoo, bamboo tattoos might be the way to go. Ink has to be loaded onto the needles by hand, which means there’s more breaks than a regular tattoo. On the other hand, this also means that getting traditional Thai tattoos takes a lot longer, especially for larger designs.

Tattoo Shops are Everywhere in Thailand

Seriously, you can get one done almost anywhere in Thailand. Whether you’re somewhere remote like Koh Samui or living that big city life at Bodega Bangkok – you’ll be able to get your artwork done! Of course, you should really do your homework before deciding on a design. Each Thai tattoo holds different meaning and you’ll want this permanent souvenir to reflect your personal values, ambitions, etc. It’s also a good idea to research tattoo parlors before committing to an appointment (or walking in). If in doubt, just ask our reception: Bodega guests have gotten thousands of tattoos in the past! Some good, some bad – we know where to go!

Are traditional Thai tattoos safe?

Traditional Thai tattoos are safe as a general rule, but you’ll want to take (some of) the same precautions as you would when getting a regular tattoo. Make sure that new needles are being used for your artwork and don’t be afraid to ask to see them being opened from sterile packaging. Way before this happens, you can tell a tattoo shop is unsafe if it’s unmaintained or unclean. Avoid these at all costs!

The ink is another thing that you’ll want to be sure is safe as well. It should be stored in a sealed container and not re-used for multiple tattoos (including your own).

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