Travel themed tattoos and ink souvenirs wrap around the curves of many an adventurous body. They cover the skin like a map depicting all the journeys and the places that made the person inside who they are, and got them where they are, today. Usually this might be a symbol or words that represent a certain place, or a significant event that happened during a trip, the process of a journey, or a non location specific representation of the love of travel, and it’s usually done by a local artist in your host country or somewhere along your journey. Thailand is no exception to the travel destinations that wanderers feel the need to imbed into their skin and carry the experience it gave with them forever, but Thailand has it’s own extremely unique option to add to your body map. The Sak Yant tattoos are given by a monk in a temple and contain a magical blessing which is said to promote healing, good luck and strength and protect the wearer from all sorts of evils.

Sak Yant 2

Photo via Flickr/foto pauses

This isn’t a mark for the average tourist, it’s something that should be considered equally dangerous and sacred. Sak Yant tattoos are not expensive, often a single digit dollar donation to the temple will do. Most places sell flowers or cigarettes outside for this purpose, and when it’s your turn for the tattoo you present what you purchased to the monk as an offering. You sit among the small crowd in silence as you watch those before you take their turn and as you wait for your own, chances are if you’ve gotten this far the monk will be able to see you today, if not come back bright and early tomorrow. When you’re called up the monk chooses the tattoo that will best protect you and he chooses where it goes on your body (lucky for us monks are not creepers, you’ll see many of these tattoos on people’s upper backs or shoulders). You really have to be prepared for that going in, you can’t say nah I don’t like that one, the tattoo is chosen based on your aura which is read by the magic monk powers. They Sak Yant consists of ancient geometric designs and Buddhist prayer symbols.

Sak Yant 3

Photo via Flickr/foto pauses

Your skin is held tight by helpers while the monk administers this traditional tattoo by dipping a long needle, often made of bamboo, into a bowl of an ink that he made himself using a secret recipe said to at times potentially include snake venom or human remains, and then basically managing to pound it into your skin while creating the intricate tiny details perfectly. This is the dangerous part- the needle is reused over and over for different people, and even if it is cleaned off first, the bowl of ink is dipped in just as many times and there is a high chance of some blood being transferred from the needle to the bowl, meaning even with a clean needle you could experience blood to blood contact with someone else because of the ink. Obviously this is of great concern for the transferring of diseases, but maybe the magic monk blessing will protect you from the diseases anyways so it doesn’t matter? Maybe?

Sak Yant 4

Photo via Flickr/I. B. 

After the tattoo is complete the monk finishes the blessing. You are then shown your new tattoo and told of its specific powers… and also given a list of instructions to help it maintain those powers. Some examples are certain Sak Yant blessings can only do their magic on you if you give up a specific food, or avoid a certain kind of structure, or respond to a particular social situation in a very specific way… too bad you don’t know which tattoo you’re getting and therefore what rules it will come with in advance. I hope when I get mine it says I don’t have to eat my vegetables.

Would you get a Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand?


American by chance, but Roman by choice, Sarah is currently feeding her adventurous soul with expatriatism and pizza. Her finest moments are always on the wrong bus with a backpack and an upside down map, waiting to see what the world’s got for her next, so long as she can blog about it. She likes writing more than talking, dolphins more than humans, old movies more than new, and Rome more than anything else.

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