Tattooed by a Monk!

When planning my trip to Asia, I wasn’t keen on visiting Bangkok – I much prefer smaller towns to explore, and this mega-city of ten million sounded hot, crowded and overwhelming. (I was right)  So I originally only planned 1 night in Bangkok (yes, in homage to that awesome 80’s song!) – just enough time to pass through between Chiang Mai and Cambodia. But that changed once I learned about a special monastery where I could receive a sak yant (sacred tattoo) from a Buddhist monk!

Sak Yant / Sacred Tattoo

At some point in my trip research, I learned about Sak Yant, or Sacred Tattoo.  As an aspiring Buddhist, the idea of receiving a tattoo and blessing from a monk sounded pretty cool.  I already have two tattoos, and have always wanted more, but could never settle on a design.  Sak Yant would take care of that, as you don’t get to choose your own design, or the placement! Supposedly, the monk reads your aura and determines which protection you need.  However, both women who went before me got the Ha Taew, or Five Lines. Incidentally, Angeline Jolie also has several of these, including the Ha Taew, which is ultimately what I received.  Legend has it that the ink is also a magic mixture that includes snake venom.  Who knows, really?!

jolie sak yant

Wat Bang Phra Monastery

The monastery known for Sak Yant is Wat Bang Phra, about an hour outside of Bangkok. There are tons of backpacker blog posts of how to get there cheaply, but I just hired a driver from the concierge at my hotel.  For $75, I had a nice air-conditioned ride through the city and suburbs. My driver even walked me in, made sure I went to the right place, and then waited for me until I was done.  In hindsight, I wish I’d spent more time walking the grounds instead of snapping off a few photos from the car.

Wat Bang Phra - I hired a driver to bring me here for a Sak Yant (tattoo)

Wat Bang Phra - I hired a driver to bring me here for a Sak Yant (tattoo)

At the entrance, you buy a bundle of offerings – cigarettes and flowers – for $3, which you place in a tray near the monk.  There were also envelopes near the monk, into which I think I placed about $9. Or $3, I honestly don’t remember.  I then sat on the floor, the only Westerner in the room, and waited my turn. Monks are not allowed to touch women, and many will not give a tattoo to a woman, but in this instance, there is a man on each side of the monk who holds your shirt away from the area, and holds your skin tight.  No words are spoken – the monk goes to work, and when he is done, you bow, and then leave, careful not to stand higher than him at any time.  I wasn’t nervous about the tattoo itself, but a bit nervous about all the rules!  I had an idea of the tattoo I received, both from feel and what I saw the women in front of me receive, but there was still a moment when I left when I had to snap a pic over my shoulder to confirm. Totally reminded me of “Dude, where’s my car!”

Dude-Where-My-Car

I had forgotten that tattoos will be kind of messy and scabby for a while, so that was gross, and it was hard to let it breathe – I also couldn’t really avoid the sun or swimming pool as is recommended for a regular tattoo, but this is more about the blessing than the appearance so I’m not too worried about it.

My Sak Yant from Wat Bang Phra - a week later once it healed a bit.

The funniest part of all of this is that I had a small chili pepper tattoo on my shoulder – it’s so old and faded, I didn’t even remember which shoulder it was on.  It wasn’t until I was back in the hotel that I couldn’t find the chili pepper and realized that the monk just tattoo’d right over it!  Woops!

Sak Yant Meaning

Supposedly, there is a lot of superstition around these tattoos – I’ve read that some people were told not to share photos on social media, or the magical powers would be voided.  There were signs that forbid photos in the temple, so I don’t have any photos from the room itself, but I’m sure not everyone follows that as I’ve seen plenty of pictures online.  I got zero information about my tattoo, but a quick Google search was easy enough.

  1. First row prevents unjust punishment, leans in your favor when the area is gray, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
  2.  Second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad luck.
  3. Third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
  4. Fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and lifestyle.
  5. Fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It is also a boost to the fourth row.

You can read about the monk who did my tattoo here, as well as see some pictures of the process. Here is another blog with excellent pictures of the entire process.

All in all, this was a pretty cool experience and I have a permanent reminder of my visit to Thailand, and hopefully some protection from black magic! You can receive these tattoo designs at many tattoo parlors throughout Thailand, but to me that was beside the point and I wanted to receive this from a monk. Even at Wat Bang Phra, you can go to an upstairs room and pay a lot more to choose the design that you want. You can also pay a guide service about $300 to escort you through the process, and one of the swankier hotels in Bangkok has brought in the monk who gave Angelina her tattoos – the price was well over $300, and included a trip out to the monastery for a blessing.

I’m happy with my design and I think it makes a great story- much better than the non-story I had for my other tattoos which I got when I was quite young!  Maybe I’ll even go back for another sak yant in a few years….

Do you have any travel tattoos?

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Sak Yant Tattoo

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