Popular among the hopelessly superstitious and the woefully hip, sak yant tattoos have spread from military and working poor types to international pop culture.
Many internationally acclaimed celebs have flown here to get tattooed by Thai ajarns (masters), trusting that they can hammer the crispest and most intricate hand-scrawled letters onto their body. The most famous among them is Hollywood A-lister Angelina Jolie who has the well-liked ha theaw (five rows) on her left shoulder and suea liew lang (tiger looking back) on her lower back.
Despite having originated in Cambodia centuries ago, the sak yant tradition has been best preserved and practiced in Thailand. Many believe in their magical power to protect from harm or bring good fortune. If you’re not seeking to deflect poisoned blades or razor-fletched arrows, they also have recently gained the power to make you look cool.
There is one question you need to consider before receiving these indelible black letters: why? If you want to style points without the metaphysical implications, then go for it. Yet if you seek the mystical powers inherited with them, you need to respect some rules. The seven fundamental principles that a bearer of Yantra tattoo need to stick to are 1) Don’t swear at your parents and disrespect them, 2) Don’t take other’s partner for sexual gains, 3) Don’t steal, 4) Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs, 5) Don’t let women sit on top of you 6) Don’t walk under women’s panties and 7) Don’t eat food offerings to spirits.
Can you do all that?
Regardless of your intention, below are four popular places to get sak yant in Bangkok.
Ajarn Thong practices his art one month in Bangkok and one month at Sultan Plaza in Singapore. He is one of the most revered tattoo masters in Thailand. His signature designs are those for protection against evil spirits and weapons.
Address: Soi Therdthai 42 Phasi Charoen, near Talat Phlu Market
Starting Price: THB100
Ajarn Tueng Kongton
Ajarn Tueng is known for his love charm designs. In addition to traditional tattooing with permanent ink, Ajarn Tueng offers water and oil, the invisible materials that women are more comfortable with. Top tattoos are ones given on their tongues supposedly to improve their negotiating skills, or on their hands for more wealth.
Address: Soi Ekachai 109 Bangbon, near the Baan Pra Pin 5 village
Starting Price: THB126
Ajarn Neng has practiced tattooing for over seven years and is believed to be one of the best tattoo masters in Thailand. His designs can range widely in size. His distinctive signature is his special ink made of Thai herbs.
Address: Soi Pueng Mee 50/24 Sukhumvit 93 Bangchak Phra Khanong
Starting Price: THB79
Ajarn Toi has more than two decades of experience and is frequently invited to serve foreign clients in China, Singapore and Malaysia. Every Monday his place is open only for women seeking charm tattoos. Ajarn Toi also performs other roles as an exorcist and a psychic.
Address: Wat Thongnai Soi On Nut 25 Bang Chak
Starting Price: THB199
Photos: Kajonsak Intarapong