It is not the easiest thing to get a Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai. Especially not for a woman. Doing online research will lead to attempts to make you sign up with a tour company and having to pay a lot more money than you want to spend. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and do my research to get myself a Sak Yant tattoo my own way. This is the result of that journey.
What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?
You can probably find plenty of information online on what Sak Yant Tattoos are and why it is more difficult for women to get one, but let me give you a quick recap.
Sak Yant Tattoos are traditional religious tattoos, set in a religious manner with bamboo and by a monk or former monk. Each Sak Yant Tattoo has its own meaning and is believed to provide the individual with powers and protection.
It is more difficult for women to get a Sak Yant Tattoo, because monks are not allowed to touch women. In the past they have made a lot of exceptions, until Angelina Jolie got her famous Sak Yant Tattoo.
The news of this coming out sent a lot of religious criticism towards Thailand and the laws for monks were restricted. Women can now get their Sak Yant Tattoo only with former monks.
How Men Can Get a Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai
The first thing I did was contacting my Thai friends. Surprisingly though, most of them were not interested in the concept of the Sak Yant Tattoo in general. It seems generally to be more of attraction for tourists and very, very religious Thai people.
So I ended up calling some of my other Thai friends, monks. As they are more in the religious circle, surely they must know where to go. However, even my monk friends could not provide me with an answer. They sent me to someone who sent me to someone else, and I kept going around in circles.
My friend ended up recommending me to go to Wat Sawang Arom, However, when I called them with my limited proficiency in Thai, they told me that only monks would be present and so women were not allowed to get a tattoo there. I do think that this would be the perfect, cultural experience for men, so if you are a male looking for a tattoo, I encourage you to try it out and let me know what you think.
How Women Can Get a Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai
Wat Sawang Arom’s kind receptionist ended up giving me a phone number of a former monk. So I called Ajarn Amnat and was able to set an appointment, being incredibly proud of how far my limited proficiency in Thai had gotten me.
On his website, Ajarn Amnat also offers tours which are more expensive. I just called him directly and set an appointment. If you have a Thai-speaking friend that can call for you and perhaps even come with you on the day, that might be incredibly helpful.
I contacted my Thai friend and asked him to translate a short text I wrote down in preparation for getting the tattoo. It was just a short summary of my life story and what I wanted my tattoo to represent.
The Talisman of the Five Buddhas
When I arrived Ajarn Amnat gave me a book to choose a design from, but I just showed him the translated text and he picked a design for me. He wrote down the name of the design and good old Google Translate translated it as “The Talisman of the Five Buddhas”.
From what I’ve gathered in my online research, the tattoo is some sort of infinity sign. The five signs on top represent the five Buddhas, but also the five elements; water, earth, fire, air and ether. The badly translated research I’ve done gave me a feeling of wholeness and that really resonated with me.
I was really happy with the fact that my tattoo was a less popular and well-known design. I felt like it was very unique. A lot of the places where you book a tour set the same design over and over again or just choose between the more popular designs. So I felt like my experience was very authentic in this way.
On the downside of this, it is a lot more difficult to find information about what it actually means. That’s why it might be good to bring a friend along. But for me, it adds a bit to its mystery. Yes, I like for my tattoo to be a bit of a mystery, strange as that might sound.
After choosing my design, the ritual started. I had to show Ajarn Amnat respect by doing the “third level wai” (the famous bow, where you start out with your hands in front of your face and bow down to the floor) three times. Then he sprinkled me with holy water and chanted for a while.
After that he motioned me to turn around. He drew the design on my back with a pen, took a picture and asked if this looked good to me. After my consent, he took his bamboo and started poking me with the special ink.
I know, I am a baby, but it really hurt. I asked him for a 10 minute break in the middle and because I was upset, he even gave me a bracelet and told me to count the beads. He finished up the design, assuring me that he was almost done, sprinkled me with holy water and told me to turn around again.
The tattoo was finished and the ritual was coming to an end. I did another third level wai, was sprinkled with more holy water and chants and finally, the Ajarn let me go. I had my cultural experience, pain in my back and a smile on my face.