Sak Yant Thai Tattoo FAQ | Answers

Sak Yant Traditional Thai Tattoo Questions and Answers

Traditional Thai Tattoo FAQ | Common Sak Yant questions with answers from the Sak Yant Masters.

Traditiona Thai Tattoo FAQ Questions and Answers

Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo in Pai FAQ: Questions & Answers

Thai TattooTraditional Thai Tattoos are known as Sak Yant (Thai: สักยันต์), is a form of tattooing that originated in ancient Tai peoples. It consists of magical geometrical, animal and deity designs accompanied by Pali phrases that offer power, protection, fortune, charisma and other benefits for the bearer.

Today it is practiced in Thailand and Myanmar, and to a much lesser extent in Laos and Cambodia. Sak means “to [tattoo]” in Thai, and Yant is the Thai pronunciation for the Sanskrit word Yantra, meaning “magical design” or “mystical insignia”. Hence the Sak Yant Tattoo is a “Magical Tattoo.

In it’s basic form, the traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoo is a visual representation (talisman) of a goal, desire or objection (affirmation) that has been created by a religious or holy man and charged with initial power

When getting the Magic Thai Tattoo, the meaning associated with the Tattoo comes in 3 parts;

The 3 elements are …

1) The Design

This is the picture or design of the Sak Yant. While all Sak Yants come with their own meaning implicit to the design, if you like a certain design, it might be able to be used but changed to include the Kata and Blessing elements into the final meaning

2) The Kata

This includes the magic spells within the mind of the Sak Yant master as they create the Sak Yant. The master is reciting special prayers as they apply the design so that it becomes filled with the desired intention of the final design. The Kata also includes the text written around the Sak Yant. This text is usually presented incorrectly in drawn images you find online and are corrected by the Master. This is design to keep the knowledge so that only those qualified to give Sak Yants can give them.

3) The Blessing given

The final blessing given at the end of the Sak Yant Process. Special intentions and desires can be requested for this. For example you can get a Five Line Sak Yant and ask for financial prosperity with the blessing.

Sak Yant Tattoos are often incorrectly referred to as Bamboo Tattoo’s.  This term refers mostly to the Traditional Thai Bamboo Style hand poked method commonly used in Thailand.

Sak Yant – Also known as ‘bamboo tattoo’, are sacred blessings that have magic powers for protection, native to several countries in South-East Asia.

Ajarn – An Ajarn simply means a master of something – this can be applied to people in education, the arts, martial arts, and in this case, Sak Yant. They have practiced and studied the ancient rituals and beliefs for many years to master the powers and significance of giving Sak Yant. They are not just a tattoo artist copying an old design – they understand its meaning and have been bestowed the ability to perform the magic associated with it by their own master, or Kru (headmaster).

Khem Sak – These are the steel needles specially designed to create the Sak Yant. They are often custom-made or passed down to him from his own master. They are designed to replicate the shape of a bamboo stick

Amulet – Often a small figure or symbol in an encasing that can be worn on a necklace or a belt loop. They are said to have magic powers and protections, not dissimilar to Sak Yant

Samnak – The ‘tattoo studio’, often filled with sacred statues, incense  and other holy or magical relics and wall hangings. a Samnak is given higher respect to a Temple for its specialized work undertaken within.

Sangha – a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning “community” and most commonly refers in Buddhism to the monastic community of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns.

The term ‘Ajarn’ is used to describe a learned person… similar to the term Professor or Master. When we refer to the term ‘Ajarn’ we are referring to a Sak Yant Master. Generally an Ajarn (or Sak Yant Master), is a former Monk that has taken their training in the Magical Art of Sak Yant and continued to provide the service to people after they no longer work within the Temple environment.

Getting Sak Yant Tattoo from an Ajarn means, they are free from the ‘touching female’ restrictions. Often Ajarns are open to additional training in the Sak Yant Tattoo and general tattoo arts. The Ajarn opens his Sak Yant temple to Thais and Foreigners alike and operates it like any other business and charges a fee for his expertise. The Ajarn is a highly respected and sought after adviser to both the normal Thai person and the Monk community

Sak Yant Ajarn’s, (like Monks) gain their magical power from meditation and following may spiritual rules for living a good and harmonious life. Ajarn’s will spend a considerable amount of their time in meditation, retreats, serving charities and living life to exceptionally high moral codes and ethics. They will take the responsibility of performing Sak Yant Tattoo’s at the same level as Monks do.

The Ajarn usually has more of a worldly interest outside of Temple life, more familiar with westerners seeking a Sak Yant, can speak better English and can be much more relaxed in accepting our lack of knowledge of protocols.

At Sak Yant Pai Sak the cost of a Traditional Thai Tattoo and Blessing starts at 2000 baht.  This provides an hour of the Sak Yant Masters time which is enough for the vast majority of Sak Yant Designs.  Larger and more complex designs will require either an extra donation to the Ajarn or an extra hour – which means 2 bookings.

You can find out more about the costs of specific Sak Yant Thai Tattoo designs on our Costing Page

Yes and No. 

It is a tattoo done using a steel needle so we can only offer a comparison to a normal tattoo using a machine.

60% of people it is about the same as a machine tattoo
30% of people it is less painful than a machine tattoo
10% of people it is the worse pain they ever experienced

Like any tattoo, the Thai Tattoo will hurt more and less in different areas of the body.  Generally the closer to the bone – the more discomfort.  Locations like the spine, wrist, shin, rib cage, will hurt more than areas with more flesh.   Men tend to feel it more than females, and men with muscle mass and less fat will feel more discomfort than someone with more fat tissue.

The length of time it takes to get a Sak Yant Tattoo varies depending on the size and complexity of the Sak Yant Design and the speed of the Master when applying it with the hand poke method.

Generally most designs can be done within an hour, some of the larger ones will take 2-3 hours

Yes: Almost all the hygiene systems used are the same as western tattoo artists.

Many Tourists and Westerners like the idea of getting a Thai Tattoo but then begin to question the standards of hygiene with this tattoo. This is especially true it seems if you have found and read blogs about Bangkok’s famous Wat Bang Phra. However today, it is very unlikely a modern Sak Yant Master is going to ruin their profession and reputation by not having a safe practice of hygiene.  At Sak Yant Pai we insist on it 🙂

A Sak Yant Thai Tattoo (Yantra Tattoo) is done with a long steel needle in about 20-25 minutes for a basic design. This needle (called a Kem) is a magical device and is larger than the wooden stick with attached machine needle used by tattoo shops for their ‘Bamboo Tattoo”.

While many Tattoo Studios around Thailand like to say that real Thai Tattoos look ugly – this is not really true.  Part of the beauty of a real Sak Yant Tattoo is the imperfections because the Sak Yant Master is first and foremost a Shaman and not a Tattoo Artist.  In fact many fans of the Sak Yant will find going to an Ajarn with exceptional tattoo skills, as less desirable. A perfect looking Sak Yant is something that a Tattoo Artist might do, and will look fake to the trained observer.

It is however true that Traditional Thai Tattoos are done for Spiritual and Magical properties. Monks and Ajarns are spiritual leaders first and foremost not tattoo artists.  Tattoo Artists in Thailand do some amazing and beautiful work – they just however do not do real Sak Yants.

They can – but why?

Sak Yant Tattoo in PaiGenerally the purpose of the Sak Yant Thai tattoo is to bestow the wearer with a special blessing and purpose.  Then charging that design with the power of the magic blessing associated with the reason you want a Sak Yant Tattoo. If you do not know why you are getting a Sak Yant then why or how is the Monk supposed to know?

The Sak Yant Master can and does discuss with people the options available to them, which sometimes includes asking their birthday and using astrology. However most of the time a student (person getting the Sak Yant tattoo) knows exactly what they want and what design they would like to have to represent it. This is also the job of the staff at Sak Yant Pai, to discuss with you what design you want and why – so they can explain it to the Sak Yant Master


Yes and No

With Sak Yants, the use of a bamboo needle stopped decades ago as the more hygienic and heavier steel needles became more popular. Steel needles are more accurate, creating better looking Sak Yants, they are heavier than wood which means less pain during the tattoo process.

What did not stop was the term “Bamboo Tattoo”. Even if you see the words Bamboo Tattoo in articles when you look at the photos you can see almost always the Sak Yant Master is using a Steel Needle. 

Bamboo Tattoos today is really only a marketing gimmick, and most tattoo artists will prefer to use a machine if given the choice. The trend probably started when people wanted magical Sak Yants and parlors and studios adopted the process of Bamboo needles because of its association with the magic Kem rod.  A Bamboo tool used in Bamboo Tattoos is really just a piece of wood with a machine needle attached to it.  A long time ago Bamboo tattoos were the traditional way of getting a Tattoo in Thailand – but this method stopped when machines were invented but made a come back a couple decades ago as a way to make a Tattoo in Thailand a different experience

So yes you can get a bamboo needle tattoo from a tattoo artist.  But Sak Yant Masters use metal rods – a little like a magic wand

Traditional Thai Tattoo’s do not use Thai language. The language used in most Sak Yants is Pali, the ancient script used to spread the teachings of Buddhist materials. In Northern Thailand the Lanna language is often used, as it is believed to be more powerful, in addition to looking more attractive.

The point of a magical talisman of which the traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant is one, is the Blessing from secret knowledge and power. If anyone could read and understand the scripts used in traditional Thai tattoos, then they would not be special or powerful. 

It takes years for the Sak Yant Masters to learn these secret languages that are said to have magical power.  So it makes it difficult to find out what the writing says, as only a very select few people can understand it, and then they do not like to tell you as it is believed to dilute the power of the Sak Yant

Yes and NoSak Yant DesignThe Sak Yant represents to the wearer magical and spiritual reminders that are much more profound than a normal tattoo. While it is mostly the Text used within the Tattoo and the blessing and ritual of the Yantra tattoo that determines the purpose – certain designs hold magical and spiritual representations in themselves. Sak Yant Location: Not much below the waist Can I pick my Sak Yant Location?Sak Yant’s are a spiritual and magical Tattoo and those images that represent Buddha or the Master Yant’s have to be placed on the back, the arms and side torso. Females can not get the Sak Yant placed around the breasts (or have the area exposed) or below the waist. Men can have some designs placed on the thigh.The feet are off limits for everyone. In Thai culture the feet are the lowest part of the body which is why it is against the law to point your feet towards a Buddha, or step on money with the image of the King. You certainly can not get a sacred symbol placed there. Only animal designs can be placed below the waist (no images representing Buddha or powerful Yants), and a few examples are belowSak Yants allowed Below the Waist

No The Sak Yant Tattoo is a magical and spiritual talisman and blessing that requires years of training in the ancient magical arts. While you can get the pattern of a Sak Yant from a Tattoo shop, and can even get it done with a Bamboo Needle, it easily recognized as being fake by real Sak Yant Masters.

Having an existing fake Sak Yant, will not come with any power, it can not be blessed by a real Sak Yant Master, who may refuse to provide the real thing on a body that already has a fake, and will usually cost more from a tattoo shop than the real thing.

Tattoo shops will often advertise “Bamboo Tattoo” along with the catalogue of Sak Yant images in the hopes that the customer has no idea about what a real Sak Yant is. For more details read “Why you Don’t get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop

The Sak Yant Rules of Conduct refer to the rules you must follow once you have become a student of a Monk or Ajarn (a title inferred after receiving a Sak Yant). Every Monk or Ajarn has different Sak Yant Rules which they sometimes suggest and sometimes do not. There is great confusion as to the Rules which you can read about in detail at Sak Yant Rules of Conduct.

The general rules are …..

  • Do not kill
  • Do not steal
  • Do not desire another persons lover or spouse or be unfaithful to your own
  • Do not lie
  • Do not get Intoxicated
  • Do Not speak ill of your Mother (or any Mother)

Each lineage of Sak Yant traditions have their own rules, some of which apply in some situations, specific people and particular designs. Some rules apply to student Monks, some apply to Thai (but not Westerners).  The Bottom-line is you can pretty well ignore any rules you see in travel blogs, except the ones above – unless the Sak Yant Master has specifically told you differently.

The Magic Thai Tattoo is a Tattoo, which is essentially an open wound and requires proper aftercare to avoid infection and ‘tattoo bleed’ (the leaking of ink into surrounding skin). Added to the usual aftercare of a tattoo is the extra element that you are exposing an open wound to pathogens and bacteria in a new country that your body has not yet had the time to develop an immunity too.

Getting any tattoo in a country you are visiting it is essential to apply a antiseptic healing cream. This is one situation that no matter what your personal choice about ‘Natural VS Pharmaceutical’ health options – you should used the product made by the drug companies and not a natural alternative.

For 3 days you should

  • Avoid Water and Soap: There are pathogens you do not have resistance to in water including the ocean. (if you have to swim, use Vaseline to form an oil barrier over your Sak Yant)
  • Avoid Stretching and Exercise: You do not want to tear open additional skin which might create tattoo bleeding. Let your tattoo heal
  • No Direct Sunlight: The ultraviolet light in the sun will break down the Ink. Wait until the skin heals before exposing it to direct sunlight

For 7 days you should

Apply a pharmaceutical Antiseptic healing cream: Natural products will provide a moisturizing effect that will help heal the skin and assist in the prevention of skin scabbing. If your skin scabs, you are able to peel off a layer of ink which lightens your tattoo. But a natural product will not assist in the killing of any pathogens that can cause infection. In this situation you need a medicated product.

The Traditional Thai Tattoo tends to heal within 1-3 days after getting it with a Khem (Steal Needle), as it usually does not go as deep into the skin.  For the 1st few days you should treat it much like a normal tattoo, and most importantly use a medicated ointment to avoid infection. 

Many people think a natural moisturizer product like aloe or coconut oil is sufficient – It is NOT!  Getting a tattoo in another country with different pathogens opens you up to risks of infections that natural products do not address.  If you have lived in Thailand for 3 months or more you can go this route.  Otherwise always use pharmaceutical products to avoid infections and heal faster.

Strictly speaking the Thai Tattoo tradition pre-dates the introduction of Buddhism into Thailand.  As Buddhism started to spread across Asia, it took on regional elements of pre-existing cultures, the Animalism religions and magical practices, Sak Yant being one of them.  As Buddhist temples were for centuries the schooling system in Thailand, in order to learn reading and writing, you had to become a Monk.  Over time the practice and teaching of Sak Yant Tattoos became part of a few selected Temples. 

Thai Tattoo designs have been expanded and incorporated the Buddhist prayers and blessings as part of its heritage for many hundreds of years, within certain Temples (Wat Bang Phra in Bangkok being the largest) and have become part of the traditional Thai culture now.

Sak Yant Tattoo Pai is the only place in Pai where you can get a Real Thai Tattoo and magic blessing from a Sak Yant Master.  The main reasons are ….

Authenticity: We are part of Sak Yant Chiang Mai – a Co-operative of individual Sak Yant Masters, including both Monks and Sak Yant Ajarns who work together to provide an authentic experience for the guest.  At Sak Yant Pai, all we do is Sak Yant tattoo’s, we do not do normal tattoos or bamboo tattoos.  We are full time, dedicated to the Sak Yant Thai Tattoo

Credibility:  We are not using ‘The Only Place in Pai to get a Sak Yant’ as a marketing ploy.  We are the actual only place that has real Sak Yant Masters and the only place where you are getting an Authentic Sak Yant Experience

Cost: We have standardized the cost of the Sak Yant depending on time and complexity, and among different Ajarns. Our pricing starts at 2000 baht for a design that could cost you twice as much at other places.

We are a small company that provides a totally unique experience. The reality is that many of our customers book several weeks and months in advance. If can be difficult to book a Sak Yant if you are only allowing a few days notice.

Booking your Traditional Thai Tattoo Online

This is by far the best option. We use an Online Booking system. Each Booking requires a reservation deposit made using PayPal or a Credit card to confirm complete the booking.

Booking at the Sak Yant Pai Office

You can always use the walk in approach and come to our Pai location and make a booking.  We do suggest you have a couple of days left in Pai after coming in.  We will do our best to find a time for you.

There are several reasons but the bottom line, is that we are unable to provide every walk-in request with an appointment. Most of our guests are booked weeks and sometimes months in advance. If we are going to decline people who are physically in the shop because you booked ahead online – we want to make sure you come 🙂

We have found that those who make a commitment with a deposit are 95% likely to turn up.  Those that do not make a deposit probably show up 20% of the time. 

100% refundable If you advise us of a cancellation within 3 days of the event. If less than 3 days we will refund your deposit if another guest books the time slot.

Absolutely.  The Samnak is large enough to hold several people and your friends or partners are welcome to share this magical experience with you

Want to Get a Real Sak Yant and Blessing by a Monk?

Sak Yant Chiang Mai is Thailand’s leading Sak Yant provider – Over 10 Independent Sak Yant Masters working in Hygienic and comfortable Samnaks