When I first learned about Sak Yants, a traditional form of tattooing originating as far back as 2 thousand years ago…I was completely fascinated. I knew immediately that I wanted one on my body forever. Not only to commemorate my love for Thailand, but also because a part of me is superstitious and truly believes in the powers of these ancient tattoos. Plus, who wouldn’t want something that holds so much historical significance on their body?!
You can read all about my first experience here.
Ajarn Neng is one of Bangkok’s most famous Sak Yant masters. He’s tattooed celebrities and traveled all over the world to perform this sacred technique. I’ve even read that he makes his own ink from Thai herbs! He also has one of the sweetest and calmest demeanors I’ve ever experienced in a person. There was no doubt in my mind that I didn’t want anyone else but him to tattoo me. The only issue for me was the language barrier. Thai is one of the most complex languages I’ve ever heard, full of so many different tones and inflections, making it super intimidating to learn let alone speak to a famous Ajarn. He doesn’t know much English either, so it made communicating with him very difficult. A lot of our conversations were mostly broken sentences from the both of us and lots of laughing – whether it was at me or with me, I don’t know…probably a little of both sometimes.
After getting my first one, I officially designated my entire back for these sacred Tattoos. I already knew I wanted to get more done during this trip. But I waited until towards the end of our travels so that I could swim in our pool and enjoy the beaches in Phuket and Koh Sichang.
My cousin and his friend who were visiting us also planned on getting one. My brother, being 16, was a tattoo virgin and wanted his first one to be meaningful. A Sak Yant was the obvious choice! It didn’t take a lot to convince my parents to let him get one. In fact, almost all of my brother’s friends called home and persuaded their parents to let them get one. I found out later that you usually need to be 18 to get tattoos in Thailand. But like the drinking age, it varies from place to place and no one ever asked the boys how old they were (probably because they’re all giants and look like they’re 20 years old) so it didn’t pose an issue for us.
I contacted Ajarn Neng through his Facebook page to see when he had an opening for me and 5 other people. With our appointments confirmed, we left bright and early the next day. There were three other people waiting outside of Ajarn Neng’s home, just as eager to get their tattoos as we were. While we waited, we flipped through a book of designs and picked out what we wanted. Ajarn Neng’s assistant gave us each a bundle of incense and had us repeat a Buddhist prayer ending it by placing our burning bundles beneath an altar. My cousin, his friend Kayden, and my brother, along with a girl we met from California were the first to go inside. The rest of us waited out front in the brutal humidity and studied the facial expressions of each one of them as they received sacred stabs of ink into their skin for the first time.
After what felt like forever, the rest of us were finally invited inside. Each tattoo took more than an hour to complete and by the time it was our turn, we had already been there for a majority of the day. While the boys got their’s done, I sat on the floor and played with their cute chihuahua pups, snuggled with their kitty, and tried petting their (not-so-friendly) bird that was hanging out on the floor next to me. My turn was quickly approaching and the nervous butterflies started to flutter in my stomach.
Ajar Neng’s assistant informed the cute, younger couple who were scheduled to go after me that Ajar Neng was closing soon and they would either have to pick a smaller Sak Yants, only get one of them done today, or could choose to reschedule altogether. Discouraged, they told her that they return home to Europe tomorrow morning and started talking amongst themselves to decide what to do.
I felt so bad for them! I would have been so disappointed if I was in their shoes. Deep inside, I knew what I had to do…so I spoke up and told them that they could go before me because I already have a Sak Yant and I’d still be in Thailand for another 3 weeks. The couple was so grateful and it made me feel good to put strangers before myself for once. Ajarn Neng rescheduled me for the next day and wholeheartedly thanked me before I went home, un-inked but still satisfied. I was able to watch my brother get his first tattoo and introduce my friends and family to such an incredible experience. Overall, It was a perfect day. What more could I ask for?
The next day, I dragged my brother out of bed at 8 a.m. so that we could be the first ones to Ajarn Neng’s home. I waited patiently as he performed his morning ritual and prayer while I prepared myself mentally for the pain ahead. I was getting most of my lower back done during this session and knew I was in for an excruciating couple hours. I wanted Ajarn Neng to choose my yants for me, which made it that much more special. He picked the lotus of success and another yant for good fortune.
I spent the next 2 and a half hours sitting on a pillow in front of Ajarn Neng, hunched over. I don’t know what was more uncomfortable…my legs going numb, being hunched over for hours with only a couple of breaks in between, or the giant metal spike being jabbed into my lower back. Probably a combination of all three. He kept reminding me to repeat a familiar phrase in my head that was meant to help me focus – “sothaya” “more pain, more power”. He ended the session by blessing my new tattoos, sprinkling water over me, and then blowing on the tattoos to instill them with power. We sincerely thanked him and I went home that day with the biggest adrenaline rush and smile on my face.
Our time in Thailand was coming to an end once again and rather than rushing to do everything we hadn’t had the chance to yet, we instead spent a lot of time at home, around our neighborhood, and our favorite local spots. It was bitter-sweet. We were incredibly sad to leave, yet excited to return home to friends and family. The day before we were scheduled to fly home, my brother and I decided to go back to Ajarn Neng for a last minute session. My brother got another Yant added to his arm and I got my shoulders and neck done. By the time we left Thailand, I had more than fulfilled my goal to get another Sak Yant…in fact, almost all of my back has been completed just like I envisioned. They’re more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed of and my most treasured ink on my body. For all those traveling or planning on traveling to Thailand, a Sak Yant is a must add to your bucket list.
Until next time, Thailand! Sothaya and Sawasdee ka.
Safe Travels, xx