For many years of my life I always firmly believed that I would never get a tattoo. That mentality wasn’t because I hated tattoos or had any negative beliefs towards them, I simply never thought I’d come across any options that had enough meaning for me to permanently mark my body.
I’ve always enjoyed seeking people display their body art (when it’s not terrible) but the thought of actually getting one myself never interested me until one of my friends on Remote Year told me about this sacred Sak Yant tattoo while we were in Thailand. When they told me that there’s an ancient magical tattoo practice performed by monks that grant the person power and protection I became intrigued and started researching it for myself.
I quickly lost interest in getting the tattoo in Thailand mainly because it seems these tattoos became popular due to Angelina Jolie getting one and causing a popularity surge among tourist that now flock to the monks on the outskirts of Bangkok to get their tattoos. It seemed as though the practice became something commercialized where most of the travelers that go for the tattoos have no intentions of honoring the sacred beliefs and rules of conduct that maintain the strength and integrity of the tattoo ritual. I wanted a more personal and meaningful experience with the monk that would do my tattoo.
Luckily our next destination was Phnom Penh, Cambodia and I was able to meet with ChanTra. In Cambodia, the tattoo ritual practice is called Sak Yon but in Thailand, it’s Sak Yant and that’s the most popular name currently. The tattoos are a mix of sacred Buddhist and Hindu images, and they are believed to provide powers and abilities to the individual as well as protection from anyone wishing them harm. They also energize the body and help with spiritual growth and success in life. Traditionally the monk performing the tattoo determines what the tattoo should be and where on your body it should go but fortunately when I went that part was more of a suggestion than a formality. There are traditional offerings that should be presented to the monk performing the tattoo as well as an agreed upon price.
I had the tattoo done with bamboo needles. They are a combination of two tattoos, the big one in the center of my back is for protection while the small one on my neck is for power. The pain was worse than I expected, especially for my first tattoo but when it was over, I was completely satisfied with everything and have no regrets.