By Darren Griffiths

How To Get A Real Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai

27th February 2023

Last updated on April 22nd, 2023 at 08:28 am

It had been over a year since I first heard of Sak Yant tattoos and that it was possible to get my own in Chiang Mai, Thailand. As soon as I read about another blogger’s experience of getting a meaningful tattoo by a Buddhist monk I immediately fell in love with the idea. I already had four tattoos that represent various times in my life but now felt like the perfect moment to mark this potentially life-changing adventure of travelling while starting a new online business with Darren that could provide us with the freedom and nomadic lifestyle we crave so much.

Check out our guide to all the fun things to do in Chiang Mai

What Is A Sak Yant Tattoo?

man getting sak yant tattoo in chiang mai
Local man getting a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai

Getting a Sak Yant tattoo, also known as Yantra tattooing, is a very spiritual experience. While most tattoos across the world are produced using an electrical tattoo machine by anyone who has had the required training, a traditional Sak Yant tattoo is done by a Buddhist monk (or previously practised Buddhist monk) and created by hand using a long sharp metal or bamboo rod. These tattooists are also known as Ajarns, which means to be a master of something. They have learned their unique Sak Yant tattooing skills from their own masters of previous generations. This method of tattooing has been around for over 2000 years and is still practised today in many parts of Thailand, including Chiang Mai in the north.

A Sak Yant tattoo should not be wanted for fashion purposes, these works of art are far more meaningful than just a cool image on your skin to show off to your friends back home. A Sak Yant tattoo is believed to provide numerous potential energies such as protection, success, good health, happiness and guidance to name a few.

For centuries, Ajarns tattooed Thai warriors to offer protection and strength against their enemies. Before tattooing, the very same Sak Yant images were drawn on their armour for the same reason. The hand inked Sak Yant tattoos can be seen on the bodies of many Thai people today, their protective powers are still very much believed now as they were all those years ago.

What Does A Sak Yant Tattoo Look Like?

getting a sak yant tattoo
Sak Yant tattoo by hand

Sak Yant Tattoos come in many different images, shapes and sizes but they do have a very distinct look. I found the most distinctive features to be the Thai script used and the fact they have a beautiful and authentic hand created look about them. They’re also not coloured. Check out these images to get a better idea.

When getting a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai the design you end up getting inked on your skin can be chosen in 3 ways:

  1. You choose the design and position of the tattoo yourself.
  2. You discuss design and position ideas with your Ajarn.
  3. You allow your Ajarn to choose the design and position of the tattoo.

The third option is the most traditional way to get a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai. A huge part of the Sak Yant tattoo experience is the one-to-one time with your Ajarn. During this period, the Ajarn will try to understand you as a person by asking you numerous questions to find out your ambitions, passions, anxieties and what you want from life. He then uses this newly learned knowledge to form what he feels is the best Sak Yant for you.

It’s a tragedy that not all companies that offer a Sak Yant tattoo experience allow the third option. Lucky for me the reliable company I chose to book my Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai allowed me to experience this practice in the most traditional way which I am really thankful for.

The Best Way To Book A Sank Yant Tattoo In Chiang Mai

talking with ajarn rung in chiang mai
Talking with my Ajarn before getting my Sak Yant

There are a couple of companies that offer a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai experience but in my opinion, there’s only one reputable company – WSE Travel and their Lanna Ink Experience. WSE Travel was the first company to offer a traveller Sak Yant tattoo experience anywhere in the world. Ian, the owner of the company, is a passionate advocate for meaningful travel and is an expert in the practice of Sak Yant. Ian and his team of English speaking guides go out of their way to ensure that their clients understand and experience the true spirit and emotion of getting a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya or Bangkok.

Unfortunately, we know of other companies in Chiang Mai who offer the experience but it’s on a more commercial level where clients are rushed in and out to get a quick tattoo out of a book and do not allow any quality time with the Ajarn. We even read reviews about one company stating that they had a monk in their central Chiang Mai office where tourists can get a “Sak Yant” tattoo the same way they’d go to the barbers to get a haircut!

If you’re serious about getting a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai then choose your company carefully. If you do want to experience the amazing spiritual and traditional practice of one-to-one time with your Ajarn and allowing him to help you decide which Sak Yant is best for you, then you might as well go to a standard tattoo shop in Chiang Mai Old Town.

My Experience Getting A Sak Yant Tattoo In Chiang Mai

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Grateful to Ajarn Rung for my Sak Yant tattoo

I was impressed with WSE Travel from the start as they picked us up from our Chiang Mai accommodation at the exact time they said they would. In our experience, that’s pretty rare for a Thailand tour company. We met the friendly guide and driver in reception and was also lucky to meet Ian, the owner of WSE Travel. Ian travels all over the world but just happened to be in Chiang Mai for a couple of days so wanted to join us in getting my first Sak Yant tattoo. The journey from Chiang Mai city to the Samnak (tattoo studio) took only 30 minutes.

We didn’t really have any expectations apart from assuming that the Sak Yant tattoo by a monk would take place in a Buddhist temple. But no, instead, we pulled up to what seemed to be a rural house with a large barn-type building within the grounds. This barn would, in fact, be the Samnak where I’d be getting my Sak Yant tattoo.

looking through the sak yant tattoo book
Looking at the various Sak Yant images

After petting two friendly dogs who greeted us at the car with wagging tails, we walked over to the Samnak and could see Ajarn Rung sat in the corner talking with three local men who were about to get their own Sak Yant. While the exterior of the Samnak was basic, inside it was elaborately decorated just like a temple. Statues and wall hangings surrounded Ajarn Rung. Countless gold images of Buddha and Buddhism teachings sprawl the walls from floor to ceiling. But among all the spiritual ornaments was a little chaos of coffee cups, water bottles, plastic bags and other bits and bobs placed around the room in an unorganized manner. It was clear to see that this was Ajarn Rung’s family home which made the experience as authentic as it could be. Ajarn Rung could offer his Sak Yant tattoos within a temple but this would only be to please tourists. It was nice to hear that he prefers to be at home to look after his family which includes his grandmother of who looked 120 years old!

We waited an hour while the 3 local men got inked which gave me time to soak up the spiritual atmosphere, grab a needed coffee and flick through a book of Sak Yant tattoo images. I had no desire to pick an image from the book but it’s an option should anyone wish to do so.

The three men then bowed to Ajarn Rung and thanked him for their new Sak Yant tattoos which will grace their skin and protect them forever. It was now my turn.

Meeting And Talking With Ajarn Rung

discussing my sak yant tattoo chiang mai
Discussing my Sak Yant design with Ajarn Rung

I slipped off my shoes, entered the Samnak and sat on the floor in front of Ajarn Rung. He welcomed me with a beaming smile and we began to talk about why I was there, where I was in my life and where I wanted to be. We discussed my passions, my worries, and my fears. Like most Ajarns, Ajarn Rung does not speak any English so my helpful Thai but English speaking guide did all the translating.

I began to clearly feel that Ajarn Rung was beginning to understand me as a person because he made a few statements about my personality that only a loved one could know. It all started to become a bit emotional as I tried to hold back the tears. I was feeling the true experience of getting a real and authentic Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai.

Ajarn Rung sketched his Sak Yant design on a notepad and explained to me what it represented. A foundation of happiness and contentment with a clear path to reach my goals and ambitions. All the while two protective walls were included to guard me on my travels. I immediately fell in love with the Sak Yant image and agreed to have it placed upon the energy lines at the top middle of my back.

Did Getting My Sak Yant Tattoo Hurt?

praying before getting my sak yant tattoo chiang mai
Praying to Buddha inside the Samnak

Ajarn Rung began preparing his equipment for the tattoo while I lit five sticks of incense and prayed to Buddha which all added to the spiritual and emotional experience. I then sat on a tiny stall with my back to Ajarn Rung as he began creating my personal Sak Yant tattoo.

At first, the sting of the fast-paced jabs of the metal rod into my skin was surprisingly more painful than I thought it would be. More painful than a tattoo machine. But as I settled in and he moved to other less sensitive areas of my back I quickly got used to it. The tattoo took a quick 20 minutes so even though there was some pain to experience it did not last very long.

My Sak Yant Tattoo Image

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My Sak Yant tattoo

We were not allowed to take any photos during the process of getting my Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai. Photos of Ajarns tattooing women is forbidden so only men can photo document their moment of getting a tattoo.

Here is my wonderful Sak Yant tattoo.

Is Getting A Sak Yant Tattoo In Chiang Mai Clean/Hygenic?

the sak yant tattoo samnak chiang mai
The Sak Yant Samnak in Chiang Mai

I’m sure that a big concern for many wanting a traditional Sak Yant tattoo is the risk of infection. Hygiene levels between various studios and Ajarns will vary massively. While some Samnaks come with poor cleanliness levels and use the same needle over and over again, others like Ajarn Rung will use a new sterilised needle for every tattoo.

It’s important that I remind you that this particular Samnak is an open rural property with animals running around but this did not worry me personally. Ajarn Rung’s ink is also handmade and includes a natural form of antiseptic to speed up the healing process. After a few minutes I could not even feel any signs that I had just been given a tattoo and by the end of the day, my skin was perfectly healed.

If you have any other concerns then we recommend visiting this Sak Yant FAQ page.

I may have waited a year to get my Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai but the wait was absolutely worth it. The unique experience is something that I will remember forever. How can I forget with a beautiful permanent reminder inked onto my back.

Click below for a Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai with WSE Travel

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