So I'm at a friends house in Bangkok, a few beers in and having a great time then another guy I hadn't yet met arrives. He was late because he'd just got back from Wat Bang Phra one of several temples in Thailand where you can receive a magical Buddhist tattoo which will protect you in your life. I'd always wanted a tattoo and just been waiting for a meaningful enough idea of what to get. Well, this was going to be it.
Wat Bang Phra is one of the most famous places to get a Sak Yant (Buddhist tattoo blessed by a monk), it is also the home of the Thai Tattoo festival in March. We took a minibus for about an hour out to a nearby village, and hitchhiked the last 10km to the temple. Walked in and shyly said the word "tattoo?" to one of the passing monks. He pointed through a gate and we went through. Inside there were about 5 or 6 Thai men crowding around a heavily tattooed monk; who if wasn't wearing an orange robe could even be mistaken for a gangster by his appearance. One of the men asked me for 40baht (€1) for an offering of candles, incense, flowers and cigarettes (yes I said cigarettes) for the Monk. I have no idea why I am offering him cigarettes to a monk in a formal and spiritual way though, if someone knows please comment and let me know.
I naively asked the guy if they had any pictures of the types of tattoos I could choose from. The monk opened his robe and showed his back covered by at least 10 tattoos, "choose one". I chose the Ha Taew, the most famous of all Sak Yant, Ha Taew is a prayer of 5 lines written in an ancient Khmer language, I was told it would protect me in 5 areas of my life; luck, health, spirituality, family, and sexuality.
I stepped forwards and knelt in front of the monk formally offering him the golden plate, he accepted as he said some prayer. I waited a while for my turn and then he called me forwards. 3 men held in place as the monk brought forwards a huge long metal spike. He dipped it in the ink which is a mixture of ink, ash and snake venom, aimed with the V of his index finger and thumb and started to write the words. It took about 15 minutes to complete, although it felt much longer! The monk said some prayers, blew hard on the tattoo and the blessing was complete.
Did it hurt? HELL YES!! Even more than the 4 hour machine tattoo I got later on! Was it worth it? Definitely! I am not a religious person at all, but this was one of the most spiritual moments of my life, and the tattoo is perfect and very meaningful to me.
I definitely recommend getting a Sak Yant tattoo for anyone visiting Thailand who is interested in this kind of thing, but do research into the meaning of them before you go. Also make sure that the tools used are cleaned properly before, and the ink is also changed to prevent any kind of infection.
And here is the finished result: