Why you don't Get a Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo at a Tattoo Shop

How to Avoid Getting a Fake Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo from a Tattoo Artist

The Traditional Thai Tattoo is a magical talisman applied by a holy man, while chanting prayers using a Steal Needle in either Ink (visible) or oil (invisible). After the Tattoo has been applied a ritual Blessing Ceremony is used to Bless the person and magically charge the design.

The correct term is a 'Sak Yant Tattoo' but it is also incorrectly promoted by Tattoo Studios as 'Bamboo Tattoo' 'Bamboo Needle Tattoo' or 'Traditional Thai Tattoo' sometimes 'Monk Tattoo'. The Sak Yant Tattoo offers Spiritual and Magical protection to the wearer and serves as a Talisman for changing qualities of a persons life. A Bamboo Tattoo from a Tattoo Shop provide none of these things

Why don’t you use a Tattoo Artist or Parlor for a Traditional Thai Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo?

Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant Scam
Fake Traditional Thai Tattoos promoted as 'Bamboo Tattoo' done at a Koh Phi Phi Tattoo Studio are easy to get but cost 3-5 times more than the real thing!

Many people coming to Thailand want to find the best place to get a Sak Yant Tattoo can often get confused with terms such as Traditional Thai Tattoo, Bamboo Tattoo, Hand Poke Method or Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo thinking the terms mean the same thing.  They Do Not!

Sak Yant Tattoos are done with a Magical Tool (called a Kem), by a qualified and trained Spiritual Shaman or Buddhist Monk using the poke method (tapping the ink into the skin).   Since the beginning of the Tattooing Tradition in Thailand, this was the way Tattoos were applied and is referred to as the Traditional Thai Tattoo

For those people wanting a Sak Yant tattoo, but not knowing too much about them, it is easy to see the designs and photos in a Tattoo Studio window and see the words “Bamboo Tattoo”, “Hand Poked”, “Traditional Thai Tattoo” or even “Sal Yant Bamboo Tattoo” and think that this is a place to get the Sak Yant Tattoo.

It Isn’t!

Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoo’s started around 2003 and ONLY for Tourists

While many Bamboo Tattoo Shops in Thailand promote their Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo as a Traditional Thai Tattoo using the Hand Poked method.  The reality is that the true Traditional Thai Tattoo (Sak Yant’s) have never been done using Bamboo.  This ‘Bamboo Tattoo’ trend started in 2003 when Angelina Jolie got her Real Sak Yant  and western media reports called it a ‘Bamboo Tattoo’. As Tourists asking Tattoo Shops for a Bamboo Tattoo like Angelina – the Tattoo Artists attached a machine needle to a chopstick and created fake replicas to the unsuspecting tourist.  Thai people will never get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop and know that this is a tourist scam.   You can read how this scam became popular at ‘Bamboo Tattoo’s Thailands Biggest Tourist Scam

Why You Don’t Get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Studio?

Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant Scam in Thailand
There is a big difference between a fake Sak Yant from a Tattoo Artist (calling it a Traditional Bamboo Tattoo) and having a real Sak Yant Experience from a Sak Yant Master

Tattoo Studios in Thailand offer some remarkable skill and talent using the Bamboo Poke method of creating Tattoos, and do it for almost every design of Tattoo you could want.  But a Real Sak Yant is more than just the design – it is a Spiritual Experience of a sacred pattern with a Magic Blessing to empower it. The Sak Yant is a process including making an offering, getting the tattoo and having a Blessing.  

Because the Sak Yant is a treasured part of Thai Culture, it is considered disrespectful to get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Parlor when the Tattooist is not trained in the magical traditions or follows the ritual of the Sak Yant. It is not disrespectful to get a Sak Yant from a real Sak Yant Master, which is where westerners can get their Thai Tattoos even if they are not Buddhist.

It was originally thought by the Sak Yant Masters – that by creating false designs (gibberish text and copyright notices) it would deter those unable to read the magical text from attempting to replicate them. For them it was obvious that applying incorrect magic spells was such a dangerous thing to attempt – no one would be foolish enough to try.  They under-estimated the desire among Tattoo Studios and Artists to make money from tourists.  Tattoo shops figure if someone is gullible enough to pay for something they do not understand – then why not provide it for the tourists.

How Tattoo Shops try to fool you into getting a fake Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo

A Tattoo Shop in Thailand is unable to do real and authentic Sak Yant Tattoos.  However the Sak Yant designs are one of the most often requested bamboo tattoo designs by tourists.  As a work-a-round the Tattoo Parlors in Thailand rely on the lack of knowledge by the tourists and making an association in a fictional relationship between the true Sak Yant and the service they offer. 

By calling their replicas a Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoo or hand poke they attempt to create an association by stealing the valor of the real Sak Yant Tradition.  Real Sak Yant Masters will use a steel needle, using the ‘Poke Method’.  They have never used Bamboo as a way of doing this, as the bamboo needle is to lite to pierce the skin and not only painful but unhygienic.

Lets examine some of the ways the Thai Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand promoted by Tattoo Artists are misleading.

1) Tattoo Shop Fronts Displaying 'Bamboo Tattoo' or 'Traditional Thai Tattoo'

Almost all Tattoo shops will display on their front window “Bamboo or Machine” as an option, knowing full well that tourists have heard of the words ‘Bamboo Tattoo’.  In reality using a small bamboo needle is something that only Tourists request, as Thai people know that a bamboo needles are generally seen as something used in prison, they are not hygienic and and painful. No Thai person would request a ‘Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoo” because they know better. Certainly none of the Sak Yants you will see on a Thai person was obtained from a Tattoo Shop.

While the term bamboo tattoo is used, almost all tattoo artists will not use bamboo.  They prefer (like Sak Yant Masters always have) using a metal rod with a steel needle attached at the end.  Even then, not many Tattoo Artists like this method and prefer or advise the use of getting the design with a tattoo machine once inside the shop.

Thai Tattoo Shop

2) Tattoo Shops displaying Sak Yant Designs in their books

Sak Yants allowed Below the Waist

Tattoo shops in Thailand will display photos of their work on shop windows, and have sample books outside for customers to look at when passing.  Often many will also have photographs of their ‘Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo’ work display inside the shop and on social media.

It is very easy to assume that if a tattoo artist displays an image various Sak Yant designs that these designs are real.  In reality the text in these designs are gibberish, that a Real Sak Yant Master can spot, change and make personal to the customer.

Some Tattoo Artists will tell you that what they make is not real rather it is an artistic impression and can not be blessed.  Some use the don’t ask – don’t tell approach.  If the customer doesn’t ask if the design is real – no need to tell them.

3) Tattoo Studios Making Website Pages about Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoos

Tattoo Parlors in Thailand have started to write information articles about the Bamboo Tattoo Designs and Meaning.  Many of these pages are very well done and get listed in Googles top 10 search results. Some even advertise in Google stating outright they do ‘Sak Yant Tattoo’

Contained within these articles the Tattoo shops will do their best to downplay that they are not actually providing real Sak Yant’s rather using replica designs with no meaning.  Some will say that they do not provide the real thing with a magic blessing, but rather they provide a better looking bamboo tattoo in air conditioning rooms and hygienic needles.

Some shop websites will outright attempt to convince people to use their service by making up fear based and illogical statements. Creative gems like Magic Blessing is not needed, Real Sak Yants use dirty needles, Monks cant accept money etc. All Day Tattoo Studio even go so far as dissing on their Tattoo Shop competition who engage in the next practice (Number 4) or they are attempting to suggest Real Sak Yants done at a Temple are somehow a ‘scam’.  Hard to tell what point they are attempting to make.

There are some Tattoo Studios, that have real Sak Yant Ajarns working from within a holy Samnak Room.  These websites will display photos and give details of the Sak Yant Master and their work.

Fake Bamboo Tattoo in Bangkok. All Day Tattoo

4) Tattoo Shops saying you can 'Bless" their replica Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo at a Temple

bamboo tattoo blessing
Some Tattoo Shops tell its customers they can get their fakes blessed at Temples. - It's probably not a Sak Yant Blessing however

Some Tattoo Shops will tell you that you can go to a Temple and get your Sak Yant replica Blessed.  You Can’t – Not Really.

First the design they create is incorrect, it has no magical text that relate to a Sak Yant Blessing.  Secondly the Sak Yant blessing requires a Buddhist Monk who has been trained in the Magical system of Sak Yant Blessings which are different to a normal Monks Blessing. The Specialist Sak Yant Monks are pretty rare around Thailand

Anyone can go to a Temple in Thailand and receive a blessing, usually they will be given a piece of string wrapped around the wrist (or motorcycle).  You can also take objects in to be Blessed, such as clothing items, food, cars, motorcycles, Prayer Beads, etc.  Most Monks will refuse since it is a specialist skill – but it seems some provide a standard blessing 

These are general blessings available from any Monk which are usually Buddhist Prayers.  But it takes a Monk trained in the Magical Blessings to be able to read the Yant and make the correct Sak Yant Blessing.  A Sak Yant Blessing is used to empower the Sak Yant, a normal Monks Blessing is for good luck and health.

Sak Yant Tattoos are a Sacred Spiritual Traditional Tattoo that include the design, the magical application and a final blessing.  The magic comes from the personal power of the Sak Yant Master which takes years of spiritual training. This spiritual power is written in ancient magical texts which are purposely created wrong in Sak Yant Designs.  Without any training in Sak Yant, the Tattoo artist can not change the magical text or bless their ‘bamboo tattoo art’. It is disrespectful to the Thai culture to provide or wear fake Sak Yants which hold such reverence to the Thai People.

Why Sak Yant Tattoo’s Should be done by Real Sak Yant Masters

Avoid the Sak Yant Scam in Thailand

Authenticity of Thai Culture

1) Why it is Disrespectful to get a Sak Yant from a Bamboo Tattoo Artist at a Studio

Thailand has some very strict rules enforced by laws and fines when visitors (and Thais) visit sacred Buddhist sites or engage in Buddhist activities.  Thai people are particular proud of their traditions as it makes up an integral part of their national identity.  

Tattoo Artists who steal the valor of these scared traditions by providing fake representations to gullible tourists are working at an ethical place outside of Thai Culture.  Some Tattoo Shops will even tell you that their artists have no ethical problems making a Bamboo style Thai Tattoo in a Sak Yant design, and suggest the Thai people will admire you for representing their culture.  This is simply not true. 

The lack of ethics of the Tattoo shop, does not mean the Thai people will appreciate or admire you for displaying fake representations of their sacred culture. Thai people find it disrespectful getting a Sak Yant that does not come from a Real Sak Yant Master

Spirituality of the Sak Yant Tattoo

2) The Spiritual Rituals of the Sak Yant Process

It stands to reason that if you are wanting a Magical and Spiritual Traditional Thai Tattoo – the person giving the tattoo should be spiritual qualified to administer it correctly. The Sak Yant Ajarn is similar to a Shaman of many cultures; in that they provide a range of Spiritual services – the Sak Yant just being one aspect of their magical skills.  

In fact the power of the magic of the Sak Yant comes from the personal power of the Sak Yant Master and the ritual involved in the Sak Yant Process.  It remains charged by following the Sak Yant Rules of Conduct, after receiving one. Without the training, knowledge and spiritual purity to be able to charge the Sak Yant, it is not a Sak Yant.

Tattoo artist tend to not follow this strict and disciplined lifestyle. While they are skilled artists – they have zero concern about the spiritual aspect of the Sak Yant process and rituals.  This should be obvious when as a tourist you want a sacred Thai Tattoo, but while you are getting it, you share the space with others chatting on their phones. The Sak Yant experience is a Spiritual one, that you should be able to have on your own – not crowded by regular tattoo seekers.

Tattoo Shop Bamboo Tattoo
Not exactly a spiritual experience, surrounded by others watching and constant use of phones being allowed

Traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattoo’s are More than Just The Design

3) The Sak Yant is more than just the Design

Is it Disprectful to get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Studio
Getting a Fake Sak Yant from a Tattoo Studio, looks a little like this to the People who understand the importance of real Sak Yants

When getting the Sak Yant Tattoo, the meaning associated with the Tattoo comes in 3 parts; It is sometimes possible (It depends on the design itself) to have an Sak Yant design of what you want, but change the text and prayers and final blessing for a specific and special meaning. The 3 elements are

a) 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

b) 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.

c) 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.

Don't get a Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop
Traditional Thai Tattoo’s are a sacred and magical part of Thai Culture. Putting it on certain parts of the body is highly disrespectful


The Bottom Line is a Tattoo Artist is just going to copy the meaningless image they downloaded from the internet. There will be no ritual, offering, explanation of the meaning, changing of the meaningless text or attempt at a blessing.

Fake Bamboo Tattoo freehand script
Real Sak Yant Masters do not copy the incorrect script that a Tattoo Shop Artist uses from the design they download from the internet. The Sak Yant Master will create the real magical script freehand.

Authenticity of Real Sak Yant Tattoo Design

4) The Sak Yant Tattoo design is purposely drawn incorrect

Almost every image on the Sak Yant that you will find online or in a design book catalogue are drawn incorrectly, some even containing copyright notes of the Sak Yant Master and incorrect Spells. This was originally done by Sak Yant Masters to protect their designs from being used by those who do not understand the meaning. The purpose was intended to prevent those not qualified to create a Sak Yant from doing so.

This approach has not been a great success. A tattoo Artist will not know how to correct the design. Nor will they care much, as they are already justified to themselves that they are providing designs that sacred, so what does it matter if those designs are wrong?

And to be fair many tattoo business and Tattoo artists will be completely honest about this.  Many tattoo shops will tell you, (if you ask) that what they offer is a replica that is an ‘artistic’ copy of a real Sak Yant, done in the old hand poked method.

If you just want the tattoo this is usually no problem.  However if you are wanting to get it blessed later – it can not be done.  You can not recharge and re-blessed something that holds only a decorative function.  Some Masters and Monks will even refuse to apply a real Sak Yant to the skin of someone who already has a fake one.

Real Sak Yants are Cheaper than Bamboo Tattoo Fakes

5) Real Sak Yants are often cheaper than a Tattoo Studio copy

This really depends on the location and fame of the Sak Yant Master. Generally however the price of a real Sak Yant from a Sak Yant Master is cheaper than a tattoo artist will ask. The Sak Yant process also involves the offering, respect, chanting of magical spells during the application and final blessing. These steps are not done by tattoo studios.

Angelina Jolie’s Sak Yant Master now commands a higher fee than any tattoo studio will ask. Most other Sak Yant Masters will charge a price less or similar to the local tattoo parlor. In the North of Thailand in Chiang Mai you can obtain the Sak Yant for almost half the price of the local tattoo artists will request.

Real Sak Yants are cheaper
A Fake Sak Yant at a Tattoo Shop can easily cost twice as much as the real thing
Sak Yant Meaning
Most common question in Sak Yant forums from people getting a Tattoo Shop Sak Yant is 'What dos it Say' .... Many are dissapointed to find out it means nothing

Tattoo Artists Lack Knowledge of the Sak Yant Design

6) You get to know what your Sak Yant means from a real Sak Yant Master

Look at any Sak Yant forum or Facebook page and you will see a great majority of the posts are people asking what their Sak Yant means. This can happen for many reasons including the person going to a Sak Yant Master who does not speak English without taking a translator. But more often than not it is because they got the tattoo from a tattoo shop who can not explain the meaning of the Sak Yant design.

When you get a Sak Yant from a Sak Yant Master (so long as you can communicate with them) they will ask you why you want a Sak Yant, discuss the various design options and any modifications they will make. When you use a guide, translator or Sak Yant Service they will usually ensure that you understand the procedure and the meaning of your Sak Yant Tattoo.

Many Tattoo Artists making their take on a traditional Thai bamboo tattoo, will have only the one sentence meaning of the design. Although the design itself has no meaning, this comes from the Text within the design. Since a Tattoo Artist is copying meaningless text – they can not really say what their replica represents or means.

Quick Answers to the Common Sak Yant Questions

1) Is it Disrespectful to get a Sak Yant Tattoo?

It is not disrespectful to get a Sak Yant Tattoo that is real and Authentic from a Sak Yant Master.  The Sak Yant Tattoo is a part of the long traditional Thai culture that involves 3 aspects,
1) The Design
2) The Magic Script and
3) The Final Blessing; which are administers by a suitably trained Monk or Sak Yant Ajarn.

There is no disrespect getting a Sak Yant from these Sak Yant Masters, who have spent years learning the magical arts and live a life by over 200 spiritual rules to qualify to give Sak Yants.  It is however disrespectful to ignore these qualities that make a Traditional Thai Tattoo real, and get a replica art design only from a tattoo artist.   The Sak Yant is special not because of the design, but because of the commitment to the magic and values it represents.

2) Can Anyone get a Sak Yant Tattoo?

Yes, anyone can get a Sak Yant Tattoo.  The Sak Yant Masters have no limitations on anyone from getting a Sak Yant – the only requirement is showing the correct respect to the Master during the process.  This involves the Sak Yant ceremony of bowing in respect, making an offering, making a donation and committing to trying to lead a good and beneficial life.

3) Can I Get a Sak Yant Tattoo Near Me?

Sadly almost probably not.  Sak Yant Masters are usually Monks or Ajarns that live and serve the local communities where they live in Thailand.  On Occasion some will travel overseas, and there are a handful of westerners who have studied the Sak Yant and provide the service in a couple of locations around the world.

When a real Sak Yant Master travels to perform Sak Yant near you – whoever is sponsoring the event will usually promote it heavily. The westerners who have spent years in Thailand (usually becoming a Buddhist Monk as part of the process) will also make a major part of their advertising the fact they are authentic.

4) Who can Give a Sak Yant?

Real and Authentic Sak Yants can only be given by Sak Yant Masters.  The Sak Yant Master has spent years training in the magical arts that are involved with the Traditional Thai Tattoos.  Usually a Monk at a small rural Temple that services their community, or a Sak Yant Ajarn.

A Sak Yant Ajarn is a little like a shaman in the west.  They are someone who wants to commit their lives to the pursuit of spiritual and magical arts to help others.  But also may want a family, or other aspects of life that are not possible as a Buddhist Monk.

5) What makes a Sak Yant Tattoo Special?

The Sak Yant Tattoo is a magical talisman, tattooed into the skin along with magic spells and then charged with a Blessing to activate it.  The power comes from a combination of the chosen design, and the magic script written and the Blessing for the purpose of the Sak Yant. 

Almost all designs are purposely made with errors and even the creators copyright written into the text in a Sak Yant design.  It requires the skill of the Sak Yant Master who can read the magical script, and change the text for the individual, and then activate the tattoo with it’s power. It then requires the commitment of the person getting the Sak Yant Tattoo (through the ceremony) to make a pledge to honor and respect the whole process.

Each Sak Yant is created for the individual person to fulfill an intention or desire.  Each Sak Yant Masters, will change the script, chant spells and give a blessing for a unique creation for their customers. 

It is obvious to those who honor the Sak Yant Tradition that getting a replica design, with zero magic (just a copyright notice of the creator) from a tattoo artist with no blessing is as silly as drawing a crocodile on your t-shirt and trying to convince others your wearing a real designer Lacoste

6) What does the Sak Yant Tattoo Say?

The magic script on a Sak Yant Tattoo is call the Khata. The Khata is usually written in Pali language (a ancient form of Sanskrit), Khmur (Old Cambodian) or Lanna (Northern Thailand).  The Script says whatever spell needs to be applied to the Sak Yant design to create the persons desired result. As each Sak Yant is created for the individual for a specific reason, each Sak Yant will say something slightly different.

Since only those trained in the ancient languages can actually read (and change) the script – it becomes difficult to know what it says unless you ask the Master who gave you the Sak Yant.  For those using a design they obtained online – the script says nothing really, some actually say “this means nothing”, some include a spell for bad luck and others include the individual Masters copyright who created the design.


Want to Get a Real Sak Yant Tattoo?

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

What if I don’t care the Sak Yant is Real? I just want a nice Bamboo Tattoo!

At the end of the day, people wanting a real Sak Yant Tattoo are greatly out numbered by tourists who decide that they want a cool looking tourist tattoo to take home with them. Thailand tattoos are generally cheaper than home countries, and the quality of tattoo work is outstanding.  If you just want a great looking Tattoo, there is (from a western point of view) nothing wrong with getting a Bamboo Tattoo or even a Fake Sak Yant from a tattoo shop or parlor.

The real issue is when a tourists lack of knowledge is used to take advantage of them by selling something that is not real.  This is hardly an issue that is exclusively to do with Tattoos – Thailand is full of fake shoes, bags and clothing.

Some Tattoo studios are at least up front and honest about providing copies and not the real thing.  Often they will refer to it as a ‘Traditional Thai Tattoo’ in their ‘Style’ (Which essentially means their artistic interpretation of the real Sak Yant).  One new Bangkok Tattoo Studio go a step further dedicating a whole page to Sak Yants claiming you might as well get one from them because

1) It looks prettier
2) They don’t scam you by claiming their Sak Yants real or they do scam blessings
3) Their staff have no ethical issue regarding doing Sak Yant Designs

For the Sak Yant purest, this seems as silly as promoting the Steak your about to eat as ‘Gluten Free’ (Gluten is a carbohydrate and is non existent in Steak which is a protein). The logic that getting a Fake is OK because it is not Real makes very little sense.

If you are going to get a Sak Yant Design because you like the design, there is no reason why you should not get a tattoo of your choice from a tattoo studio.  A tattoo shop copy will probably looks better than the real thing, and if you have no interest or concern for the spiritual meaning it makes no difference. But do not make the mistake of believing some of the claims or reasoning of the sales pitch.  Thai people will find your Fake Sak Yant placed in disrespectful parts of the body, highly offensive.  Those who appreciate the traditional of the Sak Yant will see you as naive and gullible, something that you will carry etched into your body for a lifetime. 

If you want the real thing get the real thing, it is easy enough to do and usually cheaper than a Tattoo Artist.  You can Get a Sak Yant in Chiang Mai, (Northern Thailand) very easily