Why you don't get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Shop or Tattoo Artist

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

Learn why you Don't get a Traditional Thai Tattoo from a Tattoo Artist at a Tattoo Studio. Not Tattoo Shops in Bangkok or Tattoo Shops in Phuket or any Tattoo Artist in Thailand

Tattoo’s are cheap in Thailand, Tattoo Studio Shops EVERYWHERE! So why don’t you get a Sak Yant Traditional Thai Tattoo from a Tattoo Shop?

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

Anyone who has walked the streets of any city in Thailand will notice that there are certain types of shops that seem to outnumber all others. Most notably..

Custom Tailors
Massage Shops
and Tattoo Studios

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” and think that this is a place to get the Sak Yant Tattoo.  Popular tourist destinations in Thailand have more Tattoo Studios than 7/11’s – and there is a 7/11 on every corner in Thailand. 

With all these promotional signs and images of Sak Yant designs in the front of the shop –  You might think this is a great place to get a Sak Yant tattoo ….

It Isn’t!

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 not a quality a Tattoo artist has, especially when they might try to mislead a customer into thinking they are doing a real Sak Yant and place it anywhere the customer wants.

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 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. It is considered disrespectful to get a Sak Yant Tattoo if the person is not trained in the magical traditions of the Sak Yant. 

Sak Yant Masters like any magical system around the world protect their knowledge by purposely creating false designs with fake scripts that will be useless to the untrained.  Those who are initiated and studied Sak Yant, can spot and correct the purposely created mistakes in Sak Yant Designs. Each Sak Yant design is a basic template that is then individualized with the magic that is personal to the motivations of the person receiving it. This is one of the reasons if you look at photos of Real Sak Yant Tattoos, they appear to be different from each other from person to person.

It was originally thought by the Sak Yant Masters – that by creating false designs (including in many their copyright notice) it would deter those untrained 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 lack of cultural respect among Tattoo Studios and Artists.  Tattoo shops figure if someone is gullible enough to pay for something they do not understand – they why not provide it for them.

Additionally they thought if anyone wanted a Sak Yant Tattoo almost every local person would know where to send someone interested in the real thing.  There is really no need to get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Studio, when there are enough legitimate Sak Yant Masters available in Thailand. Real Sak Yant Masters provide the authentic Traditional Thai Tattoo. Many of them can be found in a Google Map’s search very easily.  Most do not charge anything close to what the typical tattoo studios will as an additional bonus.

Following are some of the reasons that make the Bamboo Traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattoo special in the eyes of Thai people and its culture. It is considered disrespectful to ignore these aspects and get a Sak Yant Tattoo design from someone who is not trained in the Sak Yant Tradition.

Avoid the Sak Yant Scam in Thailand

Authenticity of Thai Culture

1) Why it is Disrespectful to get a Sak Yant from a 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. For example when visiting a Temple there is a conservative dress code to gain entry, and signs everywhere suggesting that images of the Buddha should not be tattooed on the body or Buddha heads purchased and taken from the country. Many tourists have actually been arrested and deported for displaying Tattoos of the Buddha in many Asian countries including Thailand.

Tattoo Studios are everywhere, and the competition among Tattoo artists is fierce. Fierce enough, that many Tattoo studios will ignore the culture values and offer the Sak Yant designs using the term “Bamboo Tattoo” to unsuspecting tourists. While the term Bamboo Tattoo is often used to describe the ‘hand poke’ method of a Sak Yant, they are not the same.

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 Qualification of the Sak Yant Master to qualify to give Thai tattoos

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.  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.

Training to become a Sak Yant Master usually includes first becoming a Buddhist Monk, and years of training in the Buddhist traditions and associated magical arts. Sak Yant Masters (like any craft) require a long time of specialist training until their teachers decide they are purified enough to qualify to represent the art of Sak Yant. The Sak Yant Master, has to follow a long list of rules for living a Spiritual life very similar to Buddhist Monks, as part of their chosen career.

Tattoo artist tend to not follow this strict and disciplined lifestyle. While they are skilled artists – they tend to be at the edge of social change and ideals, and not so much into the traditions of the culture.  It would be fair to say that Tattoo artists tend to be at the modern fringe of society cultures.  This is especially true in such a tradition country like Thailand

confused buddhist monk
Very confusing why anyone would get a fake when the real thing is easy to find

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

When Getting a Sak Yant tattoo from a tattoo shop/studio and artist they are untrained in the major aspects of the Sak Yant Experience.  The untrained person is unable to correct the next point which is perhaps the most important reason you do not get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo shop. Sak Yant from a tattoo shop

Fake Sak Yant 5 Line
The most common image of the 5 Line Sak Yant Available online has many purposely designed mistakes in the text. Tattoo artists are not able to correct these and many Thai people can spot a fake very easily

Authenticity of Real Sak Yant Tattoo Design

4) The Sak Yant Tattoo design is purposely drawn incorrectly

Almost every image on the Sak Yant that you will find online or in a design book catalogue are drawn incorrectly, 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 did not work our so well. The popularity of the Sak Yant has increased along with the availability of the images online, 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, that what they offer is a replica that looks better than the real thing. While many tattoo shops are honest and open about this, some keep it quiet unless asked and many will outright lie about it.

The fake Sak Yant is easily identified by the trained Sak Yant Master and even a great many westerners with an interest in the tradition. 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 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 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, but seldom does them himself anymore. Other less famous but still well known Sak Yant Masters will charge a price 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.

The bottom-line is, that those people providing Real Sak Yants, (while still doing so for a price), generally see themselves as providing a spiritual service.  Whereas a Tattoo shop is a business, with the sole focus on fame and profit.  Sak Yant Masters live a very simple and spiritual life, and do not crave material items – so do not have to charge as much as a general rule of thumb.

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 of a Sak Yant Ajarn 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 shops will tell you what the Sak Yant should mean based on the design, if they were actually giving you a authentic Sak Yant. But not too many of them point out that this does not really apply, since they just did a incorrect copy of a design, that you liked, but it does not have any meaning since it is not authentic.

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.  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 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.


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

Advertising 'Bamboo Tattoo's' | 'Traditional Thai tattoos' | 'Hand Poked'

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 bamboo needles are generally seen as outdated and painful.

Real Sak Yant Masters will use a steel needle, using the ‘Poke Method’.  A very long time ago, Sak Yant Masters did use bamboo needles, but they stopped doing this almost 40 years ago.  Now days they use the safer, more accurate and less painful Steel Needles, very seldom using a Bamboo Needle.  While you can request a Bamboo Needle, the ones that proper Sak Yant Masters use, take half a day to make.

The term “Bamboo Tattoo” was originally used as another name for the Sak Yant Tattoo.  This created a great marketing opportunity for the tattoo artist to capitalize on the known term and use it to apply their regular tattoo designs with a novel twist.  Originally if someone actually wanted a real Sak Yant, the tattoo artist would be honest and explain they are not qualified to do them.  Newer generations of tattoo artists have less interest in the traditions and culture and more focus on profit.

There are not many Tattoo Artists who prefer or advise the use of a Bamboo Tattoo over using a machine – it is done mostly as a tourist novelty

Thai Tattoo Shop

Having Sak Yant Designs displayed 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 stencil designs all over their walls for the customer once they are inside of the shop.

It is very easy to assume that if a tattoo artist displays an image various Sak Yant designs then they will more than likely provide them, even suggesting you get the ‘Bamboo Tattoo’.

Not all, but many will tell you if you ask that they can give you a real Sak Yant tattoo.  Others will be honest and tell you that they do the traditional looking style tattoo but not the blessing. 

Tattoo Studios Making Website Pages about Sak Yant Tattoos

In the last few years many Tattoo Parlors in Thailand have started to write information articles about the Sak Yant Tattoo.  Many of these pages are very well done and get listed in Googles top 10 search results.

Contained within these articles the Tattoo shops will do their best to downplay the reality that they are not actually providing real Sak Yant’s.  Some will say that they do not provide the real thing with a magic blessing, but rather they provide a better looking tattoo, air conditioning and hygienic needles.

Some of these pages will outright attempt to convince people to use their service by knowingly write about things that are simply not true. Gems like Magic Blessing is not needed, Real Sak Yants use dirty needles, Monks cant accept money etc. 

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.

Confusion of the Terms Sak Yant|Bamboo Tattoo|Thai Tattoo

Many people coming to Thailand want to fine 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 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.  Sometimes referred to as Bamboo Tattoo as it was a sliver of sharpened bamboo that was used to apply them.  Real Sak Yant Masters abandoned using bamboo decades ago as they were light and required a heavy handed tap, and were not very hygienic.

Sak Yant Masters no longer refer to Yantra Tattoos as ‘Bamboo Tattoo’s’ although the term is still widely used by bloggers and Tattoo shops.  When Tattoo Studios first began in Thailand, just like any other country they used the modern machine gun, modern inks and needles and promoted themselves as modern, hygenic and better than the old school way of making tattoos.  Tattoo artists would also focus on modern tattoo designs, rejecting the past traditions as a relic of Thailand’s history.  They did modern tattoos for the youth, and the old Sak Yant Masters did the sacred designs for the old timers. 

The Popularization of Sak Yant’s and Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoos

As the Traditional Sak Yant Tattoos started to gain notoriety and popularity, Tattoo Studios would to get inquiries about getting a Traditional Thai Tattoo, using the Bamboo hand poke method.  So they started to attach a machine needle to a bamboo stick and gave the tourists what they wanted.  This became very popular and a way to distinguish the tattoo you got in Thailand with a tattoo you could get at home.

Without a doubt the quality and skill of tattoo artists in Thailand using the old school style of poke method (as opposed to the tattoo machine) is truly remarkable. This is often promoted as Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoo’s and refers to how Thailand used to make tattoos before the modern era of quality inks, needles and machines. These promotional terms often leads to confusion with the Sak Yant Tattoo which is also done using the poke method, but requires a person trained and dedicated to living a spiritual lifestyle. Tattoo artists generally do not mind this confusion as it allows them to also provide Sak Yant designs to tourists who do not understand the difference.  Today, there is hardly a Tattoo Parlor in Thailand that does not actively promote the use of Traditional Thai Style, Bamboo Tattoos and the Hand poked method. Get a Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop

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 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 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.

For those who want the real thing, there is absolutely no reason to seek a Sak Yant Tattoo from a tattoo parlor. There are plenty of resources online to find a real Sak Yant. 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. However after reading about the situation, you are now in a better position to make a more informed decision about where you want to get a Sak Yant tattoo from.

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

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