Why you don't get a Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop

How to Avoid the Fake Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant Scam in Thailand

Are you coming to Thailand and want to get a Bamboo Style Traditional Thai Tattoo?

Be very careful of Thailand Tattoo Studios in Tourist hot-spots who not only provide Fake Sak Yant Tattoos, they charge you 3-5 times more than the real thing!

Learn why you Don't get a Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop in Thailand

Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant Scam in Thailand
There is a BIG difference between the getting a tattoo and having a Sak Yant Experience

Many people coming to Thailand want to fine the best place to get a Souvenir tattoo to take advantage of the lower tattoo costs in Thailand while on Holiday.  The most popular designs are from the Bamboo style Traditional Thai Tattoos (Sak Yants). Sak Yant Tattoos are scared and magical tattoos that hold a high level of pride and respect in the Thai Culture. Thai people hold these scared Thai Tattoos in high regard and are often dismayed to see tourist sporting fake Sak Yants they got from popular tourist destination Tattoo Studios.  Thai’s find this so embarrassing and disrespectful, the Thai government will sometimes deport and ban people who display various Buddha related Tattoos in Public.   Hardly a great way to start your holiday, this type of ban also applies in Burma, and other Asian Buddhist countries.

Every now and again the Thai govt and police will call in Tattoo Artists in popular tourist destinations like Phuket, Bangkok, Krabi, Phi Phi and strongly advise the tattoo studios not to provide fake traditional Thai Tattoos for tourist.  However any tourist can easily see the tattoo studios displaying ‘Bamboo Tattoo’, Traditional Thai Tattoo’ signs and images outside the shop.

In this article, (article credit) we will highlight some of the reasons why a person seeking an authentic Sak Yant should avoid getting a fake traditional Thai tattoo from a Tattoo Shop or Studio.  We will examine some of the methods that unethical tattoo artists will use to encourage a person to think they are getting a real Sak Yant, when the reality is they are preforming a tourist scam that can cause offense to Thai people or worst be deported from the country.

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” and think that this is a place to get the Sak Yant Tattoo.  Places like Pai in Northern Thailand are a popular tourist destination that has 7 times more tattoo shops than 7/11’s 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 mislead a customer into thinking they are doing a real Sak Yant and place it anywhere the customer wants.

Why don't you get a Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant from a Tattoo Studio?

Apart from getting an obvious tourist stamp that displays your gullibility.  There is also the chance that if you leave the popular tourist beaches and visit real Thailand, of offending the local people. This could lead to refusal of service (hotels, bars shops etc) or worse case a visit from the Tourist Police and Immigration services.

There are enough legitimate Sak Yant Masters available in Thailand, who 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 Tourist 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

Avoid the Sak Yant Scam in Thailand

Authenticity of Culture

1) The Sak Yant Tattoo is a Spiritual and Magical representation of Thai Culture

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 scamming you, does not mean the Thai people will appreciate or admire you for displaying fake representations of their sacred culture.


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

Traditional Thai Tattoo Sak Yant from a Tattoo Shop
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 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.

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 those with knowledge can spot a fake very easily

Authenticity of 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. 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 are people asking what their fake Sak Yant says....

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.

Want to Get a Sak Yant?

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

How Tattoo Shops try to Scam you with Fake Sak Yant Tattoos

Advertising "Bamboo Tattoo's"

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 unhygienic, 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 bamboo needles that a tattoo shop uses, are basically Bar-be-Que skewers with a needle taped to the end, which they will give to their customers after the tattoo is finished. While an experienced Tattoo artist can give you a beautiful looking bamboo tattoo, these small sticks require alot of force to break the skin and are very painful.  If you are getting a tattoo in Thailand, just use the machine which creates better looking tattoos, is less painful and overall does a much better job. 

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. 

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 going to a Tattoo shop and getting a replica of the Sak Yant.

For those who want the real thing, there is absolutely no reason to seek it in 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.  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

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.

If you want the real thing get the real thing, it is easy enough to do and usually cheaper than a Tattoo Artist