Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Thu June 16 2016

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  • A Cruising Couple | June 16, 2016 9:00 PM ET

    A Monk’s Blessing: Our Thai Sak Yant Tattoo Experience

    A Monk’s Blessing: Our Thai Sak Yant Tattoo Experience

    Before our trip to Thailand, many friends and readers inquired as to what we were most excited about. The epic food? Breathtaking beaches? Intricate temples? Friendly people and affordable prices? Of course, we were looking forward to all of those things (and more), but what topped the list of our reasons to travel to Thailand was the opportunity to get a Sak Yant tattoo.

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    Long before we knew Angelina Jolie or other top travel bloggers had Sak Yant tattoos of their own, we decided we would one day travel to Thailand to get blessed by a monk in a local temple — and return home with a permanent memento in the form of a tattoo. And now that it’s all said and done, we can easily say that our most memorable moment in Thailand was, in fact, kneeling in front of a young monk in a rural temple while he repeatedly jabbed a long bamboo needle into our backs.

    Sak Yant Tattoo

    Sak Yant tattoos are no ordinary tattoos. For starters, traditional tattooing methods are used — rather than a machine gun, a long bamboo needle is repeatedly dipped into “magical” ink and then stabbed into your back over and over again.

    The mystical powers of a Sak Yant tattoo vary by design, with each signifying different blessings. In some cases, the monk will read your aura and then select the tattoo design he feels will best protect you. However, our monk allowed us to select the design and placement we wanted, based on the belief that if the design spoke to us, then we would benefit from its blessing.

    There are only a few gifted people who are able to perform the ancient and mystical Sak Yant tattoo. With the help of, we were able to find and receive a Sak Yant Tattoo from a skilled monk in a village about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai City. Going with a local was invaluable — without the help of our guide, we would not have understood the rituals and blessings, or even found this secluded monk to begin with!

    Sak Yant Tattoo

    When we arrived at the temple and entered the room where the monk performs the tattoos, the room was filled with golden masks, incense, flowers, Buddha statues and elephant figurines. We had a chance to speak with the monk and learn that he had lived the life of a monk since he was a very young boy — a life devoted to education and living the teachings of Buddha.

    We sat humbly on the floor while our translator explained how each of the symbols of the tattoo represented a different form of protection. As mentioned, the various symbols hold special powers, such as: protection from evil, good luck, good fortune for your business, mercy, charm and the ability to change bad things into good things.

    Sak Yant Tattoo

    We gave a small offering to the gods in the form of flowers and incense, and then the tattooing began. The monk slowly guided the bamboo rod as he repeatedly poked the skin. The process to complete the tattoos took roughly an hour each; larger designs can take far longer though. If we’re being honest, the tattooing procedure was extremely painful. However, there was no bleeding or scabbing, and as soon as the tattoo was finished, all pain dissolved away.

    Sak Yant Tattoo

    Like many others considering a Sak Yant tattoo, sanitation was a significant concern prior to just allowing anyone to stick us with a needle. There are monks in Thailand who still use natural dyes, which can cause allergic reactions in some cases, and we had heard of previous experiences where the needles may or may not have been new or sanitized. We were relieved to know our monk used a safe tattoo ink and a fresh, sterilized needle for each of us.

    If you’re a woman, it’s also important to realize that not every monk will want to give you a Sak Yant. That is because most monks are forbidden from touching women. In our case, Casey was allowed to receive the tattoo because I accompanied her, and I was also getting my own Sak Yant.

    Sak Yant Tattoo

    After they were complete, the monk then blessed our tattoos (which provides the protection.) The short ceremony included chanting and gently hitting the tattoo. Again, having a local to explain what was going made all the difference!

    Receiving a Sak Yant tattoo is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will never forget. While it might not be for everyone, the spiritual experience tops our list of travel moments. If you’re thinking of getting your own Sak Yant, here are a few more tips you’ll want to know:

    Don't wear revealing clothing. Long pants and a sarong to cover up are a good idea.

    Bring a gift to offer the gods for the blessing. This is usually flowers, incense, candles and a small monetary donation.

    After the tattoo is completed, there will be a blessing ceremony. This is also when you will offer your full donation to the monk. There is no “cost” for the tattoo, so offer what you can afford based on the value you believe the experience and monk offered.

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    Do not stand above a monk as a matter of politeness.

    Do not point the bottoms of your feet at a monk. Casey’s sister accidentally made this mistake when she sat with her legs stretched out in front of her, and the monk did kindly ask her to reposition.

    Do your research! There are tons of generic tattoo shops advertising the Sak Yant tattoos, but for the real deal, you’ll want to visit a monk trained in the practice of Sak Yant at his temple. 

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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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