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Sak Yant tattoo the traditional thai tattoo

Sak Yant tattoo the traditional thai tattoo

Authored By Nelson Santos 4 Comment(s)

I knew one day the time would come when I would decide to get a tattoo. However, I wanted to make sure it meant something special to me and that I did not just get a tattoo for the sake of it. During my travels, a few people asked me if I was planning on getting a bamboo tattoo or some may even know it as the original  Buddha tattoo. I wasn’t too sure what they meant by that. However, after doing a little research, I came across the term “Sak Yant.”

What does Sak Yant mean?

“Sak” means tattoo in Thai and “yan” is the Thai pronunciation for the Sanskrit word yantra,[2] a type of mystical diagram used in Dharmic religions. Essentially, this method of tattooing has existed in Asia and has been the traditional thai tattoo for thousands of years and is usually done by a monk or an Ajarn (a non-practicing monk who still performs Sak Yants). Needless to say, this is exactly the type of experience I was seeking for my first tattoo.

How to get a Sak Yant tattoo

Now, this is where the first part of the adventure begins. Getting a Sak Yant is not like getting a tattoo at a shop. Most of the time this is going to be done in a temple where the monk or Ajarn resides. I should point out that if you are in Thailand, there are ways of getting the scared Sak Yant through companies that have set up tourist-type excursions in which they arrange for a Thai speaker to go with you to a temple. To be completely candid with you, I was considering that option when I first got to Thailand; however, the fees they were charging were ridiculous, especially when traditionally this is done solely on a donation basis. Personally, I felt it took away from the spirituality aspect of it and commercialized it. However, to each his own, and I would encourage anyone who embarks on this journey of the Sak Yant to do what they feel is right.

So, I decided to wait and just kept asking around. Finally, a friend of mine reached out to me and informed me about someone he knew who had several Sak Yants done here in Chiang Mai. I arranged to meet up with Tom, who runs the Muy Thai boxing gym in Chiang Mai, and we had a chance to talk about the Sak Yant. He was more than willing to accompany me to the temple that same week so I could get my first Sak Yant.

Getting Ready for a Sak Yant Tattoo 

There is still more to this; you don't just show up at a temple and get your Sak Yant. There is a ceremony that goes along with the inking of the Sak Yant into your body. As Tom explained to me, the first part involves acquiring the necessary items for the offering before we ventured off to the temple. The offering consisted of 12 lotus flowers, some fruit, a pack of cigarettes, and Red Bull (or Thailand’s version of Red Bull). That same week, on Friday, after Muy Thai class in the morning, we ventured off to get the necessary items, then rode about an hour out of town to a small temple in the country. I was quite nervous when I got there. I wasn’t sure what to expect or even what to say. Thankfully, Tom had been there before and even spoke Thai, so that made the experience as smooth as possible.

Sak Yant Monk Offering


When we arrived, the Arjan was setting up. We followed him to a small room next to the temple, a shrine of sorts. One thing I noticed right away was that he had Sak Yants all over his body; if I had any doubts that he knew what he was doing, they quickly went away.

After we all settled in the room, Tom and I presented our offerings, which he prayed over. I should mention that it was my goal to get the dragon Sak Yant; however, apparently, he had different plans for me. After that, he called me up to sit in front of him. When you are called up in this ceremony, as a show of respect, you are supposed to bow three times in front of the Arjan. Afterward, he had me take off my shirt and asked me to turn around. He put his hands back on me, which felt like an eternity. He began to pray over me, then proceeded to get a long needle and start working on my back. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as pain went, but it wasn’t that bad; it just felt like little needle pricks. After he finished, he put his hands on me and proceeded to pray over me again. Then I bowed again and that was the end of my ceremony.


Ajarn Don



What Did I Get?

At this point, I had no idea what had just been inked on my back. What I found shortly afterward was that there are three Sak Yants to receive before you get the more complicated designs. These the Monks will select for you. The three are known as the 1) Hah Taew picture here 2) Gao Yord picture here and 3) Paed Tidt picture here. The monk ended up choosing the Gao Yord, which is the “Yant Kru” or Master Yant, a most sacred Buddhist tattoo with very wide-ranging powers of protection. It is quite possibly the most important of all the Sak Yant designs. The Sak Yant offers universal protection. The basic design of the Gao Yord represents the nine peaks of the mythical mountain of the Gods, Mount Meru. According to Hindu mythology, Mount Meru is the abode of Lord Brahma as well as other Deities. In Buddhist mythology, Mount Meru is known as Sumeru.

With great power comes great responsibility Sak Yant comes with a set of rules that are followed to maintain the power  of this tattoo.

Do not kill a person for pleasure.

Do not steal for your own personal gain.

Do not lie to harm others. We all tell white lies and there is a difference.

Do not have sexual relations with another’s partner.

Do not spit in the toilet. The toilet should be a clean place; to not keep it so shows disrespect to oneself and others.

Do not swear at or disrespect your parents in any way.

Do not speak about people behind their backs in a manner likely to cause harm.

Do not overconsume alcohol and become troublesome to others. Remain in control.

Do not walk under female underwear. The reason for this is to avoid temptations and distractions that the opposite sex can bring. Monks themselves are not allowed to touch a woman’s skin for this very reason; when a monk tattoos a female, he will wear surgical gloves.

Do not partake in evil deeds. Avoid all contact with such happenings whenever possible.

It was amazing experience, and I look froward to getting my next Sak Yant when the time is right which maybe sooner then later



Thanks so much for all this info. We are going to Thailand for our honeymoon in May and each plan on getting a tattoo. I would like mine to be easily hidden and was thinking about my rib cage area. Will they tattoo in this sort of location on a female? Can you tell us any location restrictions/rules? Thanks!!


Great blog post! Nelson I feel silly asking this but did they have any small designs? And how small? I want to do this but want something very small and subtle.


This is something I have been wanting to do for awhile. My husband and I are visiting Thailand in November and we are thinking of doing it. Our biggest reservation is the cleanliness of the whole process. I get that in America we are obsessed with cleanliness, but I have also read that the needles are reused. We’re you hesitant at all? Can you tell me more about this part of your experience? Also, is the care for the tattoo similar to how you would care for a regular tattoo?


Hi Nelson, haven’t heard the name “Sak Yant Tattoo” but knew monks perform tattoos within a Thai temple. Interesting thing that now they allow you to select design you want, do you think it’s because of money or it’s really about a design you like and that speaks to you?

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