Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand | Advice From An Expert Artist
Did you know that bamboo tattoos don’t actually use bamboo?
Known as hand-poked tattoos by Thais (สักมือ), this form of tattoo involves placing needles at the end of a long, slender pole that can be made out of metal or wood (but not bamboo). To learn more about this art-form I’ll be interviewing, Aun, a master bamboo tattoo artist from Panumart Tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Interview with Aun:
What is the most important thing you think a foreigner should know about bamboo tattoos?
“Bamboo tattoos” are simply tattoos made with the hand-poking technique. This technique comes from Thai history when monks performed sak yant tattoos like the ones you’ve seen on Muay Thai fighters or Angelina Jolie. Sometimes people confuse these two things, but they are very much different. Sak yants, or yantras, are more than just designs. They are mystical symbols with religious context and whoever gets one should behave properly. On the other hand, hand-poking is simply a technique we use to make modern tattoos.
Read more: sak yants + bamboo tattoo designs and meanings
Do bamboo tattoos fade faster than machine tattoos?
People usually ask, bamboo vs machine, which is better?
For line work there will not be much difference in the short-term (around 10 years). Line work from bamboo will bleed on areas of the body that move a lot, such as the waist, joints, the neck, stomach etc.
But for the long-term, they might bleed a lot. Let’s say you get a hah taew sak yant tattoo like Angelina Jolie, after 10 years the one from a machine is still readable while the one from bamboo will probably not be.
Regarding color tattoos, bamboo tattoos will fade way faster. Even for machine tattoos colors fade faster than black, but for bamboo tattoos it’s way faster.
For color tattoos done with the stick and poke method, after 4-5 years the color will fade away noticeably. This is due to the needle use and because the artist will not be generate power and speed as much as machine does. And as such the ink doesn’t go as deep as the machine does.
Do bamboo tattoos hurt more or less than machine tattoos?
This is a tricky question because with tattoos every customer is different with pain.
With that said, bamboo tattoos don’t cause as much pain as the machine does. So you can say they hurt less.
But sometimes people say the bamboo tattoo is more painful because usually bamboo tattoos takes longer to complete (up to 3 times slower). So even though it hurts less, the pain adds up over time and the person says it hurts more.
How long after a bamboo tattoo can someone swim?
Bamboo tattoos give less damage on your skin. If you only get a simple line tattoo, then in 2-3 days your skin should be healed and you should be able to swim. But if your tattoo is more detailed then 4 days will be a long enough wait to swim.
With machine tattoos, however, you should wait at least a week to swim.
Read more about tattoos and swimming.
Is a bamboo tattoo safe?
Generally speaking, the bamboo tattooing process is as safe or dangerous as any other tattoo. It is up to the artist and shop owners to perform a sterile tattoo in a hygienic environment. As with every country, there is a wide range of quality of tattoo shops in Thailand. Some definitely understand disease control and hygienic practices, whereas others are surely lacking. At Panumart Tattoo we are leading the way in hygiene for tattoo shops in Thailand – having been educated by American medical professionals.
Bamboo tattoos heal faster than machine tattoos.
With all that said…Because of the quicker bamboo tattoo healing time you could say that bamboo tattoos are safer. As with a faster healing (due to less damage to the skin), there is less time for an infection to set in.
Watch out for these bamboo tattoo risks
- Tattoo shops should look clean.
- Disposable plastic barriers should be on the bed, tattoo station and tattoo machine.
- Tattoo artists should follow proper glove use and disposal hygiene.
How much does a bamboo tattoo cost?
From shop to shop prices will range. Prices will also be affected by the intricacy and size of the design. But generally speaking a bamboo tattoo should be more expensive than a machine tattoo. This method of tattooing is harder work because it is the artist generating the power, not a machine. Plus it takes a lot of skill to create good bamboo tattoos.
- Chiang Mai
- Koh Phangan
- Ko Phi Phi
- Koh Lanta