Everything You Need to Know About Tattoos in Thailand
Thailand is a world premiere tattoo destination, but many visitors are wary of where to go or if it’s even safe to tattoo in Thailand. In this article I’ll ease your doubts and guide you on your way to an awesome tattoo from Thailand.
We'll be going over:
Yes. No. Kinda.
I feel like that’s the correct answer no matter what country you’re in. Tattoo Safety depends heavily on which shop you go to. But that’s not a direct answer to your question, so allow me to continue. As an American it is my opinion that on average Thai hygienic standards are not as safe as they could be. Some shops simply have not yet been taught enough about disease control and proper hygienic practices.
That’s why it’s so important to look for a safe shop. A shop that understands disposable physical barriers, that understands how not to spread bodily fluid and a shop that thoroughly cleans their equipment and work areas.
Take our shop for instance, Panumart Tattoo in Chiang mai. When we first opened we had a doctor and a physician’s assistant come in from America teach us world class level tattoo safety. Safety comes first with us as it does with some other top-notch shops in Thailand.
Long story short, yes, it is safe to tattoo in Thailand, but be smart and use a discerning eye when choosing a location.
Safe tattoo shops practice these safety precautions.
A lot of people don’t know that swimming with a brand new tattoo can be a recipe for disaster. Your tattoo could turn ugly and you can get infected.
But don’t fret it’s fine to enjoy Thailand’s amazing beaches and water & get a tattoo if you plan accordingly.
As a simple rule of thumb plan to get your tattoo at least 7 days before going swimming. After 7 days you should generally be ok to swim your heart out.
ProTip: Visiting the north? Plan for Chiang Mai to be your last destination. That way you can tan, snorkel and swim before getting inked.
The cost of a tattoo is determined by a few factors, right? Size, detail and the quality of the artist, for example.
But what you really want to know is if Thailand is cheaper than your home country, right? The answer is yes if I assume you’re a North American, European. Koala or Kiwi.
Tattoos in Thailand are cheaper than their western counterparts when you compare quality to quality.
A top-tier Thai shop, like mine, is probably more expensive than a bottom-tier shop in the United States and maybe even more expensive than a mid-tier.
But when compared to similar quality shops in Germany, for example, we are much much cheaper.
Minimum prices for tattoos in Thailand can range from $10 USD to 200 euros.
What's the name of those cool Thai tattoos Angelina Jolie has?
Sak yants are a centuries' old Thai style of tattoo. They are based on Thai Sacred Geometry, Buddhists psalms, Black Magic and a Brahman past.
These tattoos were traditionally hand-poked onto a warrior's skin for protection in battle.
Today sak yant mysticism is still alive, but for many the "yant" has become a form of art that has broken away from tradition.
If you’re interested in getting a yant, you first need to decide if the tattoo or the experience is more important to you.
Tattoo shops will generally give you better-looking sak yant tattoos than a monk can, that is 100x true for my shop. We’ll also allow you to choose your design.
Monks on the other hand give a great, traditional experience. I don’t think they allow you to choose your design because the yant and blessing are personalized like a medication for you – I may very well be wrong, maybe you can tell them which design you want. What is true the vast majority of the time is that their tattoos will look a lot more authentic which means rougher and even more so as time goes on.
Among foreigners there are only a handful of popular sak yant designs. But in actuality there are hundreds of different designs, each with their own meaning. View our list of the 20 coolest sak yant designs.
ProTip: For a good-looking sak yant head to a tattoo shop, as the artists will have a better-trained hand (on average). But if a traditional experience is what you want, then you can get tattooed by a monk or a master. This article better explains the differences between getting tattooed by an artist and a monk.
As I mentioned above, monks don’t give the best tattoos. Their lines can be sloppy and their tattoos don’t age well when compared with proper tap artists (whether the artist uses bamboo or machine). You need to know that.
But there is good reason to tattoo with a monk.
The type of tattoo that monks perform is called a sak yant (discussed in the section above).
The traditional sak yant experience is performed either by a monk or an ajarn. An ajarn is a "master" who has studied yantras and "Buddha magic," generally they will have previously served as a monk.
Monks and ajarns believe that Yantra tattoos have special powers. They offer you these blessings and protections in a special ceremony. If you believe in this or just really want to experience the experience, then you should tattoo with them.
Versed in an ancient, holy language
All sak yant tattoos have a mantra incorporated into or around the design. These mantras, known as Kata, are written in the Pali language using an ancient Khmer Sanskrit script. This language, Pali, is the "sacred language" of Thai Buddhism. This is a language that Thais are unable to read.
Monks and ajarns, however, are fluent and literate in this language, which allows them to convey the meaning of your tattoo to you. And since they are well educated on Buddhism and sak yants, they are able to personalize your blessing.Choose to go with a monk/ajarn if you value the experience and personalized blessing over the quality of your tattoo.
Booking a monk tattoo
There are many tour companies that offer monk tattoos in Thailand. Just use Google to find one in the location you're traveling to and check their reviews.
Sit down for this one.
Bamboo tattoos are more accurately called hand-poked tattoos. And the poking isn't done with bamboo. Instead it's a metal or wooden rod (not bamboo) with a steel needle inside.
This form of tattooing is said to go back thousands of years in Thai history.
For the last few centuries this is how sak yants were performed.
Today in addition to monks and ajarn, specialized tattoo artists still do bamboo tattoos.
Visitors love getting bamboo tattoos because of the local tradition behind it and for the unique experience.
They also heal in only 4 days or less, so if you are in a rush to go swimming then bamboo tattoos are a good choice for you.
Bamboo Tattoos vs Machine
- Bamboo tattoos tend to be more expensive than machine tattoos because they require more physical effort and because the artist possess a more specialized skill set.
- Machines give better-looking, longer-lasting tattoos.
- Bamboo tattoos on the other hand give a much more unique experience
- The bamboo method is best for line tattoos.
- And bamboo tattoos are not good for shading or for colors.
Finding a good bamboo artist
Finding a good bamboo artist is hard because less tattoo artists learn the skill of hand-poked tattoos.
There are fewer bamboo artists than machine tattoo artists, which makes finding a good one even harder.
A great bamboo artist will have steady, sharp lines. You can see with Aun, our bamboo artist at Panumart Tattoo. His lines and shading look like they were done with a machine. Less skilled bamboo artists have bloated, uneven lines.
Check out the artist’s work before tattooing with them to ensure they are skilled.
You'll obviously be able to find tattoo shops by searching online (Google, Facebook, Instagram) or while walking around the city. And Thailand is full of tattoo shops. You'll want to sift thru your options to find the best shop/artist for you. You'll want someone who stylistically matches with you, someone you're comfortable with, someone who will keep you safe and someone who will make you happy.
Here's how to select a Thai tattoo shop:
- Figure out what style of tattoo you want.
Different artists specialize in different styles. An artist who is great at one style may not be good at another.
- You'll want to see the artist's real work.
Use your judgment to see if the pictures are actually from the artist or pulled from Google.
- Read reviews (if they have any).
- See if the shop looks clean.
Either look at pictures online or drop by the shop.
- Speak with the artist/shop to see if you feel comfortable.
- Panumart Tattoo | Chiang Mai
243 Reviews - 100% 5-Star
- MAX TATTOO Studio at Khaosan Road
1,064 5-Star Reviews | 13 4-Star Reviews | 6 3-Star Reviews | 2 2-Star Reviews | 6 1-Star Reviews
- Celebrity Ink PHUKET
905 5-Star Reviews | 19 4-Star Reviews | 2 3-Star Reviews | 3 2-Star Reviews | 10 1-Star Reviews
- Bangkok Ink Tattoo Studio
645 5-Star Reviews | 20 4-Star Reviews | 5 3-Star Reviews | 6 2-Star Reviews | 7 1-Star Reviews
- jeng:Kabukitattoosamui samui chaweng
75 Reviews - 100% 5-Star
Thailand is hot – the Thai heat means you need to take care of your tattoo differently than you would in a cooler climate.
Why? Because when you get hot you sweat. And because tattoos are essentially open wounds. A hot, wet, open wound is at risk of getting infected if not kept clean.
More often than not you’ll stay safe if you keep your new tattoo clean and not overly moist - same as you would do with any skin wound.Avoid:
- Overly sweaty activities
If you do get sweaty then take a shower as soon as possible
- Rubbing your tattoo against things, especially dirty things
- Swimming or taking a bath for 7 days
- Hot water (warm is fine)
- Scratching at your tattoo, picking at it or damaging the skin
- Using fragrances or scented lotions on your tattoo
- Using soap on your tattoo for 7 days (unless you have a specialty tattoo soap)
- Stay clean
- AFTER 7 days use an unscented moisturizer on your tattoo 2-3x per day (be sparing with the amount of moisturizer you use - you don't want your tattooed skin too moist
Modern tattoo aftercare technology
Along with Panumart Tattoo more and more shops are using "second-skin" tattoo aftercare wrap. These special wraps create a physical barrier that prevents dirt and microbes from entering. The material is breathable and very comfortable. It is also waterproof.
Simply put, these wraps allow for safer, quicker healing.