For an experience that's both physical and spiritual, Sak Yant tattoos are a sacred art form with a mystical touch.
Few souvenirs are as personal—or as permanent—as a tattoo. It's a lasting way to remember any trip, but the Sak Yant tattoos of Southeast Asia are more than just stylish mementos. Believed to have magical powers that bestow protection, luck, and good fortune on the receiver, the practice of Sak Yant is deeply connected to Buddhist culture, although its origins stretch even further back to animist times.
Sak Yant tattoos are created today as they have been for 2,000 years, by meticulously poking intricate black ink designs into the skin followed by a blessing to activate the tattoo's power. That's why they are only given by trained monks or ajahns, who are spiritual scholars.
There are many different designs, or yants, that incorporate a combination of geographic symbols along with prayers in the ancient Pali script. Each design has a unique meaning, so it's important to go in with an idea of what you want. A common myth is that the monk chooses the design, but in reality, the individual should pick the yant that most resonates with them.
Before you travel, research the tradition and designs to discover which yant is right for you. An excellent resource is Exploring the Magic, Masters and Mystery of Sak Yant by author and long-time Thailand resident Joe Cummings. Once you're ready to commit, a local guide can accompany you so nothing gets lost in translation.
Once practiced across Southeast Asia from Myanmar to China, now Sak Yant artists are mostly found in Thailand with ample options around Bangkok and Chiangmai. Some monks work directly from the temple, but others have created their own consecrated spaces.
Cummings recommends Ajahn Neng in Bangkok, who studied under one of the late Sak Yant masters. Another option is The Siam Hotel in Bangkok, which has a designated studio where guests can get a traditional sacred tattoo from Ajahn Boo.
Talk to one of our travel curators to start planning your trip to Thailand.
Header image courtesy of The Siam Hotel, Bangkok
All other images courtesy of Dan White/Sacred Tattoos of Thailand