Ever since I got my first bit of ink during my first year at uni I’ve always been partial to a bit of spontaneous tattooing – and it seems to be going hand in hand with my travels, what better way to get a permanent memento of your life on the road?

Whether it’s drunkenly getting my website logo etched onto my leg in Peru (and subsequently finished/fixed in Pai!) or an image of a wave breaking onto the Wreck in Byron Bay (where I broke my face on my surfboard!) they all carry stories for me.

And when I first visited Thailand late last year I wanted something a bit different – I wanted to get some bamboo ink done.

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Steeped in Tradition

Jonesy Getting His Half Sleeve

If you’re not in the know bamboo tattoos are a traditional Asian technique dating back some 3000 years (god bless Google and it’s bite size chunks of info to pass on!) in which needles are tapped to a bamboo rod and hand “tapped” into the skin.

When it comes to this technique in Thailand it started in Buddist temples where monks would get ink symbolizing protection and faith.

One of my travel buddies had some great bamboo work done and I was keen to add some to my collection. I checked it out on my first visit to Thailand but simply didn’t have the dollar.

My bro and his buddy both got some done on our visit to Phi Phi this year though which kicked me into gear getting mine – but I was yet to decided on a design and wasn’t keen to rush in again, this time I would plan it heaps and pick a good artist to do it!

 

Personal Experience

And take my time I did, I actually waited another couple months until I was again on Phi Phi. Luckily this time I was living above a sweet tattoo joint and the guys work was epic.

In that time frame I also decided to opt for a totally new design than what I originally planned and in a new place, I finally settled on getting a traditional Thai tattoo to match with the technique – a Sak Yant 5 Lines.

Getting Started…

For those who didn’t see this as my photo of the week a while back each line represent luck in a different aspect of life – love, friendship, wealth etc

A pretty good meaning I think and one that will definitely resonate throughout my travels!

Unfortunately I couldn’t get it in the traditional position of the left shoulder blade – that spot is already taken – so I opted for my ribs, which by all accounts is one of the most painful spots, great!

 

Pain v Time

However one of the best things about bamboo tattoos is the pain factor. It’s HEAPS less painful than a gun design. The fact they have to reink it more often also means you gets lots of breaks – so it’s perfect for a larger design or somewhere a bit more tender! As soon as the first tap broke my skin I knew I was in for a much more “enjoyable” experience than usual, and the lack of the annoying buzzing tattoo gun meant I could relax with a beer and listen to some music whilst it was being done!

The trade of though is time, done by hand they take a bit longer and therefore cost a bit more. Even so I was well impressed by how intricate and quickly the Thai guy got mine finished – just over an hour and a half for a reasonably big piece.

I’m stoked with the final result – and so were alot of my other travel buddies, as many of them decided to get similar Thai designs at the same place over the last few weeks!

Slow But Not Painful!

Personally I’m converted by the bamboo style of tattooing – it’s alot more pleasant all round. And for someone who can’t keep himself out of the ocean for long it’s perfect as the whole thing is healed within 12 hours and doesn’t bleed, compared with about 2 weeks out of the water for a normal piece of ink! You can’t really argue with that when you’re relaxing on a tropical island surrounded by tempting ocean!

 

Sold?!

If you’re looking at getting a bamboo design done during your travels in Asia I don’t blame you, just make sure you think through the following points so you don’t end up regretting it!

 

  • Take your time deciding on the design
  • Shop around for price
  • But pay more attention to their portfolios
  • Personaly recommendations are to be taken strongly
  • Chat through everything, design, time…a good artist will happily do so
  • Check needles are new – they wont take offence to you asking to see them be opened
  • Avoid getting one whilst wasted on a night out!
  • Enjoy!

 

….just be aware once you get some ink it’s rather addictive, so bookmark some skin for some more designs!

If you’re looking to get one of the traditional Sak Yant Tattoos in Thailand check out this Bamboo Tattoo Tour which provides a safe, authentic experience.

 

Have you got any ink whilst traveling – if so where and what of?



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52 Responses

    • Chris

      have you never? It’s really popular over there, especially amongst travellers.
      To be honest that technique is everywhere now and most places offer both gun and bamboo for your designs, you tempted?!

      Reply
  1. Sonja

    Hey Chris! I was never tempted to get a tattoo until I visited Phi Phi this year and saw the bamboo inking.
    Your post was very informative – I didn’t realize it only takes 12 hours to heal, amazing! Also, I wouldn’t have thought that this technique (esp. on a party island) is hygienic if you pick the right artist. ;)
    Now I’m thinking whether to get one next time I’m on Phi Phi… It would have to be on the ribs though as I can’t have any showing tattoos in my job (which involves wearing cocktail dresses too at times)… for a sissy: how painful are we talking? :D Thanks!!

    Reply
    • Chris

      it was a great experience Sonja and if you do your research you can find hygienic ones, generally this will involve paying more and going during the day rather than a cheap late night job – but it’s totally worth it for your own personal safety!
      Pain wise even on my ribs it was more annoying that painful. They also have to reink a lot more often so you get heaps of breaks!

      Reply
  2. Andrew

    Hey Chris, I have been to Thailand twice now & headed back next month for 3weeks, always wanted to get a traditional bamboo tattoo done but wanted to do some research first on hygiene & got to a recommended artist. I’m gonna be in Phi Phi again & if u could give me the name of the artist or where the studio is would be great for me to check out. Great to hear some good stories of getting some nice traditional work done…..& what better place to do it…….thanks

    Reply
    • Chris

      hey Andrew – it’s a greta travelling experience to carry around with you for life!
      ummmm I can’t remember the name of the place – as you come off the pier follow the road to the right all the way around the shore front, it’s the last one on the left before the path goes up and round to the left….
      hahahaha rubbish directions I know!

      Reply
  3. andy b

    I’ve just returned from Thailand where I had a Sak Yant on my left shoulder blade done by Bamboo.
    I have a lot of tattoos including full sleeves, back & foot work.
    Bamboo was by far the nicest tattoo experience I have ever had.
    No pain, no blood, drinking beer while being tattooed then straight in the sun and water the following day (which you can not do with machine work).
    I would advise anyone who is thinking of having some bamboo while in Thailand to go for it.
    In Pattaya on the seafront to the left of Mike’s mall there is Art Street where you can pick from many skilled tattooists’.
    Enjoy your Bamboo.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Totally agree Andy – it’s a heaps better experience than a modern machine tattoo…and yes enjoying a beer whilst being inked is always a highlight!hahaha!
      For me loving the beach and ocean means taking 2 weeks out for a modern tattoo to heal is a massive pain in the ass – especially whilst travelling, for me that was one of the best things about it.

      Reply
  4. Adam Finan

    Hey Chris,
    I had a Sak Yant tattoo done in Phuket on 2011 and was thinking about getting another. The guy went through the whole process in the temple, blessed the needle, ink, drawing and took me to a lake to cast the drawing the following day. It was a cool experience!
    Adam Finan recently posted..Working Online Gives You Bad Posture!My Profile

    Reply
    • Chris

      sounds like an amazing experience Adam…I’m thinking of getting another this week actually…!

      Reply
    • Rae

      Adam, do you remember where in Phuket you got it done &/or who did the sak yant for you? I’ll be visiting next month and am thinking about having one done.

      Reply
  5. Billie-Rose

    I’ve read through all your info and it has been so helpful. Me and my friend are travelling Thailand in 5weeks. I am so up for getting a trad. bamboo tattoo of the five lines also. Are they easy to find or do you have any suggestions on where i should go to get it done?! We are literally travelling all over thaiand..

    Reply
    • Chris

      Glad you’re finding the site helpful with your trip! You can get them all over Thailand to be honest – I got mine on Phi Phi because I lived over the shop! There’s some great places in Bangkok and Chang Mai where you can get them fully blessed if that’s your thing, but like any tattoo place just do your research!

      Reply
  6. Dwight

    Hi Chris,

    It looks amazing, I will be going to Thailand for the first 2 weeks of January 2014, I’m super amped and can’t wait to get going.

    I’m also thinking of getting a tattoo when I’m there and was also thinking of getting a bamboo tattoo as i think it fits in so much more with the Thai experience apposed to a normal gun tattoo which can be done just about anywhere.

    If you don’t mind me asking how much did you pay more or less?

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Dwight – it’s such a good travel memory, you’ll really enjoy the experience! Ummmm I can’t remember the actual cost off hand – but it must’ve been around £60?

      Reply
    • Chris

      It’s a heaps nicer experience that way – and a great reminder of your trip! Send me a shot if you get one Claire!

      Reply
  7. Farang

    getting 5 lines in a tattoo studio is a bit different from getting the real deal. they may look the same (in fact the shop will look better) but the former is just a tattoo and the latter is a sak yant, with all the magic and ritual that that entails. Looks good though.

    Reply
    • Chris

      totally – to be honest i like the design and I like the traditional method. For me not being Buddhist means I don’t think I should go through the whole ceremony – that should be saved for those who truly uphold the meaning of it all.

      Reply
  8. Linda

    Finally something about bamboo tattoos from a fellow European. I really want to get tattooed at Koh Samui in July. Love the fact that it is healed on such a short notice.

    I’ve got a lot of ‘holiday tattoos’: one from New York, one from Turkey, one, two – uhm no three – from Las Vegas. And one from Miami and another one from Orlando. Yes, I have visited the USA a lot. Now I’m going to ‘explore’ some of Thailand and really want something traditional and experience getting tattooed with bamboo.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Linda!
      Yeah the healing time is a mega plus for me being a water baby – I couldn’t be out of the ocean for 2 weeks!
      I think a good bit of ink is the perfect travel memory – I’ve got ones from Oz, Thailand, Peru and the UK now! I think you’ll really enjoy the experience, but make sure you find a good artists as there’s heaps of crap studios out there!

      Reply
  9. Henrik

    Hey chris,
    Just wanna ask how do u know the artist practise good hygiene for bamboo tattoo-ing?
    The bamboo stick used for tattooing is it a shared bamboo stick or it will be changed for every new client?

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Henrik – many of the bamboo artists use a set of needles on the end – it’s kind of a modern twist on it. In these cases you can request fresh needles and a good artist will always show you opening them. If in doubt don’t go through with it.

      Reply
  10. andrea

    hey! do you remember the name of the place?
    i’m heading down there next month and am thinking about getting something done!

    Reply
    • Chris

      hey Andrea – unfortunately I totally forgot! however if you’re facing towards the island from the main pier turn right and follow the main path through town, along the waterfront towards long beach. At one point on the left you’ll have a series of shops, it’s the last tattoo place before the path runs up a hill. Hope that helps!hahaha!

      Reply
  11. Margi Taylr

    Have had aa bamboo tattoo today it was a very good experience artist amazing, gentle spirit. This was doe on. Koh Phangan off course

    Reply
  12. Helen

    I have this exact tattoo on my shoulder got it on kho phangan during the warm up party for the full moon! Took ages and was quite painful but LOVED the fact it was healed the next day and no need to avoid the sea. More bamboo tattoos needed – prefer them to the traditional gun ones.

    Reply
    • Chris

      hahaha what an awesome experience! Whats your plans for the next one!?

      Reply
    • Chris

      Nice – that must’ve hurt?! I’m looking to get a Maori inspired piece done next time I’m in NZ actually too – let me now if you find anywhere good!

      Reply
  13. anna

    Hey Chris! What’s the studio name in Phi Phi that you got yours done? I was on Phi Phi a few years back, thinking about visiting again and for sure getting a tattoo. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Anna, not entirely sure to be honest! If you come onto the island and swing a right along the coastal path its the last studio on the harbour front before you go up the hill and the path runs inland…sorryI can’t be any more specific than that!haha!

      Reply
  14. Danielle @ Karon Beach Phuket

    Great experience! I’m a tatoo lover and this is the first time that I heard of bamboo inking. I’m not sure if you mentioned the place? I’ll be in Thailand this coming month for a vacation and planning to visit this. Please let me know where it is? Thanks

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Danielle – unfortunately I didn’t grab the name of the place – there’s some direction in the above comments though!

      Reply
  15. Brennan

    Hey Chris nice article! Im going over to Thailand in two week I will be getting some work done for sure.
    I will post my experience on here. If you could post your story on tattoobro.com that would be cool.

    Reply
  16. Road Trip Blogger

    We just got bamboo tattoos in Thailand! I got a tattoo on my ankle and found it hurt a lot! I have a low tolerance for pain, so it was’t pleasant. My husband got a big tattoo across his rib cage and said it felt fine. I guest it depends on your tolerance for pain.

    Reply
    • Chris

      What did you get inked? Personally I found it much less painful than a normal gun tattoo, but yeah I guess pain tolerance has a lot to do with it!

      Reply
  17. Tina

    If you’re into traditional tattoos you should try visiting the Philippines! I got mine done by a 94-year old woman and it was pretty cool. Plus getting there was crazy/fun since she lives in the mountains.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Hey Tina,
      I did read up on that little old lady actually, didn’t have the time to head that way though! What did you get inked?

      Reply
  18. sarah

    I just got a Sak Yant bamboo tattoo from a monk in Chiang Mai, Thailand and it was an amazing experience. Not only did I get a very cool and meaningful tattoo but it was also an experience I’ll never forget because of all the tradition associated with it. This monk (Ajarn) was one of the few who would tattoo and woman and he chose the Sak Yant for me, blew the “magic” into it and gave a blessing at the end. WOW!
    sarah recently posted..How to Get a Sak Yant Bamboo Tattoo in ThailandMy Profile

    Reply
    • Chris

      That’s an amazing experience Sarah – I kinda wished I’d gone the traditional route but mine has meaning for for other reasons so I cant complain too much!

      Reply
  19. Liam

    I never ever wanted a tattoo but I’ve just came back from Kho Phi Phi and guess what…… a bamboo tattoo on my leg and I love it! Even if I was wasted at the time :)

    Reply
  20. Somchai Kaouthai

    Hey Chris! You have nicely portrayed the Thai culture along with the traditional tattoo design. I really like your post. Thanks for sharing such an interesting content for readers. Thailand is really famous for tattoo shops and ink designs.

    Reply

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