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What you need to know about Sak Yants: Thailand's Magical Tattoo

a woman with a tattoo on her back faces a wall

Sacred symbols steeped in thousands of years of history, etched onto your body. Sak Yants have been around for ages and still leave impressions on Southeast Asian culture. The Thai tattoo is a conduit through which spiritual powers connect to our physical bodies.

You might have seen them on Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevinge, or many other notable people. But if you're curious about them or looking to get one yourself, here's what you need to know about getting a Thai Sak Yant.

A Brief History of the Sak Yant

Centuries ago, soldiers in the Khmer empire received sacred, hand-poked tattoos known as Sak Yants. It became the mark of the warrior, thought to offer them protection, power, and bravery. Warriors who adorned the tattoo believed it would protect them from piercing arrows and slashing swords. 

The origins of Thai Sak Yant have been traced back to over 2,000 years ago. The tradition has been a popular force in Thailand ever since. It is a spiritual and empowering experience for locals and visitors who believe in the magic of the tattoo.

My uncle, along with many other Thai people, adorn their entire bodies with the Thai tattoos. They trust in the power of it so much that they think themselves to be bulletproof and essentially invincible. 

They are beautiful designs, written in script derived from the ancient Khom Thai language. This is why it's important to have a monk or Ajarn (master) do it, since only they can understand and give proper blessings. 

To ensure the power of Sak Yants, it is important to follow specific traditions and rules when getting them done. 

Where to get a Sak Yant in Thailand

a Buddhist monk with a Sak Yant -a sacred Thai tattoo on his back

Throughout history, Sak Yants have been traditionally done by Buddhist monks. There are still many temples across Thailand that perform the tattoo. Since it is a religious ceremony, it should be done in a spiritual space, whether it is a temple or not.

Before receiving it, you usually will have to make an offering for the monk or Ajarn who performs it. It depends on the tattoo master, but typically certain flowers and incense should be given beforehand.  

The truth is, there are many places that will offer the Sak Yant designs without actually going through the necessary ceremonies to enable its power. During our trip to Phi Phi Island, my mom visited a tattoo shop with Sak Yant designs. She asked if they were real, and they said no. 

Sadly, many have removed the true history and spirituality of the Sak Yant to attract tourists over the years. While the designs are beautiful, the Thai tattoos must be done ceremoniously if you want its power to be enabled. 

Chiang Mai

It is said that the origins of Sak Yants begin in Northern Thailand, specifically the Chiang Mai region. People typically get tattoos and they are most popular there. 

Chiang Mai Sak Yant is a great service that offers many real Sak Yant experiences. It comes highly recommended. They include an English translator to make sure that you can understand the meaning behind the Thai tattoo.


Chiang Mai is the land of the Sak Yant, but that doesn’t mean it is the only place to get it.

Many Ajarns throughout the Bangkok area can be found through the Sak Yant Chiang Mai website. However, getting one of these Thai tattoos from Bangkok usually costs considerably more than getting one in Northern Thailand.

You can also visit Wat Bang Phra, located near the city, to receive a Sak Yant tattoo in an actual temple. The temple is less than an hour's drive away from Bangkok.

My Sak Yant experience

I had my Thai tattoo done by Ajarn Krit, who is located a bit outside Bangkok. He may not be as well-known as other artists, but he was a great choice. Master Krit’s knowledge of Sak Yants has been passed down to him through generations, which ensures that he has the skills to perform the tattoo.

My decision to get a Sak Yant came to me after a troubling time in my life. I had been going through drastic life changes and suffering issues in my mind. After airing out some of these issues to my mother, we both agreed that the power of the Sak Yant would be good for my life and mind. 

We arrived to Ajarn Krit’s home with flowers and food. We sat in front of Buddhist statues and items as my mother explained my situation to him. It was crucial that my mother was there because she could explain to him my reasonings for getting the Thai tattoo. We all pondered over the situation, thinking about the kind of protections I needed in my life. 

After pondering the situation, he chose the tattoo that would best suit me. 

If I’m to be honest, I was not ready for it. A part of me came to his home looking for a small tattoo that I could put on my arm. I was not prepared for such a drastic change to my body.

But at the end of the day, it was about the power of the tattoo, not the design. As someone who ultimately believes in the magic of Sak Yants, I had to follow his advice.

Thus began the painful progress.

Ajarn Krit pulled out a long, metal stick. I sat crossed-crossed applesauce on his floor as he repeatedly poked between my shoulder blades. 

a tattoo needle poking a design onto a back
My Thai tattoo process

It hurt a lot at first. I've had stick and poke tattoos before, but this one was different. It wasn't just the physical pain that was so uncomfortable, but also the awareness that the needle was stabbing me over and over -as if a heightened awareness of each tiny needle puncture in my skin existed.

That’s the uniqueness of Sak Yant pain. While many say that tattoo guns make your skin go numb after a while, dulling the pain, a Sak Yant creates a hyper awareness of each needle puncture. 

Under the weight of it all I began to grab my mother’s hands and cry, which was an odd experience. While it was painful, I could think of numerous more physical painful moments in my life that did not bring out tears.

That’s when I realized that the tears meant so much more.

I was crying for all of the pain in my life that led me to Master Krit's house in the first place. It was a spiritual journey that made me reflect on the emotional journey of my life.

And this isn’t just an experience unique to me. I’ve seen multiple stories from people who have dealt with more painful things in their lives but have also cried during their Sak Yants. Ajarn Krit told me that it is normal, and that I should use this emotional reaction I was facing to induce its power. 

He told me to manifest what I want from life, to use the pain to picture my deepest desires. It was a transformative experience, to feel this discomfort on a physical level and focus all of it on my spiritual growth. I came out of the tattoo with dried tears on my face, feeling a new kind of clarity and complete peace. 

a tattooed man giving a hand poked tattoo on the back of a woman

Once it was completed, we went on with the spiritual prayer. He blessed my back and had me repeat his prayer, which would harness the tattoo’s power. 

There’s a popular belief that there are certain rules you have to follow to embrace a Sak Yant’s powers. Many people assume the rules are the five precepts of Buddhist, which include no drinking and no cheating. But in reality, there is no standardized set of rules. The tattoo master creates their own rules.

Master Krit only told me one rule to follow to achieve the Sak Yant's blessing. The rule was do no yell or curse at my parents, which is not a difficult rule for me.

Since then, it has given me a great comfort knowing that I am protected and comforted by it's blessings and good l

Things to make sure before you get a Sak Yant in Thailand

You’re getting it for the right reasons

Despite what many touristy tattoo shops sell, it is not supposed to be just a fashion statement. A Sak Yant is getting thousands of years of cultural significance and history etched onto you. It’s a totem of your belief in its power and should be respected as such. It’s not just a regular tattoo session, but it’s a ceremony and a life changing moment. 

Many people fear that getting a Sak Yant is disrespectful if they are not a Thai person. To my opinion, it is not disrespectful at all if you truly admire and believe in the powers of it.

You’re getting it with someone you trust and you have a translator

If you don’t understand the person who is giving to you or their language, how are you supposed to understand the meaning behind your tattoo? 

You come with the appropriate offerings

As a sign of respect and as part of the ceremony, Ajarns and Buddhist monks will receive a certain offering before the process begins. Different masters need different offerings, so be sure it is clear to you what you need to provide for the master beforehand. 


It’s empowering to think that I have the mark of the warrior on my back, something my ancestors were engraved with centuries before me. Whether you believe in its spiritual power or not, it’s a down to Earth reminder of strength and devotion. When I think of my tattoo, it helps me embody the type of person I want to be.

Ajarn Krit told me to memorize the prayer and repeat it in each time of need. When I need extra strength or peace in a moment, I use the prayer. It gives me a sense of comfort and makes me feel that things will be okay. 


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