My second time in Thailand (living there), I found myself with a burning desire to get a magical Sak Yant by a monk in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Last Updated: 7/13/2016
When you’re thinking of making a permanent change to your body, you should really think about it. Then put the idea away in the back of your mind. If it still appears to be a good idea a year later, you can act on it.
That’s how I decided to get my Sak Yant in Chiang Mai Thailand. I knew I wanted to get one the first time I visited Thailand in 2013 but waited two years before returning to get it. It was a special and sacred experience – one I will never forget. It helped that I was living in Chiang Mai at the time.
Update: Since June 2015, if you’re a female traveler looking to get sak yant by a monk in Chiang Mai, the monk I went to may not do women anymore. I highly urge you to do independent research before going and feel free to reach out to my friends at Sak Yant Chiang Mai (Nana is a personal friend of mine) with any questions. They will have the latest updates on monks and sak yant better than me. I was lucky enough to go with Nana who is a Thai local and my friend who is male and half Thai. That may have helped my situation a bit. My friend, Ian Ord at WSE Travel ALSO does Sak Yant for both women and men) so feel free to reach out to him as well!
Sak Yant: also known as “Yantra Tattooing” is a form of tattooing that originated in ancient Cambodia, yet almost completely vanished due to the civil war. Today, Khmer yantra remains to be the most genuine and pure and consists of magical ancient Khmer scripts that protect and give luck to the soul. It is practiced in Southeast Asian countries including Laos and Thailand. Sak means “to tap or tattoo”, and yan is Thai for the Sanskrit word yantra.
Sak yant designs are normally done by Buddhist monks or ajarns, traditionally with a long bamboo stick sharpened to a point (called a mai sak) or with a long metal spike (called a khem sak) – more common today.
Knowing about the different options of where and how to get a Sak Yant in Chiang Mai by a monk (or Bangkok) Thailand. I wanted to get it the most authentic way possible – which would prove to be a little tricky.
First, I wanted it done by a Buddhist monk at a temple. As a rule, monks are not allowed to touch women but there are exceptions when doing sak yant so I had to find someone willing and able to do it on me. I also didn’t want to go to a temple that was superficial and touristy which seemed to happen at infamous Wat Bang Phra, outside of Bangkok. Apparently, the monks there will perform sak yant on everybody including women but at the expense of long lines and getting it done “factory assembly line” style. I wouldn’t have minded going to Wat Bang Phra as an alternative but was seeking elsewhere first.
I reached out to my friend Nana to see if she knew anything about getting a sak yant by a monk in Chiang Mai AND on a woman. Nana went on the prowl and found out that a monk on the outskirts of Chiang Mai would do it!
My friend Bryan (half Thai), visiting from Washington DC joined my adventure. In the early morning, we rented a motorbike. We got gas with Nana, rode around the block and ventured off.
Tips to riding the highway in Thailand:
- Follow your leader! Nana who did an excellent job of leading so if you go with her, just follow her.
- Ride on the left side of the road – shoulder is ok if everybody else is
- Avoid the rocks, oil slicks, and SAND/DIRT/GRAVEL
- If you’ve got an American drivers license, bring it with you. It’s legal for you to drive/ride and don’t let them tell you otherwise.
- Obey all signs and signals so you don’t get pulled over by Thai police as they are looking for any reason to pull any farang over. Be polite if you do.
- Oh, and we drive on the left side of the road in Thailand
After 30-45 mins of riding along the highway, we were in the country side. The concrete jungle of Chiang Mai long forgotten. There were less cars and bikes and more dogs and roadside huts littering the sides of the streets. Slowly, that even disappeared and we passed by quiet rice fields and onion fields.
Suffice it to say, I felt the ride was long because I kept nodding off on the back of the bike but I enjoyed the sun and the windy turns and soon, we arrived at the temple.
I stood back nervously, like a little mouse while Nana greeted the monk and explained who I was and my intentions for the visit. He quietly nodded and directed us to his temple/sitting and waiting area. All three of us diligently took off our shoes and knelt on the ground (remember – in Thai culture do NOT point your feet or the bottom of your foot at anybody ESPECIALLY a monk).
We waited while he gathered the materials for the Sak Yant , which included getting a bucket of water, ink, and sterilizing the metal steel rod (needle). Then he sat down and meditated for about 10-15 minutes. After doing so, he directed me to sit at the altar and pray or meditate on my own personal intentions and wishes.
During this, he asked Nana if I was an American-born Thai to which she replied that I was Vietnamese. He nodded with a little smile on his face. Nana told him that he could pick my design and unsurprisingly, he went with the traditional 5 lines aka the Hah Taew.
Afterwards, he sat down in a padded former dining room chair. With hand gestures – instructed me to kneel in front of him and pull down my long sleeve shirt on the left side (do remember to dress respectfully around a monk even if you get a sak yant) while crossing my arms to hold each shoulder. Then the tapping began.
He used the metal rod to quickly and methodically tattoo while I quietly sat as still as possible. Each tap was sharp and precise. I concentrated on my breathing and tried to meditate but that made the pain worse. I looked over at Nana and Bryan who were quietly watching the monk do his mystical work. Bryan instructed me to continue breathing slowly as I let my mind wander instead of thinking about the sharp stabs in my left shoulder.
Every time he finished a line, he used the towel from the bucket to wipe my shoulder. That allowed me a few seconds of reprieve. Every time he started a line, the first few stabs were always the most painful. The tapping grew faster and faster until I went numb. After 15 minutes – he stopped. The monk finished my Sak Yant tattoo!
Afterwards, we meditated, then prayed together while each of us knelt and bowed our head to Buddha three times. Then, I knelt before him in prayer fashion with my head bent down while receiving a blessing. That lasted a few good minutes. When he finished, he got up and walked over to the door while indicating we could leave when ready.
Remembering my donation, (you never “pay” for a Sak Yant, monks only take what you willingly donate), I laid my donation on a silver tray by the chair and Wai’ed again as a sign of respect. For some of you wondering how much I left, the donation amount is entirely up to you. Being a foreigner with enough income – it wouldn’t hurt to be a little extra generous if you can with your donation.
The whole experience was pretty surreal and intense.
For those of you wondering why I didn’t post pictures of my Sak Yant, it is because he specifically requested no pictures of the designs on the internet or any form of social media.
I think there’s a few reasons for this but…will never quite know I feel. First is, the whole rule about not touching women even though there’s some exceptions (obviously). Some even wear gloves while doing so. Second, I can only assume he doesn’t want people ripping the images off the internet and then taking the design to a regular tattoo studio without knowing the significance behind it. There are signs posted in English and Thai forbidding this on the outside of the temple walls. This made it look like it was for everybody and not just a rule that women had to follow. I’m pretty sure Nana or Ian can explain better than me.
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment and my intention is not to showcase it as a fashion statement or means to brag. It’s something truly special to me and I wouldn’t want to diminish the experience in any way.
My design is called the 5 lines or the Hah Taew and each of the 5 lines represents a different protection or charm:
1. The first row prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favour when the area is grey. It cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
2. The second row reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.
3. The third row protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
4. The fourth row energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.
5. The fifth row is to gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It is also is a boost to the fourth row.
The origins of the Hah taew is magic power born from the four elements, fire, water, air and earth.
It’s the same design as Angelina Jolie. There’s countless examples of it on the web anyway. Feel free to do a quick search.
With getting the Sak Yant – there are rules and behavior conduct I must follow. Nana loosely translated them for me because the rules were written in Thai at the temple. They are also translated in English as well.
When going to a temple and interacting with a monk, there are specific traditions and guidelines:
- When you greet a monk, you “Wai” and keep your body lower, it is polite to be the first to wai as is a sign of respect to the monk or elder.
- You do not stand above a monk as a matter of politeness. while monks are seated, Try not to stand. If you must, please bow your head.
- You will present your small “offering to the spirits” before the Sak Yant ceremony begins. The Offering is showing respect to the monk (Ajaan) that is going to do Sak Yant for you. It’s a way to show you believe in their magic power and trust their skills.
- First thing, you have to do is bow three times to respect as Buddhism way; 1 for Buddha, 2 for Buddhism and 3 for Monks
- This offering should be arranged on a tray which is included flowers, incense and a candle and the money offing. If the amount of money is end with 9 number like 199 baht is good number because 9 or “ Kaow” in Thai means Being successful but its not necessary or not a must. As an American – I try to be generous.
- The monk will have a small accepting ceremony of the offering on behalf of the spirits.
- After the offering is accepted the Monk will ask what kind of Sak Yant you desire. Or you can be like me and just let him decide. 🙂
- The Monk will prepare for the sak yant, mixing the ink and sterilizing the needle
- The Monk will sit in his chair and motion you to come over.
- Please kneel down and expose as much as you need to (especially females). There shouldn’t be any chatter or distractions please!
- Afterwards, you the receiver should turn and bow three times to thank the monk.
- Now is time for the blessing. Usually you take your offering and both you and the monk will hold onto it for a few minutes while the Monk recites the blessing incantation. Afterwards, there will be a few minutes of meditation. You can continue to sit and take in the experience or leave if you must.
After Care of your Sak Yant
- I honestly didn’t do too much. Just keep out of the water and the sun for a few days. My sak yant tattoo scabbed a bit the first day. Afterwards, it was completely normal with no issues.
- I don’t think you need to put anything on it like regular tattoos. 🙂
- I wore sunblock and lotion over it and never had issues. If you have sensitive skin, avoid everything for a few days until the sak yant is healed.
Afterwards – exploring the outskirts of Chiang Mai:
After getting my Sak Yant, I was pretty ravenous so Nana took us to a food market where we had a super cheap but filling & delicious lunch. Afterwards, what else better to do than peruse the different food stalls while munching on snacks!?
The Thai dessert called Kanom Clok is on the left photo. It’s a coconust dessert that’s deliciously sweet, soft, and slightly crunchy around the edges. On the right are sticks of sweet sticky rice that you had to unroll to eat.
We saw more Thai sweets. There was colorful jello cups along with raw seafood like squid and the weird…like animal hearts. We passed by aisles of fried food, piles of pad thai and rice dishes as well.
Then, we found a “hidden” temple and after hiking up the steep steps, we were at the top of a monastery.
Monks of all ages were walking about the grounds quietly or going to and from their tasks. We walked off lunch by following the trail. The trail was similar to a campground with tents littered along the way where they slept. There was a laundry area where their bright orange robes hung out to dry.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. Except the fact that I ended up dropping my phone as we were speeding along the highway back home. I frantically slapped Bryan’s leg and screamed in his ear that I had dropped my phone. We had to stop so I could ran back and grab it. Luckily, the case saved my phone. I was sooo grateful for Dexter who gave it to me before I left. Thanks Dex!
So much for the luck against my own clumsiness. haha. All’s well that ends well.
Thank you so much Nana for being a great friend and accompanying me on this special experience! Thank you Bryan for not killing me on the back of the motorbike and coming with me!
If you want to get a sak yant by a monk in Chiang Mai, read below.
*NOTE: If you reach out to Sak Yant Chiang Mai (Nana) for help, please give them as much notice as possible. They are a very busy company and need at LEAST a week’s notice. If you give them more time to arrange your experience, the better. If you give them one or two day’s notice, don’t expect them to be able to accommodate you.
*NOTE: My friend – Ian Ord at WSE Travel also does Sak Yant experiences so reach out to him as well. 🙂