With so many Western visitors to Thailand getting tattoos each year, some things should be considered first. From choosing the right style and artist to understanding the cultural significance of traditional Thai tattoos, this article guides you through the essential considerations to ensure your Thai tattoo experience is both safe and fulfilling.
Thailand’s allure for Western visitors extends beyond its stunning beaches and rich culture; it’s also become a hotspot for those seeking unique tattoos. Every year, thousands flock to Thailand not just for a vacation but with the intent of returning with a permanent souvenir inked onto their skin.
It is one of the world’s most popular places to get a tattoo as not only does the country have the usual modern, high-tech tattoo parlors, but there’s also a tradition of getting Buddhist tattoos at temples – tattoos often created by Buddhist monks themselves.
Getting a tattoo in Thailand is just about as safe as getting one in the next place, but there are some things you should consider first.
Is it Safe to Get a Tattoo in Thailand?
Thailand’s vibrant culture and stunning landscapes lure millions of visitors each year. But amidst the temples and beaches, another attraction beckons: the allure of getting a Thai tattoo. With intricate designs, ancient traditions, and often lower prices than at home, it’s no wonder many travelers consider getting inked in Thailand.
However, before diving headfirst into Thai tattooing, it’s crucial to ask: is it safe? The answer, like most things in life, is nuanced.
Like any country, Thailand has its fair share of reputable and not-so-reputable tattoo parlors. The biggest concern lies in hygiene and sterilization practices. Improperly sterilized equipment can lead to serious infections, including hepatitis and HIV.
Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Unclean equipment: Look for single-use needles, sterilized ink pots, and a clean workspace. If anything seems unsanitary, walk away.
- Unlicensed artists: While not all are bad, it’s a risk. Opt for studios with certified artists who follow safety protocols.
- Pressure to get tattooed: A reputable artist will never pressure you into getting a tattoo you’re unsure about.
What Type of Tattoo Do You Want?
Before you walk into a tattoo parlor in Thailand and get a tattoo, think carefully about what you want. In most tattoo parlors in Thailand, you’ll have a choice of modern, Japanese, tribal, traditional Thai, or Buddhist tattoos. Either way, you should be sure of what style of tattoo you want before you get there and, preferably, take your own design with you rather than having a stock tattoo half of Bangkok is wearing.
What Style of Tattoo Is the Tattoo Artist Known For?
If you’re looking to get a particular style of tattoo in Thailand, you don’t want to choose a tattoo artist who isn’t known for that style. Just like any type of artist, tattoo artists are known for particular designs, so if you want a traditional Buddhist tattoo and you choose a tattoo artist who’s known for his modern Japanese stuff, you’re not likely to get a tattoo you’ll be happy with.
Do some research on different tattoo artists before you choose one. Go through their books and look at photos of past tattoos they’ve done to see if any fit in with the style you’re looking for. If not, keep checking out tattoo artists until you find one that does.
Choosing a Tattoo Artist by Recommendation
Thailand has thousands of tattoo artists, from young guys who’ve just set up their first shop to famous tattoo artists visited by celebrities (Angelina Jolie travels to Thailand to get tattooed by a certain Thai monk) and from unknown Buddhist monks who usually spend their tattooing time drawing tattoos on local Thai guys, to famous Buddhist monks foreigners from all over the world come to see.
If you have no information about a particular tattoo artist before you arrive in Thailand, start asking around on the internet to see which tattoo artists other foreigners have used. In a short time, you’ll often find one or two tattoo artists’ names pop up more often, particularly for those in Bangkok. Then, it’s just a case of finding them on the internet, as most of the larger parlors have their own websites with photos of their work up there.
Pick out two or three artists you think you’ll like, and when you arrive in Thailand, visit their shops to meet them and check out their work. A tattoo is going to be on your body for the rest of your life, so at least make sure you like the artist and his work before getting one.
Don’t Fall For Style Over Substance
Thailand, more than most countries, has a problem with style over substance. That means, in the tattoo world, the best tattoo artists aren’t always the ones in fancy shops. One I know in particular has a tiny shop in Chatuchak Weekend Market, nothing more than a wooden shack that he works in on weekends. Yet, Thais come from miles around the world to get their tattoos done by him as he’s one of the best for one particular style of Thai tattoo.
A fancy Bangkok salon is one thing, but do the people working there do the best work? Or do they only look like they do?
Real or Fake Yantra Tattoos – Know The Difference
Many visitors to Thailand come specifically to get a Yantra tattoo. A yantra tattoo is a traditional Thai tattoo used for centuries to ward off evil, so it is often sought out by people who want protection from something.
In modern-day Thailand, you can get a yantra tattoo at a tattoo parlor, but most Thais will tell you that’s not the real thing. If you want an authentic yantra tattoo, only a Buddhist monk can create one for you, and it usually requires using traditional tools, ritual scarring, and an elaborate ceremony at a Buddhist temple.
Personally, if I was coming all the way to Thailand to get one, I’d make sure my Yantra tattoo was the genuine article and not something that looks pretty but has no protection powers whatsoever.
Spell Check If You Want Thai Script
Finally, if the tattoo you’re planning on getting will be written in Thai script, make sure it’s spelled correctly before you ask the artist to do it, and check his work carefully before letting him ink it in.
I know one Westerner who was very pleased with his Thai script tattoo only to have a Thai friend tell him it was misspelled, so it didn’t mean what he thought it did. Ask a couple of Thais to check it for you before going to get the work done. It’ll be on your body until the day you die.
It would suck if, instead of “Don’t worry” (the popular Thai saying), it said “New worry,” now wouldn’t it?
Getting a tattoo in Thailand can be a deeply meaningful and memorable experience, but it requires thoughtful consideration. Whether you’re drawn to the traditional art of Yantra tattoos created by Buddhist monks or prefer a modern design from a high-tech parlor, it’s essential to do your research. Understanding the artist’s specialty, verifying the authenticity of traditional designs, and ensuring the correct spelling in Thai script are all crucial steps.
With careful planning and respect for the cultural significance of Thai tattoos, you can ensure that your ink not only looks beautiful but also carries a profound personal and cultural resonance, making it a cherished part of your journey for a lifetime.