Before coming to Thailand I had researched Sak Yants extensively and was extremely excited to experience the process first hand.
I woke up before sunrise and chartered a taxi to take me to a special Wat (Buddhist temple) where a monk resides that practiced the art. When I stepped inside the taxi my driver asked a one word question “tattoo?” I smiled and said yes. The driver laughed very loudly and we were off.
The Wat, Wat Bang Phra is about an hour outside of the city of Bangkok in the countryside. Because of my drivers question I had confidence that he knew where to go, I was wrong.
On the way to the Wat we passed by so many great things but this was my favorite.
Once we pulled off of the main highway my driver stopped multiple times to ask street vendors where he was going, what should have been less than an hour drive turn into two and a half.
In a small village in the middle of nowhere a group of people were dancing and singing and playing music as they marched down the street just after day break. I asked my driver (who spoke very little English) what they were celebrating and he just said “they are happy.”
When we finally arrived he told me he would wait and take me back to the city because it took so long, or at least I think that’s why, the language barrier was pretty thick between the two of us.
Once I got into the room where the Sak Yant would be preformed the driver helped translate what was being said by the man in charge of everything. This was fun because I think the man spoke more english than my driver but it was still kind of him to help.
The man at the Wat gave me a book of different designs to choose from, just as I opened the book a monk bearing an elaborate chest piece came smiling into the room followed by a small pack of tiny, healthy looking dogs.
The monk sat in a chair next to me and we locked in a starring contest for about a minute, both competing for biggest smile. He took the book of designs from my hands and flipped through a few pages then handed it back and pointed to this design.
Gai Yord is the name of the design, representing the nine peaks of mount meru, the home of the gods. The design offers the most protection of all Yants and is the most sacred.
I agreed and his smile grew. He then moved to a decking chair and appeared to fall asleep while his dogs followed his lead, taking rest on different positions of his lap,chair and shoulder.
After a while two thai ladies arrived and the monk woke up, with very few words and more hand gestures the younger of the two ladies sat in a stool in front of the monk and was held still by a helper as the monk began to work on her chosen design. The monk wore thick gloves due to the rule that he may never touch a woman’s skin. After about twenty minutes the design was finished, the woman chose to have it completed without ink, she was their purely for the protective blessing. After he was finished the monk chanted a blessing and then blew it into the tattoo. Shortly after another monk with his own pack of dogs came and sat in another chair and began to work on the second woman. Then it was my turn.
I sat in front of the second monk to enter the room. He placed the design on my back and took a picture with his phone (yes monks have phones, and yes I want to know who they call) he made sure I was happy with the placement and once I agreed he called two helpers to hold me down and stretch the skin on my back. I’m not sure why he thought he needed two helpers but I didn’t resist. The monk began to work, I could feel the pricking of the needles on my spine as he moved through the design. At first it was less pain than I expected, being heavily tattooed I was pretty confident in my pain taking abilities. After about 20 minutes in the monk answered a phone call but continued to work, all while a small dog sat on his shoulder. The pain started to become more annoying towards the end but wasn’t that bad. After he finished he too chanted a blessing and blew into the fresh ink, rubbed some Vaseline on the design and a placed piece of thing gold foil on part of the Yant. I then gave him my payment, an orchid, an incense and a pack of cigarettes along with about 40$ in baht. I bowed on my knees as instructed by the monk and held the gold plate filled with my offerings as he chanted another blessing and then asked me to stand. In English he told me thank you and sent me on my way. Just like that it was over and less than 3 minutes later I was back in the taxi fighting traffic towards the city, filled with joy and amazement.