Getting Inked in Thailand: Experiencing Bamboo Tattooing

My recent trip to Thailand was certainly off to a rocky start after losing my passport in Bangkok. But beyond the initial chaos, I crossed off a bunch of bucket list items during my trip, including one item that hadn’t been there previously: getting a bamboo tattoo. It wasn’t my first tattoo, nor my first travel tattoo (that happened in Texas) but it was my first non-machine tattoo that was done exclusively by hand. Sure, it was a bit on the spontaneous side, but it was a design that I’ve had in mind for quite some time. Plus, when in Rome, right?

What is a bamboo tattoo?

Unlike most permanent tattoos that are performed with a tattoo gun, bamboo tattoos are done with a needle taped to the end of a bamboo rod. That device is then dipped in ink and tapped by hand into the skin. If the site of small sharp objects makes you queasy, this may not be a good option for you! The first time I laid eyes on the bamboo needle, even I started to have some second thoughts.

On the reassuring side, bamboo tattooing is steeped in tradition. It has been practiced for centuries in Southeast Asian countries by practitioners and Buddhist monks. In fact, many other travel bloggers have written about getting tattooed by monks in Thailand, which is supposed to be a one-of-a-kind experience in which the monk will choose a sacred design as well as the location of your tattoo based on your aura. While that may sound interesting and somewhat appealing, I personally wouldn’t go that route. For one, I’m not a Buddhist, and for two, if I’m going to get permanent ink on me, I’d rather choose the design and location.

Bamboo Tattoo Thailand 14

My Thai Bamboo Tattoo Experience

It was one of my last nights on the beautiful island of Ko Lanta, and I decided to finally get a bamboo tattoo after contemplating it my entire trip. I didn’t seek out a monk instead going with a friend of a friend, Eacho. Also, I did not opt for a traditional Thai bamboo tattoo design. Instead, I chose to add on to an existing tattoo on my left wrist. The tattoo session itself was relatively quick. I sat outside of Eacho’s tattoo parlor, literally soaking in the hot March evening.

One arm was tattooed as the other attempted to combat the heat by pouring ice cold gulps of Coca-Cola. Bamboo tattooing is supposed to be less painful than machine tattoos, but I can’t say it was any less painful for me personally. Probably because it was my inner wrist being jabbed at, and as far as I know, there’s no way to combat sensitivity in that area.I have to admit that the heat probably contributed to the overall discomfort.

A benefit of bamboo tattoos that I did take immediate note of was the incredibly speedy tattoo healing process. In the United States, tattoo healing stages seem pretty long, stretching 2-4 weeks in length. In the case of my bamboo tattoo, the swelling went down overnight and I could even go for one last dip in the ocean. No need to wait for weeks of healing or even use tattoo ointment, although I did apply copious amounts of cheap hotel lotion as a precaution.

Would I do it again?

So the question remains: would I get another bamboo too? Absolutely. But I do think bamboo tattooing is most appropriate for designs that don’t require utmost accuracy, as this tattooing is truly done all by hand. Always take extra care to double check all of the materials to ensure everything is properly sanitized. You can never be too careful, as the same tattoo hygiene requirements in the United States don’t apply abroad.

To close, check out some photos from the tattoo experience, courtesy of Janelle Thomas.

Photo Gallery

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By | 2017-02-11T11:32:31+00:00 November 11th, 2016|10 Comments

About the Author:

Suzi Pratt is an event, food, and concert photographer based in Seattle. She started Intrepid Freelancer to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, and subscribe to herYouTube channel.

  • Thanks Suzi for sharing these beautiful photos of tattoos.

    • Of course! Thank you for the comment!

  • Nice Article. I had a similar experience, yet I was in a run down backyard of some old local Thai and the Buddhist monk traveled from the temple to this place to do the Sak Yant Bamboo tattoo. It was quite the experience and well worth the pain. http://www.fitlivinglifestyle.com/sak-yant-buddhist-tattoo-the-real-experience-in-thailand/

    • Oh wow! I loved reading about your experience and seeing all of your photos. My tattoo was done by a friend of a friend rather than an actual monk, but I totally agree on the surprising amount of pain. Definitely more than the usual needles! Thanks for the comment, Nathan. Loving your website btw!

      • Awww thanks Suzi! Yeah it was a little intimidating at first as I do not speak Thai and there were a few other locals waiting to talk with the monk and I did not want to look like I was in too much pain. ha. You would think after six tattoos I’d be used to it, but nope! Where you located now? Seattle? Go Seahawks! ha

        • But were those other 6 tattoos done by bamboo? I have a few non-bamboo tattoos myself and I didn’t think they hurt quite as much as the bamboo did!

          I’m in Seattle now mostly, but I try to travel for a total of 2-3 months out the year. Looks like you’re still over in Thailand or SE Asia? I really miss it out there. Hoping to make it over to Singapore and Bali in the spring!

          • No, all my other ones are regular ones. Agreed, bamboo is more painful but quick. Yeah, still in Thailand. I will be in SE Asia until probably May. Mostly Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia. I travel full-time, but try to get back to Seattle for 2-3 months in the Summer each year. I haven’t been to Bali or Singapore yet.

          • Very cool! Next time you make it back to Seattle, feel free to hit me up. Would love to meet IRL and hear more about your travel adventures!

          • Sounds great! Likewise!

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