Getting Inked In Thailand – Bamboo Tattooing

During my first trip to Thailand, I decided to get a bamboo tattoo done on my foot. I first discovered bamboo tattooing after seeing Angelina Jolie’s tribal tattoo done on her shoulder and learned that she had visited Thailand to get it.  Not only is bamboo tattooing a cultural experience, but I have more appreciation for a tattoo that is done in an organic way.

Bamboo tattooing is generally believed to have originated around 3000 years ago during the Khmer period. Mummified remains of ancient tribe leaders in the Philippines have tattoos which suggested was done using bamboo tattooing technique. In Thailand, bamboo tattooing began in the Buddhist temples. Monks and Thai soldiers would receive religious text tattoos from grand master monks for protection, strength, and invisibility.

I’d be lying if I said bamboo tattooing isn’t painful. In fact, it’s more painful than a tattoo done with a gun since it pierces deeper into the skin. Of course, each individual has a different pain tolerance, and certain parts of the body are more sensitive than others. I have a pretty high pain tolerance but chose to get my tattoo on a very sensitive spot… the side of my foot!

The process of the bamboo tattooing is as so:

1) A fine needle (the width of the needle depends on the tattoo) is firmly attached to the end of a thin piece of bamboo using cotton.

2) The needle is dipped into the ink and gently tapped into the skin.

With bamboo tattooing, the skin is punctured but not torn, so there is little or no bleeding.  There is no scabbing as with most machine tattoos, resulting in a very quick healing process (mine took only a couple of days).  Since there is little or no blood, the colour doesn’t push out of the skin like gun tattoos, so the colour stays vibrant.   Bamboo tattoos tend to maintain their colour extremely well, staying bright and strong. Now, I have read that another benefit of bamboo tattooing is that is it SIGNIFICANTLY less painful than a fun tattoo however, I highly disagree with that statement.  I personally thought bamboo tattooing hurt more than a gun tattoo, but regardless, the pain doesn’t last forever and the end result is definitely worth it.

Tip – While I was getting my tattoo, I repeated a mantra I learned during my travels in India over and over again to help with the pain.  It worked very well. Find something that you can focus on that will distract you from the pain.  Mind over matter!

This is the finished product:

I got my tattoo done at Tribal Tattoo in the central part of Koh Phangan, Thailand.  The lady that did my tattoo (in the picture below) was pretty good, but I would suggests shopping around and looking at different artists’ work before committing.

Do you have a bamboo tattoo? Where did you get it done? How was your experience?

Kristen Sarah is a full-time traveller, tiny home owner and adventure junkie. She has one of the leading YouTube travel channels and is the head honcha of award-winning travel and lifestyle website, Hopscotch the Globe.
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49 Comments

  1. Lilly
    September 20, 2017 / 5:07 am

    Hey 🙂 it looks great!!
    Does it looks the same now? Or has it changed because there are very thin and fine lines ?
    I am in Thailand and want to get one

    • September 20, 2017 / 11:47 pm

      It’s changed a bit because tattoos near the bottom heal tend to fade. I’m going to get it touched up.

  2. July 26, 2016 / 2:39 am

    I got mine done in Chiang Mai with guide Nana (she has become quite famous for providing the real deal at a temple with a monk and can do females) She does private tours and makes sure you get the real think from a monk which actually cost less than going to a tattoo shop. If anyone is interested she is at http://www.sakyantchiangmai.com

    Totally amazing expereince

  3. June 23, 2016 / 11:00 pm

    going to Surin Thailand Jan 2017 and would like the sak yant 'experience' …would like to find a monk who would do ceremony and tat on a woman…any leads?

  4. June 23, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    Going to Thailand to help with the elephants in Surin in January 2017 then Cambodia…looking to get a Sak Yant tattoo…did you have a problem being a woman and finding a monk to do it? Looking for the 'experience' and blessing ceremony rather than just a tat as my son does them so readily available. Also looking for some designs for women….thanks for your input

  5. November 30, 2015 / 7:17 am

    Does anyone know of a good place to get a bamboo tattoo in Ho Chi Minh City? I will also be in Krabi and Phi Phi. I have talked to people who have had it done at a temple by a monk, however, they said it was risky because of the sanitation there. Shared ink + towels. I would like to get one but I want to make sure it is as sanitary as possible. Perhaps a place that I could get one from a ajarn?

  6. November 28, 2015 / 3:48 am

    I had no idea you got this done! Super cool! It’s nice that tattoo parlours offer this option now – a variation to the ancient sak yant, but with the ability to give the client exactly what they want 🙂 I went the other route, going to a temple but wish I had more knowledge about the meanings prior to going. Luckily I got a good one – and it looks like yours is pretty awesome too! Hopefully see you in Thailand again one day soon!
    Ian Ord – My Sak Yant Experience recently posted..Responsible Travel Tips from Travel BloggersMy Profile

  7. November 28, 2015 / 3:17 am

    I just got a bamboo tattoo from a monk in Thailand. It was a pretty amazing experience because there was a whole ceremonial blessing with it and it was clear that the monk really beleived in the "magic" attached to my Sak Yant tattoo. I totally agree with you about the pain and the healing. It was more painful than a regular tattoo but it was over faster and healed really quickly.

  8. August 17, 2015 / 5:27 pm

    I just got a bamboo tattoo done and it looks great but will it get darker as it heals?

    • August 26, 2015 / 12:35 pm

      Mine didn’t get darker. It actually healed in like a day. That’s the beauty of bamboo tattoos. Is yours not very dark?

  9. August 12, 2015 / 1:25 pm

    That looks really awesome. I’ve seen a few Bamboo Tattoos lately, sounds like such an awesome experience! My husband, Michael, just got a new travel inspired tattoo. He wrote about it along with a bunch of others, sorry we didn’t see yours earlier to include. Check it out on our site anyway, and let us know what you think!
    Shannon // Camera & Carry On recently posted..38 MORE Travel Related Tattoos from Backpackers, Globetrotters, & BloggersMy Profile

    • August 26, 2015 / 12:36 pm

      Wow! There are some really beautiful tattoos in your post. Are the two of you interested in getting bamboo tattoos?

  10. Breanne
    July 20, 2015 / 3:20 am

    I just got a bamboo tattoo in Gilli T at a place near the night market ! I was with my tour group and 8 of us all got bamboo tattoos and they turned out really well ! I got a palm
    Tree on my left ankle and boy was it painful near the ankle! They guy who did my tattoo has a flat rate of 750,000 rupiah so around 75 Canadian! It look about 25 mins for the whole process !

    • August 3, 2015 / 2:00 pm

      Awesome! I wanna see a photo! You should tweet me one or send it to me on Facebook. I’d love to see. Yes, the ankle area is KILLER. It’s a really cool experience though. Glad it turned out well.

  11. dae
    October 21, 2014 / 9:06 am

    Hey Kristen, I really enjoyed the part when you discussed about bamboo tattooing. I really impressed how tattoo is made and it is new to me. I’m thinking to have Tattoo in Philippines when I visit next year.

    • October 24, 2014 / 12:10 pm

      Awesome! It was a very cool experience. Very painful, but rewarding. What are you thinking of getting?

  12. Gaelen
    March 12, 2014 / 4:12 am

    I got mine done on phi phi last night. On my shoulder. I almost feel asleep! Didn’t hurt much at all. 🙂

  13. kerry
    August 20, 2013 / 8:53 pm

    I had a bamboo ratio don’t today and agree that is was blooming sore. I wouldn’t be able to say if it was more or less painful than the electric ones, but at the end of the day, pain is pain.

    I wanted to know if you did any aftercare?
    I was told only to put Vaseline on it.

    Any suggestions of what to do or not to do in the next few days.

    • kristenj
      September 4, 2013 / 4:38 am

      I ended up going to a full moon party about 5 hours after I got it done and it was fine. The great thing about bamboo is it heals a lot quicker and you dont need to keep it out of the water for a certain amount of days like you do with tattoos done with the gun. At least that’s what I was told by the lady who did my tattoo and I never had any problems with it. I honestly did nothing to care for it because it healed so fast. Just washing it with water and unscented soap is always good.

  14. February 20, 2013 / 5:29 pm

    I got a bamboo tattoo in Thailand as well…I have also had to machine tattoos. Of the three, I would definitely say that my bamboo tattoo was the LEAST painful by a great deal. No bleeding whatsoever. No raised areas that I am waiting to see heal…Just above my ribcage, in fact, right under my armpit to the top of my ribcage.

    I fell asleep during the session. It’s not the absolute worst.

    • kristenj
      February 20, 2013 / 7:01 pm

      Wow! Your pain tolerance must be high! The tattoo artist told me that out of all places my foot would hurt the most. She was correct! It was painful but so worth it.

  15. mark
    November 30, 2012 / 6:09 am

    Hiya

    Are you sure it hurt more than a machine or was it just because of where it was?

    I have a large machine tattoo on my foot which hurt like crazy.

    I’m currently in Chiang Mai and thinking of getting a bamboo tattoo but I’m scared now!

    • kristenj
      December 19, 2012 / 5:42 pm

      A little bit of both. Bamboo is deeper, so it does hurt more. I did also get it in a very sensitive spot so that also added to the annoying pain. I say do it! It was a really cool experience.

  16. mia
    November 12, 2012 / 2:54 am

    It took 2 hours to get this tattoo done? I got mine done by the same person that did Angelina’s Tattoo and it took him less than 15 min for the tattoo (same one as Angelina’s). It’s actually not a tribal tattoo btw. it’s more like a talisman spell for protection and luck.

    • kristenj
      November 12, 2012 / 2:55 pm

      It did! The lady did it once, and then went over it again to make the lines thicker. That’s pretty awesome that the same person who did Angelina’s tattoo did yours. He probably has a lot more experience than the person who did mine so it took him less time. Either way, it was a cool experience. Would you get another one?

    • Farang
      November 13, 2012 / 10:43 am

      Hi Mia, exactly how much did your sak yant cost in baht? BTW, Ajarn Noo is not a tatooist in the conventional sense….Sak Yants are a whole different world….

    • Kylie Cubby
      January 21, 2013 / 4:35 am

      Mia,
      Just wondering do u remember the name of the tattoo parlour that you went to & what part of Thailand it was in?

      • Falang
        November 15, 2013 / 9:06 am

        Ajarn Noo does not have a tattoo parlour as he is not a tattooist, he has a Sam Nak as he is a traditional Ajarn Ruesi. He is very expensive, contact Bangkok-ink.com and chat to Martin who i think used to be his agent. For a real decent traditional tat, uses Martins thai guy (near On Nut skytrain station in Bangers)

    • Rylee
      April 13, 2014 / 9:54 pm

      Hey Mia,

      How did you get a hold of him?
      How much did it cost? Ive read lots about how when monks do it you get no say in what or where it is, is it like that or is he an artist? I haven’t been able to find much on him besides that hes really good.

  17. October 18, 2012 / 10:03 am

    Getting inked by a bamboo and not using a needle is a good process. Less painful but should be done by expert in making the tattoo by bamboo. Thailand is special in making these types of tattoo. The pictures are also very good.

    • kristenj
      October 18, 2012 / 2:44 pm

      I completely agree. It’s a good idea to make sure you look at the past work of the tattoo artist and see if it’s what you like. Of course I always watch them open up new needles to make sure everything is clean as well.

  18. August 31, 2012 / 5:39 pm

    Glad to read that you had a good experience with the bamboo tattoo. I have no pain tolerance so ink is not my thing, but Bret would love to get several more tattoos to add to his collection. – Mary

    • kristenj
      September 27, 2012 / 2:34 am

      I’ll tell you this much….IT HURT A LOT!!! This hurt a lot more than a gun tattoo. Just before I got this tattoo, I was in India meditating and doing yoga and chanting mantras…so I was able to use what I learned during the tattoo process. I chanted a mantra for 2 hours while I was getting this done and it really did help with the pain but it still hurt and was very annoying. BUT, it was worth it:)

  19. July 24, 2012 / 12:42 am

    You are very brave! I have a few tattoos but I only go to the same person each time. How did you choose your artist?

  20. July 19, 2012 / 12:07 am

    That’s a lovely phrase and tattoo! I’ve never been brave enough…

  21. Anonymous
    July 16, 2012 / 3:04 am

    Haha, I love your caption about the man foot. I know that cracked heel so well when traveling in South East Asia, I can never get my feet looking good when traveling no matter how hard I take care of them. Love the tattoo. 

  22. kd
    July 11, 2012 / 8:33 pm

    I recently got a tattoo done in thailand by the bamboo method and love it. I am so glad I had it done and I am very pleased with the result. I also had my tattoo done on my foot but did not find it painful at all. it stung a little to begin with but I ended up finding it a bit of a nuisance for the short amount of time it was done. Anyone considering a tattoo, get a bamboo one and go for it!

    • Anonymous
      July 12, 2012 / 3:24 am

      I loved the method too. It was peaceful, in an odd way. No noise of the gun. Would love to see a picture of yours. Can you post it on the Hopscotch the Globe Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Hopscotchtheglobe

  23. March 25, 2011 / 3:24 pm

    I would love to get a tattoo using a more traditional method such as this… seems more visceral.

    • Anonymous
      October 22, 2011 / 5:52 pm

      Do it!

  24. Erayeldek
    March 10, 2011 / 5:02 pm

    looks really nice…
    does it hurt??

    • Anonymous
      October 22, 2011 / 5:51 pm

      It did hurt…a lot!  Especially in this part of the body.  It was well worth the pain though.

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