When I first heard about Sak Yant tattoo's during my many hours of deskwarming, reading travel blogs I knew that I'd one day find myself in the 'hot seat'. As I wrapped up my travel in Cambodia I realized it was time to plan for the next leg of my journey, soon finding myself in Bangkok. Through word of mouth and some online blogs I've heard such mixed reviews about the city so I really didn't know what to think or how to prepare myself. I also knew that I wouldn't be jumping right into the tourist attractions as I want to save those for when my friend Laura comes out to join me at the end of April. Ultimately I wound up with only one plan while spending my first few days in Bangkok and that was to make the trek out to Wat Bang Prah for my Sak Yant tattoo.
I followed instructions on how to get there from another travel blogger which were super helpful, my only mistake was that I didn't take note of where to catch the bus at Victory monument so I wound up walking in a few circles. Once that was sorted out I thought maybe it'd be smooth sailing for the rest of the day, but unfortunately I was mistaken. My driver seemed the least bit interested in where I was going so I was a bit doubtful as to weather he'd be dropping me off at my requested location, along the side of the road, or not. I wound up not having to worry about that as our van had some engine problems and we were all ushered out at our first stop, I tried easing my temper by reminding myself everything happens for a reason. We sat around for close to an hour before another van came to pick us up, this one with a much friendlier driver who eagerly confirmed with me "Wat Bang Phrah???" while making a bowing gesture. The rest of the journey went as planned, I found my friendly motorbike driver and he zipped me over to the temple in no time, charging the 100baht I was expecting.
Once in the temple area I was greeted by a friendly man who immediately pointed out the toilet, I'm not sure why he thought that's what I was after. When he discovered I had no interest in that he said "ahhhh tattoo! photo!" and he ushered me inside where the monks were already hard at work. He motioned me towards the front of the room for a look but said "no photo". Everyone was already staring at me as I tried to explain, no I want to get one. Now that we all understood each other he led me back outside to the booth where you buy your offerings; a stick of incense, flowers and a pack of cigarettes, all for a grand total of 75 baht. This is then taken back inside and placed on a tray along with your 25 baht change as an offering to the monks. Once all of the logistics were figured out it was time to begin the waiting game, despite arriving later than planned the line was thankfully not too long with only about six women in front of me. An added bonus but I was in line to receive my tattoo from Master Luang Pi Nunn who is apparently the most famous tattoo artist in Thailand.
While waiting I received many friendly smiles, one of which came from Pai, a local, who spoke decent English, despite her saying otherwise. I waited for about an hour before the monks got up for their lunch break at which time I decided to explore the surroundings of the temple and stretch my legs and back. The temple lies alongside a small river which provides for a peaceful sitting area to relax, or feed the fish, as I soon discovered. There were booths selling bags of what looked like crackers which I didn't actually notice until after two women came over with their bag of fish food. As they dropped the snacks into the water swarms of fish came rushing to the surface fighting over any bits of food they could capture, I appreciated the few minutes of unexpected entertainment, but didn't partake myself. Eventually after taking some pictures and making a full lap of the temple I made my way back inside to continue the wait.
After talking to Pai about the process I got a little bit of different story than what I had read online. Across the internet you read how the monk will chose a tattoo which he feels suits you, and also select the location. I'm not saying this is false information but I was told otherwise. Pai told me that pretty much everyone [women at least] get the five sacred lines tattoo, Hah Taew, on their first visit and it is traditionally placed on the left shoulder. Then, for the second visit the nine spires or eight points tattoos are common. Another interesting piece of information she shared with me is that you can get multiple tattoos in one day, if you choose. After buying your offering, waiting and finally getting your tattoo you can go out and do the whole process over again, and again if you're really up for it.
After lunch there were only three women before me so I didn't have too long to wait. I now had a front row view of the process and my main focus was on the women's faces, trying to judge the level of pain they were experiencing. It wasn't until I was sitting there that I realized I was about to get a tattoo and that, yeah, it might hurt a little bit. My second focus was on what the women did before, during and after receiving their tattoo. I wanted to mimic this behavior, careful not to do anything disrespectful. Finally it was my turn, I was stamped with the design, bent over my pillow and held down by two other men (holding my skin in place). The first few strikes weren't too painful but then the tapping began, I would say it was more painful than a normal tattoo but in all honesty it was not that bad. The weirdest part is how it's multiple jabbing movements instead of the constant vibration you get with a normal tattoo, which I think does a better job of numbing your skin. The best part is that the process is incredibly fast and in under 15 minutes my tattoo was finished, the monk blessed me and I ended the process with my three bows.
When I went back outside to check out the work in the bathroom mirrors I was greeted by Pai and her boyfriend who had both completed their Sak Yant's moments before. Pai offered to take a picture for me so I could get a better view of the work and then proceeded to tell me they'd give me a ride back. Turns out they live between the temple and Bangkok so they said I could ride with them and they 'd get me to a bus that would take me the rest of the way. There was a minibus option from the temple but I couldn't pass up this friendly offer and opportunity to get to make some new friends. While driving Yessif (Pai's boyfriend from Denmark) asked if I was hungry and so I soon found myself enjoying noodles with the locals at a tiny shop on the side of the road. This is the point when I thought back to my bus that morning, heres' the answer to my everything happens for a reason thought.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.