Asia

Getting Tattooed in Thailand: My Bamboo-Style Tattoo Experience

Before we went to Thailand, we had plans to get a traditional bamboo-style tattoo there. We each changed our minds 117 times about getting it and what to get, but in the end we both took a little piece of Thailand home with us via our new ink. Here’s how the experience actually was!

What is Bamboo Style?

This is a traditional Asian style of tattooing that involves a needle being attached to a bamboo rod. That needle is then hand-tapped into the skin. this tradition started with Buddhist monks.

Machine Vs. Bamboo Style Tattoos

So what’s the big difference? Both bamboo style and machine tattoos start with needles dipped in ink, it’s just how the ink gets into the skin that’s different.

Basically, machine tattoos tap quickly into the skin many times over, and get deep in the skin (dermis). There are two main kinds of machine tattoos but these types are put into the skin 2000-3000 times per minute. A bamboo style tattoo is done by hand so it’s done way less times. Let’s recap the differences:

  • Bamboo style tattoos – fade quicker, take more time to apply, are less abrasive to the skin, heal faster, hurt less (more on this later), and can cost more.
  • Machine tattoos – last longer, take less time to apply, are more abrasive to the skin, and heal slower.
My elephant tattoo – about 1×1 inches

Do Bamboo Tattoos Really Hurt Less?

This is a difficult call to make because I have 2 machine tattoos on my ribcage and inside ankle plus my bamboo tattoo on the inside of my foot. The inside of your foot and ribcage are notoriously painful for all tattoo methods. The inside of my ankle barely hurt in comparison to these two. Dallas has most of his right arm machine tattooed and he got his inside ankle tattooed bamboo style.

Our conclusion: bamboo style tattoos generally hurt only slight less than machine tattoos.

Healing Time: Bamboo vs. Machine

All our research and our artist at the bamboo style shop we visited told us that we could go in the ocean water the next day but not the pool. While we felt like our tattoos were on their way to healing the next day, I was not willing to risk an infection so we didn’t go in the water or pool after we got our tattoos. I recommend structuring your trip so your tattoo is last!

Sak Yant style

A Note on Buddha & Sak Yant Tattoos

You may feel inspired by the Buddhist religion while in Thailand but think twice before getting a Buddha tattoo. There are actually signs at the Thai airports (and even on billboards around the islands) noting that Buddha tattoos are disrespectful. While a little Buddha might seem cool to you, please consider whether you really want it for the right reasons. Sak Yant is slightly less controversial but can also be upsetting local Thais.

My tattoo and its stencil – pretty close!

Picking the Right Bamboo Style Tattoo

A key to being happy with your bamboo style tattoo is to pick something simple. Both because it will take a while and because the style lends itself to a simpler design.

How Long It Took

My little tattoo took about 10 minutes while Dallas’ bigger ankle piece took almost 2 hours. I feel this is comparable to how long machine tattoos take.

Logistics & FAQs

Paying: We were able to pay either in cash or using our Visa cards.
English-Speaking: Although our artist didn’t speak English, the shop manager spoke it perfectly. We communicated with him and set up the tattoos.

Appointment vs. walk-in: We spoke to them a few days before we actually got the tattoo and made a casual appointment.

Prep & Vaccinations: To prepare for the tattoo and Thailand trip we got the Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. This was recommended by not required. Check out the CDC list of recommended vaccinations for travel here.

Creating the Tattoos: My tattoo was drawn from a Pinterest image while our artist hand-drew Dallas’ tattoo.

Costs: These tattoos cost about US $100 an hour

Finding the Right Artist & Shop

No matter what tattoo you’re getting, be smart and find the right artist and shop! Look for a “Western” style shop that is sanitary, well-lit, and has artists that are wearing shirts. Make sure you see a portfolio of work that your artist has done, and that they are using new needles!

Shout-out to Perfect Skin Tattoo in Ao Nang/Krabi, Thailand where we got out tattoos done. We are very happy with the design and so far they both have healed well.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in getting an authentic bamboo style tattoo in Thailand, go for it! Just be sure to you pick your design, artist, and tattoo shop wisely. Know that these tattoos heal faster but may not last as long as machine tattoos.

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