If you’re coming to Thailand; whether on a boozy holiday, a spiritual retreat or a backpacking adventure- chances are you may think about getting a tattoo and why not? Tattoos are awesome! I now have 4 tattoos, one from a drunken holiday in Spain (I know sounds nothing like me) and the rest from right here in various parts of Thailand. Basically, I’m not an expert (kinda) and want to pass all of my wisdom on to you.
As always, I did no research at all on the designs of my tattoos or the parlours where I . got them. In fact I decided on the day I fancied some ink so went in search of a shop there and then. If you’re not like me and don’t want to suck it and see then do a little research; check out shops on Facebook first or ask to see their work in advance or at least have an idea of what you want beforehand.
Here are my tips on getting inked in Thailand.
Where to go
You’ve decided you want a tattoo whilst on holiday in Thailand, Great! But you have no idea on where to go, well that all depends on you. If you’re looking for a huge, artsy piece that requires a very highly skilled tattooist; I’m afraid I can’t help you. BUT, if you just want a small reminder of your trip, something funny or something small then welcome to my land of expertise.
- Look for the cleanest place you can find (Make sure the floors are swept and mopped and everything is covered in cling film)
- Make sure they use a new needle (Goes without saying and most shops will do this as a given, just ask to be sure)
- If you’re in a tourist area, just open your eyes (If you’re in Bangkok- head to Khao San Road, if you’re in Phangan- head to Thong sala. Check out the high street of the town you’re in to find the cleanest, most popular places for tourists; chances are they’ll speak better English there too)
- Don’t be afraid to shop around (There are LOADS of tattoo parlours in Thailand, if you’re on Khao San there’s around 15 just on one street. Don’t be afraid to shop around for better cleanliness, prices or designs).
How much do they cost?
How long is a piece of string? Most machine tattoos start from 1000 baht (approx £22) and bamboo starts at 1500 baht. Don’t forget, you can always haggle with your tattooist, never accept their first price- especially if all of your friends are getting one as well, always try and work in a group discount.
What is a bamboo tattoo?
Rather than with a gun, the bamboo technique is where the tattooist (or monk traditionally) ties a clean needle to a piece of bamboo with thread or tape and then tap this into your skin by hand to create your design. This ancient tradition dates back some 3000 years ago where traditionally Monks would tattoo themselves to symbolise their faith or to protect them from evil. Soldiers were also inked in this method before they would go to war; fast forward a little and centuries later backpackers want in on the action too.
Where a machine scrapes and rips your skin, the bamboo prods it.
Bamboo v Machine
The age old question; I have 2 each and I honestly couldn’t tell you which I prefer, BUT I will give you some nuggets of info from my experience;
- Bamboo hurts more- I don’t care what anybody says, in my experience bamboo is WAY more painful. But of course everyone’s pain tolerance varies.
- Machine takes a lot longer to heal- A machine tattoo can take up to a month to heal completely, a bamboo tattoo only takes a few days.
- You don’t really need to care for a bamboo tattoo-Straight after you can hop in the Sea or the pool or even lounge around in the Sun no problem. Do NOT do this after a machine tattoo
- Apparently bamboo fades quicker- I don’t know if this is a myth, I haven’t seen any evidence with this on mine
- Machine tattoos take less time- Due to stabbing motion of the bamboo, a line seems like it takes fooooooorever.
There are pros and cons to both; I would recommend a bamboo tattoo (you’re in Thailand for Christ’s sake), they take less time to heal, you can do whatever you like after without worrying about colour run, scabbing or fading BUT just prepare yourself for the added pain.
How to care for them
- Buy some Bepanthen from the nearby pharmacy (all of them stock it for bargain prices)
- If it’s a machine tattoo- stay out of the water and sun (why waste your money and a new tattoo?)
- Be careful not to sleep on it (You don’t want to be paying for new sheets at your hostel due to colour transfer)
- If you’re prone to regret, stay off the booze (Don’t get a tattoo pissed if you know you’ll regret it in the morning)