Should I Get a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand?
I’d wanted to get a bamboo tattoo in Thailand for quite a while. But after living in Bangkok for two years, I still hadn’t gone through with it. I delayed at first because I was unsure of what to get, and didn’t want to just get anything to say I’d done it. I’m not a tattoo fiend and the choice of image and meaning is really important to me
But by October 2014, I knew the design that I wanted – an infinity symbol. A way to always remember Thailand and how it changed my life, and a symbol of my relationship and love for my fiance Ran (who also decided to get the same bamboo tattoo).
Then, fear of the pain was keeping me away from the bamboo tattoo I wanted. I’ll admit it – I’m a baby when it comes to pain.
But on one fateful night, we’d had
one too many several questionable booze buckets, and it was our very last trip to Koh Phi Phi. I had less than two weeks left in the country that had stolen my heart.
I was leaving Thailand, perhaps forever, and moving to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After a night of drink-downing with my fiance, our bucket-fueled courage further inspired us further.
We went into a nearby tattoo parlor to get a quote and the design drawn up.
We wanted the bamboo tattoo to be all black, in the shape of the infinity on our fingers.
The guys at the tattoo place offered to give us the bamboo tattoos for 1500THB (50USD) each.
I said (or maybe the bucket did), LET’S DO IT!
The tattoo artists tried to convince us to do the bamboo tattoo on the outside of our hands as they advised that it would fade rather quickly on our palm.
I declined and decided to keep it inside, as I was working in a professional position with many clients from cultures that do not respect or approve of visible tattoos, especially on women.
It started okay and was all very hygienic. He showed me the new needle and new ink, and wore gloves.
I wanted to give up about 10 times.
Luckily, it was over in less than 30 minutes, and looked great!
It was cheap, it was safe (important to double check and be sure of this), and I would definitely do it again.
Now, almost 6 months later, the bamboo tattoo still looks awesome (no fading even though I did go with the palm side location!)
BAMBOO TATTOO FADING UPDATE: June 30, 2017 – Almost 3 years after getting our bamboo tattoos in Thailand, my now-husband’s tattoo is VERY faded, while mine looks basically the same as when I first had the tattoo done.
My Tips for Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand: Think before you ink
(and even more important – think before you drink and ink)
Have a good, long, hard brainstorming process about the tattoo that you want. You’ll either have to look at it forever on your body, or pay for an expensive and painful process to have it removed. Best to do it right the first time.
Also think about bamboo versus regular machine. A machine tattoo is faster and lasts longer, but a bamboo tattoo is done by hand and is more traditional. Bamboo will fade quicker, but also heals quicker (because less layers of skin are punctured). For me, the idea of it being a traditional, cultural process was very appealing.
Talk to friends and get their recommendations. If you’re a major pain wimp (like me), maybe it’s better to go for something smaller and in a less painful place than a huge rib piece, for example.
Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand: Choose your parlor carefully
Check out a couple different places. Which one looks the cleanest? Do they have actual photos of previous work? What do they recommend for aftercare?
I wouldn’t recommend doing what we did: stumbling into the first tattoo parlor we saw while sauced up. We should have at least gone the day before, scoped out a few places, and made our parlor choice soberly.
The more professional and knowledgeable they seem, the better! You should be comfortable and confident with your choice, not nervous from the get-go.
Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand: Double check that everything is NEW
Make sure you get a new needle, new pot of ink, and that your tattooist puts on a fresh set of gloves.
Reusing needles is a major risk factor for contracting HIV and other blood borne diseases, and even double-dipped ink has its risks including hepatitis.
Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand: Listen to the after care advice
Apply the provided lotion/jelly (or bring your own) on the tattoo for as many days as you’re told, or more. Keep it out of sunshine, out of the water, and out of the dirt for as long as is prescribed. Sand is especially bacteria-filled. You’ve gone through all that pain – don’t ruin it now!
If you’re a bit tipsy (guilty as charged), ask for it in writing, or write it yourself so you don’t forget.
Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand: Think twice about sak yant
While I had always wanted the traditional Thai protection tattoo, after researching further into it, I dropped it. To get the most authentic and ancient version, the monk performing the tattoo will NOT use a new needle – meaning that the transfer of communicable diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis could take place.
Even the monks at the more modern wats who use new needles do NOT use new ink – meaning that again, you are exposed to the risk of contracting communicable blood-borne diseases, though the risk is low.
Pros and Cons of a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
Pros of Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
- Bamboo tattoos heal quicker
- Because the tattoo needle pierces fewer layers of skin, the healing process is faster
- Quick healing means less possibility for infection, which is REALLY important especially in humid and not always super sanitary Southeast Asia
- You can swim and shower normally
- Bamboo tattoos (supposedly) hurt less
- This is debatable because I have a machine tattoo and a bamboo tattoo and I thought the pain was pretty similar
- Bamboo tattoos are more “authentic”
- Because the bamboo method has been around for centuries, it is considered an artisan practice and a part of the ancient culture
- Bamboo tattoos are harder to severely mess up
- Because each dot/skin puncture requires a tap, the process is more under control than a constantly moving needle
Cons of a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand – and in General
- Bamboo tattoos take a lot longer
- Because the artist needs to “tap tap tap” each little dot, the process can take a lot longer than a machine tattoo, where the needle moves continuously
- Bamboo tattoos fade faster
- Bamboo tattoos puncture fewer layers of skin (causing them to heal faster, as above) but they also fade faster, as the design is therefore less protected and prone to wear
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