Tatted in Thailand

I had been contemplating getting a tattoo for the better part of a year.  After doing some research, I decided that I wanted to get something that was unique to me, different from the other tattoos out there (sorry mom but I Heart Mom never crossed my mind).  I had heard about a traditional Thai style of tattooing using a bamboo technique, where a small bamboo stick (sometimes affixed with a needle or multiple fine needles) is dipped in ink and tapped into the skin to create the tattoo.  After a quick search of the best bamboo tattoo artists in Thailand, I noticed many people raving about Korn at Korn’s Bamboo Tattoo in Pai, which just happened to be the tiny part of the world I was currently in.  I sought out the studio, inspecting the display photos demonstrating an admirable attention to detail.  The studio itself is very hygienic, and after a brief conversation with the amicable artist Korn, I immediately knew that he was the man for my first tattoo.

The design that I wanted is based off a drawing that I did earlier in the year.  I brought a copy of the drawing to Korn and described how I wanted mountains in the background reminiscent of those that took my breath away while trekking in Nepal.  At his request, I printed out a copy of some of my pictures and left them with Korn overnight to draw a preliminary sketch.


My original drawing which served as the basis for the tattoo design.

Returning the next day, I viewed Korn’s sketch which had the mountains as the focal point and the hand I had drawn was smaller than I had envisioned.  Explaining that I wanted the hand to be the focal point, with the mountains and nature in the background, Korn asked me to return at 5:00 to see the updated sketch.  As I walked in the door with mounting anticipation, a sketch akin to my vision awaited me.  Korn had reproduced my original sketch better than I had hoped for, adjusting it to fit the contour of my scapula region where it would reside for the rest of my days.  Exuberantly satisfied with the drawing, I responded to Korn’s question of “When would you like to start?” with an excited “Right now’s good.”

Laying face down on what resembled a massage table (without the little face hole), I saw Korn sharpening fresh bamboo out of the corner of my eye.  As his assistant held my skin taught (to allow for increased detail), I felt the first pricks enter my skin.  Unused to the sensation, I could feel myself reflexively start to tense and focused my mind on my breathing to remain as still as possible.


Laying as still as possible as Korn does his thing.

You are probably thinking, “Getting a sharpened piece of bamboo hammered into your skin, must have hurt like a son of a bitch, right?”  Actually, bamboo tattooing generally causes less pain than machine tattooing because it does not penetrate all five layers of skin, resulting in little to no bleeding.  Depending on what part of my back/shoulder was being tattooed, the pain ranged from being pinched to being stung by bees tens of thousands of times.  It was most definitely bearable, and had a very natural feel to it.  After a few minutes, I became used to the rhythm and sensation of the bamboo penetrating my skin at an amazing pace (sometimes around ten times per second) and caught myself focusing on the Thai music resonating from the nearby speakers opposed to the pricking in my back.

After 3 hours of tattooing, we called it a night as it was nearing 9:00.  Looking in the mirror, the majority of the outlining was done as well as some of the shading of the hand.  The shading completely blew me away and I couldn’t wait to return at noon the next day to complete the tattoo.

The next day Korn completed the rest of the shading of the hand and mountains, free drew the clouds, and put the finishing touches on the nature background.  To finish the tattoo, he added blue and orange tones to the rings around the human figure.  After 7 hours of being hammered by bamboo, the tattoo was finished and I couldn’t have been more pleased.


My tattoo minutes after completion (hence the redness).

The tattoo cost me a total of 13,500 bhat, around $450, very reasonable for 3 hours of sketching and 7 hours of tattooing, including the services of an assistant to keep the skin taught every step of the way.  An added bonus of having the tattoo completed in the bamboo technique is it does not scar and you can go swimming and expose it to sunlight within days after completion.

A little description of what the tattoo signifies to me.  At first glance the tattoo may seem symbolically religious, as if it is the hand of God starting creation.  In actuality, it resembles sort of the opposite.  For me it resembles the divinity within each person, the amazing potential power that exists within us all.  It resembles our ability to create great things, and the enormous responsibility of that power.  In between the thumb and forefinger the human figure is fully supported, but if those fingers abused their power, the figure would be crushed.

It also resembles the journey that has occurred on this trip so far.  The mountains in the background from the Annapurna Circuit will always remind me of my time spent there in the awesome companionship of nature.  The blue and orange hints in the 6 interlacing circles are reminiscent of Ida and Pingala, the male and female energy lines associated with yoga.  I originally wanted to get vortexes to reflect the 7 chakras but the odd number was not asthetically pleasing.  I had to decide between 8 (reflecting the 8 limbs of yoga) or 6, ultimately choosing 6 as it is the number of members in my family.  The aspect of reiki also comes into play with the concept of energy around the hand that is present.  The design is deeply personal to how my journey so far has shaped my perspective on life, and I couldn’t be more appreciative to Korn for capturing all of this in vivid detail.

So if you’re in Thailand and thinking about getting a tattoo completed using the bamboo technique, I cannot recommend Korn highly enough.