The most popular style of tattoos in Thailand are the depictions of Buddhist Temples or Buddhist deities. Those who got these temple tattoos or Buddhist deities believed that they contained power to protect them. These tattoos are usually done by Thai monks using India Ink or Rotring ink and were often accompanied by prayers while they were being done.
Unlike Western style tattooing traditional Thai tattoos are done using hand tools and don't use the same kinds of sterilization methods as you would in a shop-front tattoo studio. Although apparently other things are added to the ink such as battery acid, plant extracts and snake oil which supposedly kills bacteria.
With the accessibility of Thailand in recent years as a travel destination (and high profile tattoo conventions being held there) many people go there and decide to get a tattoo to commemorate their time there or even for spiritual reasons. Although getting 'holiday' tattoos has almost become a cliche (or something you do after a skinful of booze!) there are plenty of people willing to seek out Buddhist monks to get traditional Thai tattoos.
If you do happen to find yourself in Thailand and seek out a Thai monk to tattoo you there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Remember the level of hygiene is not the same as a Western tattoo studio and in some cases they don't sterilize the tools between sittings so it is best to go early to minimize the chance blood borne infection.
- Traditional Thai tattoos done by hand take a lot longer that a tattoo using an electric needle. Be prepared to sit (or lie) for long periods particularly if you are getting a larger piece.
- The lines are not as 'clean' as tattoos done with a needle so if you are worried about aesthetics maybe a hand tattoo is not for you. You could always get a cherry tattoo on your breast or anchor tattoo on your ass instead!