I realize that it’s been entirely too long since I have sat down to write a blog. I had this idea that I would be blogging every day, but the procrastinator in me would have none of that. I had all these “justifications” for not sitting down to write, such as; planning a 5 week adventure to three different countries where we had never been before; organizing and planning our day by day itinerary, (getting much help and information from friends and family who had visited either Thailand, Viet Nam, or Cambodia); and packing. Packing took so much time and thought, wanting to bring all the right clothing for the climates we would be in, but not wanting to over pack, which in the end we ended up doing anyway. Hey, what can I say? We like options.
I had every intention of sitting down to write and blog everyday while we were over there, but we really ended up being so busy every single day, exploring, going to beautiful temples, and overall enjoying time with each other. In all honesty, I’m glad to be sitting down now, about two weeks after we arrived home, to write my first blog. The trip we went on was nothing short of amazing, and taking the time to digest it and miss it, makes me feel even more enthusiastic about writing about it.
I have so many stories, which I have been keeping up and journaling about, but the first one that I wanted to share was our experience of receiving Sacred Tattoos, or Sak Yant. One of the things, I may have mentioned before, on our “Thailand bucket list” was to experience getting Sacred Tattoos from a Holy Man, in the old poking, bamboo technique of tattooing. From day one we made it known that we were looking for someone to tattoo us, and we wanted the best there was. Monk’s do Sacred Tattooing, but they cannot touch women, so we needed a Master.
Everybody from day one said, in Bangkok, go to Arjan Noo. Many of you may know this man because he tattooed Angelina Jolie when she got that Tiger on her back a few years ago. We went with our wonderful tour guide, Witty, to find this Master. When we arrived at his studio, from the very beginning the vibe was a little bit off. Bruce introduced himself and gave him one of Damien’s cards from Bruce Bart Tattooing. We sat down with his apprentice to discuss the price. He held up a number, 95,000 Baht! That’s $3275 U.S. Dollars for each of us. That’s for a tattoo that takes a little over a half hour. Bruce laughed, being “in the biz” and the common respect tattoo artists have for one another. We said there was no way we would pay that and then they started negotiating with us. That’s when we took the opportunity to leave. We later found out that since Arjan Noo had tattooed all these celebrities, he had turned into more of a business man, seemingly losing that Scared feeling we were looking for.
We told the story to the concierge at our hotel, as he had known that we were looking for a great Master. After he laughed at the 95,000 Baht he had tried to charge us, he said he knew of someone else, more along the lines of the experience we were looking for. He gave us the name, phone number, and address of Arjan Neng, another Tattoo Master, but nothing like Noo. Witty, our fabulous guide, called Arjan Neng and we set up a time to come to his home studio. We were set for 5:00 PM and looking forward to it, although nothing could prepare us for the experience we ended up having.
We arrived at the Studio of Achan Neng, (the spelling goes back and forth, I have seen it spelled both ways.) As we took our shoes off and entered the studio, we could already feel that this was going to be the experience we were searching for. A young man with a tiger on his chest, and many more Sacred pieces was getting tattooed at the time. We knelt down in front of his Sacred Hermits, Buddhas, the king, and Achan Neng’s master. We had Witty with us, which was very important for this part of the tradition. We each burned nine incense and as we held them in our hands, we followed Witty in a prayer, customary before receiving a tattoo. After we knelt and cxhanted, giving our offering, we put our burning incense outside and came back in where there were about 8 to 10 people sitting on the floor watching, waiting, or simply hanging out.
Bruce introduced himself, gave Achan Neng a card and a BBT sticker….the smile on Achan Neng face showed his gentle soul and appreciation for Bruce, Master to Master. We sat and looked at photographs, deciding what we were going to put on our bodies. His apprentice was there and he and Bruce immediately began showing off their tattoos. Through his broken English, and our non-existent Thai, we were actually able to communicate with Achan Neng. The mood in the shop was happy and sweet and we knew we were in the right place.
Achan Neng’s sweet wife handed us a book, called “Scared Skin: Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos”…..She opened the book to page 39 and there he was, Achan Neng, next to a quote that said, “The Sak Yant is a powerful reminder for us to stay on the RIGHT PATH.” I loved it, the quote, the book, the photography, the writing…..There was one more book left at the shop and we knew that it was something that we must own, it seemed like a very interesting and powerful book.
As we sat and waited for our turn, as there were two people ahead of us, we spoke with Achan Neng, his wife, and everyone in there. There was an amazing positive vibe in the shop, so strong you could almost see it, and that’s when Achan Neng’s wife handed her cell phone to Bruce. She said, “This is Aroon, she photographed the pictures in the book. She wants to speak to you.” I looked at the book, Author: Tom Vater, Photographer: Aroon Thaewchatturat. On the phone she said she had heard of Bruce Bart and looked us up on our website. She was Thai, but spoke amazing English. She and her husband, Tom Vater,a Brit, invited us over to their house for dinner after we received our tattoos…..though Aroon was going to come over to meet us and watch us get tattooed.
I went first to receive my Sacred Ink, as I had decided the placement on my upper arm. You do not pay for your tattoos, rather there is no price. Instead you make an offering of what you can afford. In a basket that held flowers and incense, and other token offerings, I put in the money for the tattoo, knelt in front of Achan Neng and made my offering. Accepting it and blessing it he then told me to have a seat in front of him. This is a man who tattoos all day in lotus position, Bruce jokingly said he would be crippled if he had to sit the way he was all day tattooing. Since he is using both of his hands, he has two guys, (apprentices), who sit on each side to stretch the skin for the Master. He puts a stencil of just lines, and then tattoos a mantra, one which he decides. He told me a chant to say over and over again in my head to help relax, which I did, and of course forgot it immediately after the tattoo was complete.
He put a gold flake above my tattoo, on my shoulder, I believe for good luck. Then, while rubbing the tattoo with oil he says about a three or four minute chant over you, blessing the tattoo. This was followed by a blessing over me with Holy Water. Aroon arrived as Bruce was beginning his tattoo on his upper left shoulder blade, (this is a man with very little free canvas left). It seemed like his tattoo took an incredibly short time, but I think I was still on a high from receiving my Sak Yant. Same blessing the tattoo, and blessing Bruce, and we were finished. We sat for a few photographs with Achan Neng, said our good byes and Kah pun kah (thank you), as everybody was so sweet.
We left with Aroon to go to her home which was nearby. We met Tom upon arrival and Hans Kemp, who published the book, “Sacred Skin.” So here we were with the author, publisher, and photographer of this beautiful book, talking laughing, drinking, eating, it was quite an honor. We had a wonderful night, beautiful intellectual conversation, and above all a room filled with some truly creative people. Aroon, Tom, and Hans signed our book for us, making it that much more special. Unplanned, not on our itinerary, but hands down one of the best, most magical nights we spent in Bangkok.
Since we’ve returned home we have sent Achan Neng, Aroon &Tom, and Hans the book which Bruce created and published, “Rides of Passage,” as well as the newest Skin Art magazine in which we have been privileged to have a 12 page spread. As we were tattooed, marked for life, I also have the feeling that we made real friends for life as well. If anyone is interested in Sacred Tattooing, and what it’s all about, we highly recommend the book, “Sacred Skin.”
It was a trip going back to that time, for me at least. I will be posting more experiences like this one, trust that I have many to choose from. We’re back!