Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand

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When we first left home last February I knew without a doubt in mind that I wanted to get a bamboo tattoo during our travels. I wasn’t sure where or when or how or what, just that I wanted one.

I had the thought of getting a Thai bamboo tattoo while traveling in SE Asia on my mind from the start, so when the opportunity presented itself in Thailand, I didn’t think twice about it.

Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand

The hardest thing for me when it comes to tattoos is deciding what to get. I am a firm believer in getting tattoos that are meaningful.

Now, I have nothing against someone getting a willy nilly bamboo tattoo because it looks cool, but that just isn’t for me. It absolutely has to have a meaning, that part is not negotiable.

I already have two tattoos and both of them have significant meanings, so trying to decide what to get on the spot in Thailand was a challenge. I had some ideas, but I hadn’t figured out the final details nor where I wanted them placed.

I also refuse to be that person that prints something from a Google search and gets that exact design put on me. I don’t want to be sporting a tat that can be found in a basic search.

So between some thoughts of horse themed tattoos, to horseshoes and then to a compass, I had a lot of thinking to do.

The day that we inquired on getting bamboo tattoos, we had intended on just inquiring, finding out the price and then scheduling a time for the following day.

However, since there were three of us and bamboo tattoos take considerably more time, they wanted to get started at that moment. YIKES!

Looking for travel tattoo designs check out our Travel Tattoo Pinterest board of inspiration.

Choosing the Design

Bamboo Tattoo Thailand - Lina Stock
The mock-up

It was in that moment that I decided I wanted to finally get my compass. I have wanted a compass bamboo tattoo for several years because it symbolizes my passion for travel without being too gaudy or focusing on just one part of travel.

However, choosing a compass design is really difficult. I had some things in mind, but I could never actually put them on paper.

Rough sketches were getting me nowhere, so I decided to look online to see if I could find some inspiration. I ended up printing around 6 different designs.

Each had something I liked and many things I didn’t like, but they helped me to find what I was looking for. Feeling more confident, I went to the tattoo artist and we discussed at length the design.

Hoping he understood, he told me he wanted to take the stuff home that night and work on my design which was not what I was expecting as he had wanted to do it that day.

I was the only one that didn’t get tatted that day but I anxiously awaited the result of my design the following day.

Approving the Mock Up

David Stock getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
No tattoo for me the first day

Bamboo tattoos are permanent and this fact is something that makes me anxious. It is imperative that the design be right and have a suitable meaning to convey.

One of the tattoos I originally had before getting the bamboo tattoo took me weeks of fiddling with the design to get it how I wanted it.

Sometimes I will pick something, alter it and then completely scrap it at the last minute. I know, I am a bit picky but I really know what I want.

When I met with Max the next day he showed me what he had come up with and I was in awe. He had hand-drawn a design that compiled all the designs I loved and I was over the moon.

The compass was gorgeous, ornate and incredibly unique. I was finally getting my compass.

Deciding on the Bamboo Tattoo Location

Lina Stock - Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
Making the first lines

The rest of the experience would be different as I had selected to get this tattoo on my upper back, between my shoulder blades and just below my neckline. Without sparing you, it hurt like hell.

I found myself seeking a place without pain for the majority of the 3-hour process. I did not remember my previous two tattoos hurting like this, but due to the proximity of the shoulder blades and spine, I pretty much felt every needle prick.

That said, the bamboo tattoo process is entirely different than getting a tattoo with a gun. The bamboo stick is operated by the artist and requires a great deal of skill to give a good bamboo tattoo to someone.

Max was skilled and it showed. He was relaxed and had a perfected technique that made the process go smoothly. The best part is that when it was really painful, he could stop midline and then pick up again.

What is the Difference between Bamboo Tattoos and Gun Tattoos?

Bamboo Tattoo by hand in Thailand
Intricate details by hand

When I first mentioned on our Facebook page that I had gotten a bamboo tattoo, many people commented asking for more information on it and how it differed from getting a more conventional gun tattoo. Let me explain.

The bamboo tattoo technique is different. The bamboo tattoo is given with a perfectly balanced piece of bamboo that has been shaped with a grip.

At the skinny end, the artist attached a cluster of needles, this ranges based on the design from three to five needles. Sometimes more if there are large areas to color.

The needles are bound together on one fixed pole straight from the sterile package and then are bound to the bamboo grip with a thick, firm ribbon. When the needle is bound to the bamboo stick correctly, there should be no loose ends and it looks to be one instrument.

Unlike a gun tattoo, which is controlled with an air pedal, the bamboo tattoo process is at the control of the artist. They use a mastered technique by hand to make the ink impressions into your skin.

It is a serious skill as they must know exactly the right pressure needed to embed the ink deep enough but to not injure you.

Getting a Thai Bamboo Tattoo While Traveling

Lina Stock Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand
Clean and comfortable studio

This is a hot topic, I mean even in the states people worry about the sanitary standards of tattoo shops and most people you talk to wouldn’t dream of getting a Thai bamboo tattoo abroad because of these concerns.

However, I found the conditions extremely sterile. Our tattoo artist used new needles that were opened in front of us and then fixed onto the bamboo grip.

He wore medical gloves and poured ink from the bottle into a sanitary container, which was disposed of after the tattoo was completed.

The room was clean, had great lighting and was relaxed. I would recommend the experience to even the biggest skeptic.

I can tell you that I had one of my tattoos done in a tattoo shop in the states that wasn’t nearly as clean or comfy.

Choosing the Right Shop Matters

Bamboo Tattoo Shop in Thailand
Attracting a crowd

With that said, it is very important that you vet your tattoo shop ahead of time. While we had a good experience, there are several shops that are dirty with questionable health standards.

Do your homework, ask around, look online and more importantly, physically go to the shop and see with your own eyes.

Observe the artists as they work, ask about their process and pay attention to what they do with needles, ink, and other items.

Where Did I Get My Bamboo Tattoo?

Finished Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand - Lina Stock
All finished and I love it!

This is the most asked question about my bamboo tattoo, where did I get it. We were staying on Koh Pha Ngnan at the Coral Bungalows in Ban Tai when we decided to get bamboo tattoos.

They have a tattoo parlor right on the resort and it is clean and comfortable with patient tattoo artists.  Not only is it a great place to stay during your travels, but it’s a safe place to get that bamboo tattoo you have always wanted.

Check prices and book your own stay on Koh Pha Ngnan.

Getting a tattoo when traveling is increasingly popular and I plan to get a couple more while we trot the globe. The compass was one that required a lot of thought and design, it is covering about 3 or more inches of my back!

Looking for travel tattoo designs check out our Travel Tattoo Pinterest board of inspiration.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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22 thoughts on “Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand”

  1. I have just had two sak yant bamboo tattoos done in two weeks by Ajarn Ohr,arranged through Bangkok Ink.I am 61 years old and had never been brave enough before.I wanted something very special and a sacred tattoo is exactly that.The lotus on my arm hurt a lot more than the Gao yor on my back because of the fine fetailI did not swear due to the Masters presence but it really hurt.Both healed within two days

  2. I got two bamboo tatoos which in Koh Lanta. Chill out hostel is a tree house hostel near the beach and they have a tatoo parlour ‘chillout ink’ in the hostel and ‘Arm’ is the tatoo artist 🙂 i had a cupcake i designed on my ankle in colour and a tatoo in my ear too which hurt like hell. But i really enjoyed the experience! I got to play my own music and have a drink , while chatting to people in the hostel, it heals miles faster too! i went through a cave filled with water in my trainers the next day and it was fine 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment. Maybe it is technically called a machine, but I have never heard a tattoo artist refer to it as a machine. Only a tattoo gun. Cheers!

  3. I got a tattoo whilst in Thailand using this technique and whilst it absolutely killed it healed better and faster than any of my other tattoos and means the world to me. As with any tattoo no matter which country you get it in do the research, check for previous work and if you don’t think it’s clean enough don’t risk it.

    • I agree, it was painful but healed very fast. So that was a bonus. I was in the saltwater the very next day with no issues.

      • How long was the healing process? For example, how long did you have to wait to get into the water again? Were there any restrictions?

        • This is the magical thing about bamboo tattoos, they heal VERY fast! I had no restrictions on getting back in the water from the tattoo artist. He told me I could hit the pool again the next day, although I did wait a day before getting back in the ocean. I coated the tattoo in vaseline for 5 days to seal it and after that, good to go!

  4. I had heard on another blog about getting tattoos while traveling, that bamboo tattoos used the same needles every time and were not sterile. It’s cool to see that this shop opened sterile needles in front of you. Now I’m not so afraid of a bamboo tattoo anymore!

    • I think anyone that writes that information is misinformed. It is not hard to walk into a tattoo shop and demand new needles. If they won’t simply walk out and look elsewhere. There are plenty of shops that will have no problem opening a new needle for you!

  5. I got an elephant with bamboo last October. 10 1/2 hours and I love it! The first couple hours were no problems but after that I wished I would have gone with a gun because of how much faster it is. It was definitely an experience I would recommend to people who have had a tattoo previously and maybe go for something smaller… Or at least less than 10hrs!!

    • Yes, the process is slower but the quality I think is far superior to a gun tattoo. The one I got on my back was pretty painful but I don’t regret getting it. I agree with you, first time tattoos should be nice and small!

  6. Hi, I can’t agree more it’s really worth doing. I’ve just had mine back tattooed by the bamboo method and it’s perfect. Definitely hurt more than other ones I’ve had. I would say the pain is closest to the one I had when I had my feet tattooed. On the good side it seems to heal quicker and it’s an amazing conversation point. As long as your careful with where you get it done there’s nothing to be worried about 🙂 xx

    • Yes, the one I got hurt sooo bad! But I absolutely love it. I agree, choosing a clean place is very important. Also making sure they use new needles for your tattoo. Thanks for stopping in!

  7. Wow! that looks incredible. Mind me asking how much you paid for it?

    I’m heading over to Thailand in a couple days and I’m really eager to get a bamboo tattoo.

    • I paid 8,000baht (appx. $240USD) for the compass tattoo. That may seem pricey for Thailand, but I can assure you it is still cheaper then it would have been in the states for that quality. There are several tattoo shops where I am sure you can get them cheaper, but we careful, you get what you pay for. 🙂

  8. I absolutely love this, I am going back to Thailand in September and I am seriously thinking about getting a bamboo tattoo. The expertise in this parlour looks fantastic as well as professional, which town/what is the shop called? I am trying to get as much advice on this as I can so any input you have would be much appreciated!


    • Do it!! It was my 3rd tattoo and I loved the process of the bamboo tattoo so much more than the gun tattoo’s. Wouldn’t hesitate to get another one. We got our tattoos in Koh Phangan island, at the Coral Bungalows tattoo shop. Located right at the hotel. Great place.


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