Having a tattoo at Wat Bang Phra

Getting a tattoo the old-fashioned way from a Buddhist monk using a bamboo stick is a bit frightening, very painful and definitely worth it, says Martin Nordberg Foldmoe in the fourth story of our series “Thailand through Norwegian eyes.”

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Having a tattoo at Wat Bang Phra

Martin Nordberg Folmoe

Getting a tattoo the old-fashioned way, with a bamboo stick, has interested to me for quite some time. When I found out that I was going with my class to Thailand in the beginning of April, I started checking the internet for tattoo ideas. The most popular and recommended place was the Wat Bang Phra temple, a two-hour drive from Bangkok.

Early morning drive

A friend travelling in the same group and I thought about this for a while and we decided to go there. We had high expectations and a decent amount of butterflies floating around in our stomachs when we, the two pale Norwegians took a taxi before sunrise. The trip was a beautiful experience in itself as we moved further and further away from the crowded city. To me, this is as exotic as it gets. About one hour later the giant temples emerged behind the trees. Such magnificent architecture and huge statues everywhere suddenly made us feel very small. And for the first time we got scared.

Waiting hours relief

Our kind taxi driver spoke with the monks and after a little walking around we found ourselves in the waiting room. There were already three other tourists waiting in line although the monk would not start tattooing for another two hours. The wait seemed endless and we were not as scared as we were upon arrival. There was something about the large number of small dogs running around and our host offering us fruit and beverages that helped us stop thinking of the pain in front of us.

Fresh ink

The mystical monk finally appeared. He was a huge man with a serious, but kind, face. The colour of his robe was faded, indicating that he had been wearing it for a long time. He pulled out the bamboo stick and opened up some fresh ink as he made a hand gesture, telling the first person in line to get seated in front of him. The three people that had their tattoos done before us got their on their backs, and they all seemed to be in some real pain.

Our turn
My friend and companion, Mats, was the first of us to start. We were both getting the same, five-line tattoo on the chest. I have had several tattoos done in Norway already, but Mats had none. Therefore his reaction to the pain was, naturally, somewhat frightening to me. After several pauses, drinks of water and a constant green face, his tattoo was done.

Worth the pain

 It looked absolutely amazing and there was never any doubt to me that, whatever pain that was awaiting me, this would definitely be worth it. I sat down in front of the monk as he prepared the next bamboo stick. A large man took a firm grip around my neck, holding me in place. As he started tattooing, I realized why Mats had gotten so pale. The pain was a lot worse than getting a normal machine-tattoo, but I was determined to endure it. After studying the monk’s face, trying to forget the pain for what seemed like forever, he finally finished.

Time for blessings

Next was to sit in front of the monk and receive his blessings. Though I am not a religious man, there was something magical as the monk murmured the long blessing containing words that we could not understand.

Then to social media

First on the list in the car driving back to Bangkok was posting pictures of this perfect adventure on social media. After all, this story is as interesting to our friends and our family back home as it is to us. Definitely, it is one of the many memories that Thailand has given us that we will always cherish and remember.

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Related search: Thai tattoo, Wat Bang Phra, Thailand through Norwegian eyes

About the author

Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Education Marketing and Support Manager