Expat Magazine

Bamboo Style Tattoos – Why You Should Get Yourself One.

By Zach Zine @Int_In_Debt

The best tattoo memory I have is the one I got in Thailand.  I can’t simply explain why you should get one until I tell my story.  The story alone probably will not persuade you, but it helps paint the picture of the whole experience.

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling my body rocking from side to side.  I slowly open my heavy eyelids.  Where am I? There’s a dim light coming from the opposite end of the long room.  As I try to capture this speck of light into my line of vision I hear my name coming from the culprit of my nauseous rocking.  It’s my boyfriend.  ”What time is it?” I asked.  ”I don’t know.  I just found the hostel.  I don’t know how long I’ve been missing, but I’m pretty sure I almost died.  Wanna get some food and tattoos?” “Sure.”  I roll out of my bed and almost face plant on the completely filthy floor underneath me.  The last thing I remember: pouring Red Bull into my rum on the rocks.  How in the hell did I make it back from the booze cruise to find this hostel out of hundreds, let alone my bed out of the 20 others in our room?  Impressive.  (To this day,  the mystery still remains.)  Time for food.

Zach and I try our best to walk upright back into the heat of the Koh Phi Phi nightlife.  Judging by the lack of sun and the amount of people loudly stumbling around, it must be between 11pm and 3am.  We join the (rowdy) zombie crowd moving towards the food huts.  ”I see chili dogs.” “Let’s go.”  This would be far from my sober choice, but we weren’t in the state of mind to make these responsible decisions.  After some highly nutritious food entered my body and I begin to feel a bit more sober, I start to realize something.  ”Wait, are we really getting tattoos?”

Now, this wasn’t a random decision or even discussion.  Prior to our planned trip to Thailand, we had heard of the bamboo method of tattooing.  As the story goes, this method originated some 3000 years ago in the East and was practiced in Buddhist temples by monks for religious purposes.  Eventually the art form found its way to the public and is still practiced in our contemporary age in Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  This ancient technique simply involves a needle being firmly attached to a thin bamboo rod.  The needle is then dipped into ink and the tattooing process begins by the trusty hand-eye coordination of your chosen artist.

bamboo tattoo artists

Our trusty bamboo artists.

That information wasn’t reassuring?  I know, it still sounds downright terrifying.  And, going into it, it was.  To our benefit (I think?), we were a little under the influence, making it easier to step into the tattoo parlor in the middle of this warm, January night.  Even though we weren’t completely sober, I’d like to give us some credit.  Not only did we do our research on the method, we also had our exact tattoo in mind and drawn up for the artist.


“U-kabpa-tu-ban,” which translates to: “Live in the moment.”  And that’s exactly what we were doing.  Yes, the tattoo is written in Thai.  No, we don’t know the language.  However, some extensive research was done to ensure that the saying translates correctly and we have since come across numerous Thai speakers who have affirmed this for us.  That night we were performing the exact message that we now have advertised on us for the rest of our lives.  I appreciate having a daily reminder of this and hope it continues to reflect the rest of my decisions.

bamboo tattoo zach

Zach’s bamboo tattoo.

bamboo tattoo shay

Shay’s bamboo tattoo.

Ok, the real reasons why you should hop on a plane and get yourself a bamboo tattoo versus a machine tattoo.  Let’s start with the worries of getting a tattoo.  Pain, healing, quality, cost, lifetime commitment.  I’m sure there are more, but these are the basics.

Pain:  it’s pretty much the same.  The fluctuation of pain in getting a tattoo, either by machine or hand, depends solely on the placement.  Either way, it’s going to hurt.  This is something you accept in your decision to ink yourself.

Healing:  MUCH faster and easier than by machine.  During the process, the skin is not torn as it is with a machine.  Instead, it’s punctured.  This results in minimal to no bleeding (three of us had this done during the trip and no one bled).  There is also minimal to no scabbing, resulting in an extremely fast healing process.  We were told we could go swimming in the sea the next morning.  The only care was to rub this Vaseline-like substance on it for a few days.

Quality: In my opinion, it’s better.  With the lack of bleeding, the color does not push out of the skin and the tattoo remains more vibrant.  Plus, it’s pretty badass to have a ‘hand-made’ tattoo on you!

Cost: In the states, we’ve come across minimums for tattoos amounting between $50 and $75.  Mine just barely crossed the minimum (1000 baht – $30) and cost me 1500 baht ($45).  Zach’s wraps around his forearm, so his was a little more expensive reaching 5000 baht (around $155).  In comparison, it’s a tad cheaper, mainly in regards to the minimum pricing.  Beyond this, it’s pretty much the same.

Lifetime commitment:  Well, if that’s what truly makes you chomp on your fingernails by day and keeps you up during the night, you probably shouldn’t be getting a tattoo.

So, the next time you plan a trip to Southeast Asia and have been itching to get your next tat, consider this ancient, well-respected and downright awesome art form to add to your collection.

Financial Ranking: 4 – Cheers to that!

Although the tattoos weren’t significantly cheaper than back home, we had already made the decision to get them.  We like to think of it as a permanent souvenir unique to the place that we visited, in the language of the place that we visited and done by the people of the place that we visited.  So, in this sense, although it was a financial decision, it was well worth the price.


Unfortunately, we have only been able to find this method done in Southeast Asia.  If anyone knows of a trustworthy artist practicing this method in the West or in Taiwan, please share below!

If anyone else has a bamboo or machine tattoo story to share, or one of my points to comment on, please don’t hesitate to share with us!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog