It was a decade and a half ago when Angelina Jolie showed the world the new tattoo she got from Thailand. It has five lines and the texts are Buddhist blessings that run down the length of her back. As soon as the news broke, the spiritual tattoo of Thailand was raised to a global level. The artist responsible for her tattoo is Ajarn Noo Kanpai and he then become really famous which contributed to the rise of the tattoo tourism in the country. Tourists would book a villa in Koh Tao to have their vacation as well as their spiritual tattoo on the same trip.
In local language, the spiritual tattoos are known as sak yants which is deemed by the Thais to hold spiritual powers. These tattoos are often done by masters of magic and the monks of their religion. This belief started in 1605 with then warrior king believed to be protected by the tattoos and the belief remained intact for thousands of years.
Sak yants, yantra meaning Buddhists scriptures combined with geometric designs, were originally from Southeast Asia. Modern day history revealed that sak yants were used by mafias and gangs to protect them as they commit crimes.
According to Ajarn Noo Kanpai, the sak yant master, the tattoo he made for Jolie is called the “ha taew” or five rows in English. It is about the birth of Buddha until he reached enlightenment. Ha taew is believed to bring balance as well as positivity to the life of the wearer.
Noo shared that he was only in fourth grade when he learned the art. He exchanged the gangster life to that of monkhood but he declined to become master of the temple because of his love for doing the sak yant.
After years of training with the monks, he opened his own tattoo institute which is a located 20 miles from the city of Bangkok inside a shrine with two storeys. He now has disciples whom he is training. Tourists are visiting Thailand and booking villa in Koh Tao but before they leave the country, they usually visit his samnak and have their tattoo.