Samui Wining & Dining
Getting a tattoo on Samui could be the best souvenir of your holiday.

Getting a tattoo on Samui could be the best souvenir of your holiday.A long time ago on Samui, I was sitting in a café when a western guy leaned over the balcony and pointed to the tattoo he could see on a western passer-by, and said with total incredulity, “Do you know what that actually says?” I could see a fairly large tattoo right on her shoulder, big, bold, no-nonsense lettering. Chinese. Impressive.


The woman didn’t stop but just snapped at him, “Yes, yes, I know what it means.” There was fury in her eyes, but tell-tale humiliation too. It seemed like she’d had this conversation before. The guy couldn’t help himself and announced to his group of friends. “It says dog!”


That kind of tattoo, and the kind of scenarios that inevitably follow, are what we fear when getting a tattoo abroad. It always pays to check out the professional feel of the tattooist’s. No different here on Samui. As you know if you’ve spent any time in Thailand, spelling mistakes abound in brochures and signs of all kinds. But you’d expect a tattoo artist to double check the signs in his or her shop, right, and make sure that they were, well, correct. But it’s not always the case, alas. But when said artist is inking designs in English and Chinese on people’s bodies, maybe that carelessness is going to be repeated – on the customer’s skin.


Once you get to the stage of looking around tattoo parlours on Samui, don’t opt for the first one. You can always come back. It’s really important to have some sense of intuition. What’s your feeling when talking to the owner? What’s the atmosphere in the parlour itself? If you have doubts or second thoughts, then it’s best to act on them. But you know this, right?


Right! But don’t let the so-called ‘holiday bubble effect’ get into your bones: you’re having this lovely, sunny time on a tropical island where everyone is laid-back, so what could go wrong? Having a tattoo isn’t like going to the cinema to see a film; the effects are permanent. Don’t opt for such and such a tattoo, just because you’re carried away by the moment; don’t let your holiday go to your head.


The major consideration, however, is the hygiene aspect. It’s crucial to do your research and to be on the lookout for unsanitary places. Talk to the tattooist about your concerns, and ask to see the equipment that’ll be used. Ask all the relevant questions that you normally would about sterilization and safety.


All kinds of tattoos can be had, and usually at a price that’s more affordable than in many parts of the west. Samui abounds in tattoo parlours, and there are some amazingly good artists here. If you find one you’re really drawn to but don’t know what to get,Getting a tattoo on Samui could be the best souvenir of your holiday. simply ask them for their advice. Some will also have designs they’ve created on the side and want to try out; these tattoos may be extremely creative. Perhaps they’re not for everyone, but may be for you.


It pays to think about the kind of tattoo you want well in advance; otherwise you may opt for, yes, a feather tattoo or some kind of sameylooking power animal. Check out Instagram feeds for this, and get an idea of the vast range of tattoos possible.


Some of the best-known artists here may not be able to fit you in on the day you want – particularly if you’ve gone into their studio on the day expecting a tattoo then and there. There may even be a waiting list. If you can, it’s worth contacting the artist well in advance, before your holiday begins. Prices are very reasonable but remember the old adage: ‘A good tattoo isn’t cheap, and a cheap tattoo isn’t good.’ If possible schedule a consultation with the artist to talk about pricing and any questions you might have. You’ll need to be able to communicate exactly what you want; this is artwork after all, and is collaboration between artist and a living, breathing canvas. If that sounds too lofty a concept, then simplified, it’s the same kind of communication that you need when getting a haircut.Getting a tattoo on Samui could be the best souvenir of your holiday. Always speak up – even during the tattooing process itself. And even if it’s stating the obvious, make sure the person doing the tattooing is the same as the person who you first consulted with.


Many familiar designs are just waiting for you – browse through whole catalogues of them and you’re bound to find some that you love. However, now that you are on Samui, you might want to avail yourself of the kind of tattoo that’s only available in Thailand, the sacred kind, known here as ‘sak yant’. There are all kinds of these, and if you look around you’ll see plenty of Thais who have these tattoos.


Some of these designs go back even further than tattooing itself and existed as geometrical forms. It’s said that no particular person ‘invented’


them, as they are mystical. Instead, they’ve always existed as they stem from the cosmos itself. Many Thais believe that those who drew them and later tattooed them merely discovered them; they’d been there all along. The sak yant have magic in them too, and can protect the wearer. In the past, the majority of males in Thai villages would have some of these tattoos. Some consisted – and the tradition certainly continues today – of intricate series of dots, others show animals or depict myths, and still others consist of sacred lettering, known as ‘khom’. It was Angelina Jolie who helped make shoulder tattoos in this style so popular.


Thais deeply respect these sacred tattoos. Often the tattooist will ask the person about to receive the sak yant if he or she will abide by various precepts; good conduct is required. Many Thais really do believe the tattoos offer protection. In one famous case, a high-ranking police officer complained to a tattooist that a criminal that he’d tattooed had literally become invincible – bullets were magically deflected from him.


There may be more to tattoos than meets the eye, especially when they’re sacred, but whatever you believe, the tattoo artists of Thailand are renowned for the beauty of their work, whether it’s of the traditional kind or the more international. They have, between them, many thousands of satisfied customers who are extremely happy with the designs inked forever on their bodies.


 Dimitri Waring


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