Why I didn’t get a Sak Yant Tattoo in Cambodia

Sak Yant tattoos are magical tattoos that date back from around the time of the Angkor Wat civilization. Originally, monks would give them to warriors for protection in battle. These days they are still done by monks but are also widespread in tattoo parlors specializing in both bamboo or machine tattoos. They have been a popular choice with travelers in Southeast Asia, and specifically Thailand, and it would be a lie to say that Angelina Jolie hasn’t played a role in that.

Recently, I fell in love with Cambodia and learned that Sak Yant actually originated here in Angkor Wat in Kambuja, today’s Cambodia. I was about to go all in when I found some information that made me change my mind. Sak Yants are meant to bring the wearer protection, business luck, and even romantic love depending on what you get. In order to receive the benefits you have to be a good person. That’s fine. But then I read further that many of the ones done by monks come with certain specific conditions specific to the Ajarn, or teacher. Some examples are no alcohol, no sex, respect your elders, don’t walk under a banana tree, don’t sit on a ceramic urn, don’t touch or have sex with menstruating women. If you don’t follow the rules that yant could not only lose its magical powers but it could actually turn against you.

I’m not sure I want an ancient symbol permanently ingrained on my body dictating a list of moral conditions for me to follow. It’s true, I wasn’t keen on the other popular Southeast Asia tattoo choice, the baby elephant. But now I change my mind, I rather get a baby elephant. Sign me up. The baby elephant tattoo will not turn on me if I have a couple of drinks or disrespect an old person. I just know it won’t. It’ll just sit there, cute and unsuspecting.

Or maybe a palm tree. The palm tree will not mind the occasional swear word. A jaguar, a compass, a slice of pizza. All of them will be okay with a life of occasional, intermittent immorality. An ancient spiritual symbol that comes with strings attached, well, I’m pretty sure I will eventually piss it off.

All that being said, if you are prepared to uphold yourself to some arbitrary moral standards established by the teacher of the monk poking you with a bamboo needle, or at the very least are not a completely terrible human being, the Federation Khmer Sak Yant is an excellent place to get one. The Federation Khmer Sak Yant is a martial arts school dedicated to preserving unique Khmer traditions and practices. There’s nothing wrong with getting one in Thailand or in a tattoo parlor. In fact, it’s great that Thailand tourism has helped keep the tradition alive and well. But if you do want to pay tribute to the geographical and cultural origins, check out the Federation Khmer Sak Yant while you’re visiting Angkor Wat.

Disclaimer: the rules mentioned here are from one specific school or ajarn only, the rules actually vary greatly with some far more lax.


Source of Ajan conditions above: http://www.sak-yant.net/sak-yant-rules.php

Federation Sak Yant website: http://federationkhmersakyant.com

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