Sak Yants are traditional Khmer tattoos and printed designs that have been a part of Cambodian spiritual practice and traditional life since long before the time of Angkor Wat.
A Sak Yant is an intricate piece of work, typically a combination of Buddhist and Hindu sacred images, Pali script, Buddhist Sutras, sacred geometry, and other unique symbols and designs.
In order to receive a Sak Yant Tattoo, you must take part in a traditional Khmer ritual which includes an offering, prayer, and blessing. This imbues the tattoo with magical spirits that help protect the wearer from misfortune, bullets (!), and all-around bad things.
The tattoos are not just a defense against bad luck but can also act to attract positive vibes like love, happiness and even success at work. That’s right, want to make partner? Get a Khmer tattoo (…or an MBA, you do you boo).
Typically, you do not choose your own tattoo, a design is chosen by the Sak Yant practitioner for you. However, in Siem Reap we were allowed to choose our own.
I’m sure it’s obvious by now, but the artists do not use modern-day tattooing equipment. They simply use a needle attached to a bamboo stick. Even the ingredients of the ink they use is a secret only known to the artists themselves.
GETTING A TATTOO IN SIEM REAP
Spoiler Alert: I did not end up getting a tattoo, but Reed and Zac did.
We hadn’t planned to get tattoos so no appointments were booked ahead of time. The day we arrived we did a google search for ‘Sak Yant tattoos in Siem Reap’ and found the Federation Khmer Sak Want. With the wifi being pretty dodgy we sent a text to the number found on the Federation Khmer Sak Want website, and luckily promptly received a reply.
Part of the text told us what we needed as part of the traditional Sak Yant offering: