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Getting Sak Yant Tattoos in Cambodia

What’s the first thing you do in Siem Reap, arguably the most famous city in Cambodia?
Visit the worlds most famous temple complex of Angkor Wat?
You go get a Tattoo of course!
A Sak Yant tattoo.


Look, just google Angelina Jolie Tattoo ok??
‘Sak Yant’ means ‘magical tattoo’ in Khmer.
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. 


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:
“អាចទំនាក់ទំនងបានតាមលេខទូរសព្ទខាងក្រោយ ហើយទីតាំងរបស់យើងស្ថិតនៅភូមិត្រពាំងត្រែង ឃុំសាលាកំរើកខេត្តសៀមរាបក្រុងសៀមរាប នៅក្បែរផ្លូរក្រវាតក្រុង។
Thin you need to bring for the tattoo
7 types of fruits
10 lotus flower
5 candles
1 pack of incense
2.50$ to put on the fruit”
At this point, we really weren’t sure if we were actually just being scammed into picking up the Sak Yant Master’s grocery list!

As I wasn’t getting a tattoo, I went on a journey around town to pick up everything on the above list. Getting to experience some of the local markets was a nice way to kick off the day.
After the guys had chosen their tattoos, the offering began. The fruit, flowers, and money were taken to the altar, candles were lit and a prayer was said.
The tattooing then started. According to Reed, it was extremely painful.
A guy is jamming a needle in your back thousands of times, no shit it’s painful.
Fortunately, Reed only had to endure 2 hours, whereas the guy next to him had been there for 8!
Reed’s Tattoo, which was about the size of a packet of cigarettes cost $150. At the end of the tattooing, a blessing was performed.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of time in Siem Reap, we couldn’t just hang out and watch Reed and Zac get jammed in the back by a needle all afternoon so Jon and I headed off to Angkor Wat.
But before we left, I managed to film a bit of the authentic Sak Yant Tattoo experience. Enjoy.
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Getting Sak Yant Tattoos in Cambodia


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