Asia Opinions Travel

Getting a Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand

Getting poked in Thailand by some random dude

Getting a tattoo is a cheap form of therapy.

I can’t say it’s the cheapest form of therapy because alcohol and drugs still exist but it’s a much more productive way for me to find peace.

Yes it hurts, but it hurts so good. I’m not saying that to seem tough or edgy. The sensation is uncomfortable but it floods my central nervous system with adrenaline and dopamine which makes it impossible to think about anything else.

It’s the same concept as riding a rollercoaster. The ride tricks your brain into thinking you’re going to die which floods your body with chemicals to deal with an impact that never comes. It’s a brief, euphoric, natural high. Being stabbed by a bamboo stick evokes the same reaction.

It frees my mind from the anxious prison it’s normally trapped in. Plus it is pretty cool.

Where Is My Mind? 

Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Thailand

I don’t know what your brain is like, but mine never stops. My thoughts flow at a ridiculous volume from a metaphorical hose spigot that I can’t turn off. The constant noise makes it hard to focus. The only way to channel it in any productive way is if I have 20 different things going on at once. I need to be preoccupied 100% of the time otherwise the thoughts turn dark real quick.

I’m not saying “I can’t stop thinking because I’m so smart”, it’s mostly useless noise. I can rap the entirety of Kanye West’s “The College Dropout” or recite movies verbatim but I struggle to remember when my bills are due, or family birthdays, or important deadlines, or anything that might actually help me.

I’ve tried to prioritize more important things but it’s an exercise in futility. My brain is going to do what it wants to do and most of the time I’m just along for the ride. If I’m being truly introspective, I’m also pretty self absorbed. As an only child, being selfish comes naturally, and I only really care about things that I enjoy or that pertain to me. My brain chemistry combined with me thinking I’m at the center of the universe makes it hard to focus on anything. Add a splash of ADD in there and it’s a cacophony of random thoughts bouncing around without any rhyme or reason.

I wish I could index the information in my mind like computer files, delete some of the folders with trivia facts or embarrassing memories and archive the useful information. Reformatting the hard drive and cleaning up the clutter would be nice, so would having control of what I retain. 

Until then I’ve accepted that I have to deal with this depressed, anxious, attention-starved ball of meat that pilots my body. What’s worse is technology has outpaced our natural evolution by a significant margin. We still have primitive brains that are built to hunt and forage in the jungle. We’re not equipped to deal with the technology we’ve created and we get depressed and anxious because of it. My inherent issues are exacerbated every time I pick up my phone.

Primitive brain problems require primitive solutions. Like getting poked with a needle for a few hours to give me some serenity.

The Bamboo Tattoo Experience

Thailand Tattoo Design

I chose Cross Tattoo in Pai for my bamboo tattoo after finding artist Mink Crossman. His Thai-inspired art was the combination of traditional and modern that I was looking for. Most importantly, the tatted up bartender at my hostel recommended him.

I told Mink I wanted a tiger in a certain style. He sketched it out and sent me a photo with the design half done. I loved it. After trying to confirm that the design would include both halves instead of just the one, he responded with an ominous “see you tomorrow” . Like “YOU’LL see!”. I’m about to put something permanent on my body, I don’t need the uncertainty. Remember when I said I was an anxious person?

A Simple “Yes” Would Have Sufficed

We set an appointment for 12 PM the next day. I’m excited, it’s therapy time. This time it only costs about $150 for 3 hours, way better than an actual therapist or yoga class.

Mink hits me up on Facebook about 20 minutes before the appointment and wants to change to 5 PM. I’m annoyed but it’s fine. I go home and try to take a nap around 1:30 when he messages again and asks if 3 PM is OK. O…OK, I guess sooner is better, but is he gonna switch up on me again? He assures me he won’t and finally confesses that he’s getting a massage before our session.

I loved the honesty and couldn’t really be mad at the guy. He was going to be nice and loose during the session and since I’m getting the tattoo for self care it’d be hypocritical to be angry. Also you don’t want to piss off the guy who’s about to poke your body with a sharpened stick.

I arrive promptly and the door to the shop is locked yet displayed a sign that says “We are open, come on in!” I sit at front of the shop in the ridiculous heat and wonder what to do in this situation. I can’t force him to show up. I tried having some faith and imagined he was getting a happy ending which is why the session went over. Completely understandable.

He eventually shows up and gets to work almost immediately. I went with a larger version of the design because I’m trying to maximize my time here, plus it looked way better with all the detail. I chose my left calf because it seemed as good a place as any and I’m a fan of leg tats.

He attempted to explain the process but the language barrier made it tough. After a few minutes of staring at him blankly I think he finally realized that:

A. I didn’t understand him

B. I was going to go through with it regardless of what came out of his mouth.

Mink thankfully spared me the rest of the details. He shaved my leg, put the stencil on, and got to work stabbing my calf full of ink.  

The Sensation

Bamboo Tattoo Tiger

How does it compare to the gun? Same level of pain, much different sensation. Where a gun feels like a white hot scratch on your skin, the bamboo feels like getting poked with a thumb tack. Instead of a dull, searing pain it’s a jarring, sharp pain. 

Even though I couldn’t see what was going on I could feel it. Exactly what part of the tattoo he was working on and exactly how much he had accomplished.

I also didn’t know that my calf would be a painful place for a bamboo tattoo. I just figured my legs were less sensitive than my upper body. Nope. The first 10 minutes were invigorating but also shocking because it hurt way worse than I had anticipated. I got accustomed but Mink was worried about me initially.

Awkward Break Time

Mink took a break about halfway through and left me with a half done tiger just like the sketch he sent me initially. He took off and didn’t say when he was going to be back, leaving me to hobble around the shop wondering when he was going to be back. All he said was “I need break” and he was out. I awkwardly went across the street and got some chips, being extra careful not to touch anything with the open wound on my leg

The second half went much smoother than the first. I got my few hours of peace and Mink got a healthy tip for his efforts despite trying to refuse it. Take my money you sweet, talented bag of shit.

The best part about bamboo tattoos is that they heal completely within 24 hours. You still need to rub Aquaphor on it twice a day, but you can go swimming, go to the beach, do anything you want and it won’t get infected. It doesn’t go as deep as the gun tattoos so it may fade faster but I’m OK with that. I was there for therapy.

But What Does It mean?

Half Done Bamboo Tattoo

I tell people I wanted to get a tiger since I was born year of the tiger (1986) which is a nice coincidence. If I’m being honest I’m an impulsive person and saw something that looked cool.

Being scared of what people thought is why it took me so long to get a tattoo in the first place. Everybody saying it needed to mean something or to be super careful because “you’ll have it FOREVER” when ‘forever’ for us humans is 80-90 years if we’re lucky. I was letting the opinions of other people influence my decision. It made me worried that I would pick the wrong design and people would laugh at me or mock me behind my back. I let fear get in the way of what I truly wanted. 

Some people are going to make fun of you no matter what you do, that shouldn’t stop you from being who you are. There’s no joy in living your life trying to please everybody else. Pierce your septum, get gauges the size of softballs in your ears, surgically move your butthole to under your left armpit, who cares? Be unapologetically you. We’re all going to be piles of bones one day so you might as well do what makes you happy. 

Once I stopped caring I discovered that tattoos help me more than I could have ever imagined. Whenever I fall into a depression or get so anxious that I can barely move these permanent stamps on my body help me remember that I don’t have to succumb to feeling that way. If I can find peace during a tattoo session, I can find peace anywhere. It’s not going to be easy, it takes a lot of work and it’s going to hurt a little bit, but it’s possible.

That’s more valuable to me than any piece of art could be. 

Leave a Reply