For many visitors to Bangkok — whether as a tourist or an expat — getting a tattoo to commemorate their trip to the Land of Smiles has become something of a tradition.
As with most traditions however, there is a dark side.
There is a small segment of these “tattoo types” who go way over the top.
These reprehensible types end up with tattoos that are not only carried out safely, but they are also correctly spelled AND contain beautiful designs.
Who do they think they are? How dare they?
They have gone about it all wrong, and by doing so, have severely damaged the reputation of Bangkok tattoos.
The whole point of getting a tattoo in Thailand is so that you can spend the rest of your life shopping for long-sleeved T-shirts and getting changed quickly at the gym so nobody has time to spot the eyesore on your back.
Isn’t that right? As an added bonus, you can even claim your 15 minutes of fame by participating in a TV show like Tattoo Fixers where the only criteria for applicants is possessing a disastrous tattoo — the worse the better.
So why miss out on all that fun? If you follow the guidelines below, we promise that you will be successful in getting your perfectly imperfect tattoo done wrong, the first time!
Go to Khao San Road and get drunk and disorderly
As every traveler to Bangkok should know, Khao San Road is the place to go if you want something done fantastically badly.
Although there are a handful of high quality studios here that will give you a great tattoo, you’ll want to avoid these to achieve your goal.
In this amazing road, so beloved of western backpackers, you will see sights such as:
- Middle class white kids who have recently converted to Rastafarianism for their trip to Asia, have invested in stunning polyester dreadlocks, and now speak in hip Jamaican rap-speak that nobody can understand
- Westerners fully embracing Thai culture by stuffing themselves with genuine “traditional” Pad Thai dishes consisting of a pack of 7-Eleven Mama noodles and a fried duck egg
- Incredible men’s outfitters where you can buy an “Armani Boss” or “Ralph Lorenzo” suit, complete with branded belt, tie and cufflinks for fifty bucks
In an area that is a haven for drunken foreigners and for Thai teenagers playing the traditional Thai game of ‘spot the drunkest wife beater’, this is the perfect first stop-off if you are truly looking to get a terrible tattoo.
The best part for us lazy westerners is that we don’t even have to go looking for a tattoo — they will come to you!
How is that?
Well, look for any open bar that proclaims “Cheap Buckets”, perch yourself on a half-broken plastic seat, and start downing the noxious mixture as if your life depends on it.
Sooner or later, you will be approached by a very friendly man with a battered plastic folder filled with pixelated photos downloaded from the internet.
How will I know he’s selling tattoos?
Easy. If he has approached you and said: “Wassup man”, or “Hey boss”, or “Cool man, cool man”, there is a 50/50 chance he is either selling a suit or a tattoo.
Then, if he points to a tattoo you already have on your pinky-white body, or he shows you his slip on tattoo sleeve, you know you’re in!
Follow the friendly gentlemen to his establishment in as straight a line as your three bucket legs will allow; flop down on a cracked plastic leatherette sofa; take a quick, blurry-eyed flick through the plastic book to choose a design — and you’re all set.
Within the space of a couple of hours,you will be the proud new owner of a terrible tattoo that you can be gleefully ashamed of in the years to come.
Ask a Tuk-Tuk driver
This is possibly even better than going to Khao San Road, as wherever a tuk-tuk driver tells you to go, you can be sure that it’s definitely the best place.
Bangkok is a city blessed with an extensive network of air-conditioned sky-trains, an underground metro, cheap air-conditioned taxis, an Uber service and even speedy motorcycles who can zip their way around the traffic.
But everybody knows that by far the best form of transport to use is in this hot congested city are the slow, dangerous and wonderful Thai tuk-tuks with their smarmy, ex-con drivers and expert over-pricing techniques.
Tuk-tuks can be found in various locations in the city, and the best way to track one down is by looking outside mid to low priced hotels and at popular tourist attractions.
Tuk-tuk drivers are well known for their expertise in pinpointing the very best places in the city that have everything a visitor to Bangkok would need, such as:
- The most remote and hidden ‘special’ massage establishments
- Back-alley tailor shops with amazing deals on ‘branded’ fabrics
- Some very expensive but beautiful cubic zirconias that put most diamonds into the shade
- Seedy looking bars that double up as table tennis tournaments
And, of course, tattoo studios!
After you have selected your smarmiest looking tuk-tuk driver, ask them which tattoo studio pays them the highest commissions.
You can be sure the one at the top of his list will be the very best establishment for your goal. Remember, the further away from the city center they take you, the better this option is likely to be.
Jump in the back and hold on for the journey of your life. With any luck, your probably sober driver is likely to be in a fantastic mood at the prospect of his forthcoming payday and will get you there in extra quick time, or kill you both in the attempt.
So prepare yourself for a tattoo that you’re going to love to hate.
Tips on making sure you mess up your tattoo script
Most westerners think it is extra-specially cool to have some Thai writing tattooed on their bodies, with or without an accompanying design.
A great way to find the best bad Thai script to present to the tattoo artist is to use Google Translate to get a literal back-translation.
This will work really well, as anyone who’s tried to learn Thai as a foreign language will know. There is no such thing as a direct translation and the entire structure of the language is different. This means that although there are many Thai phrases that have English equivalents, there are very rarely any direct correlations.
For example, the Thai phrase gin naam pheuua laaeng is the equivalent of saying “Put something away for a rainy day”, but literally translated, it means, “Drink water for drought”. So you can see how much potential this option has when looking for an incorrect tattoo script that you can truly regret.
For the absolute best outcome, make sure you pick an English idiom such as, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs,” and use Google Translate to find the Thai version, which will say, “To cook an omelet, you must break egg.” The Thai script will read like the first line from a Thai cookery book.
The Thais will be secretly giggling with their friends about that crazy farang who can’t remember how to make an omelet and so had a tattoo to remind himself.
The key to getting this completely wrong is to not have the translation checked by anyone who has an advanced knowledge of Thai culture and who can also speak English fluently.
Always find the cheapest price
Bangkok is known as a city where haggling over price is just a part of the buying process. Everyone knows that in the local markets, the first price quoted by the vendor is far in excess of the price that they will be happy to accept for your shiny new pair of elephant pants.
The whole negotiation dance routine you both do is just a part of the fun.
However, in tattoo circles there’s a well-known phrase, “You never negotiate a tattoo price”. When it comes to tattoos, you’re paying for your artist’s experience, and any genuine artist will assign a fee to their work that they believe to be a fair representation of their quality, experience and time.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to you!
In your quest to find a tattoo that you can truly regret later, you’ll need to find the absolute cheapest price possible.
One of the tried and tested methods of achieving this is as follows:
- Download a generic design from internet
- Go to a tourist area with many tattoo studios
- Ask the first studio you can find what they will charge for your tattoo
- Go to at least three more studios, and play them off against each other
- Once you have the very lowest price on offer, without them shouting a lower price as you walk out of the door, you’re good to go
By making sure the first contact with your artist is an argument over price, thus demeaning his standing as an artist, and then choosing said artist purely on the basis of price instead of quality, you’re well on your way to guarantee ending up with a something truly horrible.
Trigger the romance option
Just as lawyers are forever thankful for the booming divorce industry, so tattoo studios are grateful for the practice of couples tattooing each others’ names onto their bodies, or getting matching tattoos.
Thailand can be a very romantic country, and the heady mixture of beautiful scenery, great food and cheap alcohol create a cocktail custom made for romance.
You’ll probably be more in love with your significant other than you ever have been before. Or, you have just met the greatest love of your life while you were watching a table tennis match in a seedy Bangkok bar.
Unlike a child or some other close family member, who you’ll always want to remember, it’s much better to tattoo the name of a romantic partner as they are much more likely to disappear from your life in the future, and thus be a reminder of poor decisions and unhappy times.
So make sure you put the name of your most recent romantic partner. Remember — your chances of regret are inversely proportional to the length of the relationship.
We know of somebody who had “Lauren” tattooed on his arm at the start of his holiday and when he broke up with her a week later, instead of getting a cover-up or laser removal, he just got “Ralph” tattooed above it.
You will earn bonus points if you tattoo the name of someone you meet on holiday, as this is the kind of high-quality poor decision making normally reserved for the pros.
Always be creative!
While this article should give you some of the best tips to make sure you have a dreadful tattoo, it is far from exhaustive.
Before you set out on your tattoo adventure, why not speak to a few friends and hear their many tales of woe. This will help you come up with a great idea of where to start.
In Bangkok, we like to help each other out.
In fact, expat groups online are known to be universally helpful, cheerful and judgment free. No trolls here, so be a public spirited ‘farang’ and leave your best ‘bad tattoo’ story in the comments sections to help out — and entertain — your fellow man.
Do you have a Bangkok tattoo you’ve come to regret?