I got my first tattoo for my seventeenth birthday and I’m not going to lie, I have felt a little more badass ever since then.
Okay, so not so badass, but there is something about a burning needle marking your skin that makes you feel just a little bit more awesome than people who have never made that particular permanent decision. Since getting my first tattoo I have been inked a few more times, averaging about once a year until we started traveling and every extra dollar headed straight into our savings account.
My tattoos have all been pretty small and are relatively easy to cover with clothing, which I usually do when meeting new people (professionally), or starting at a new school until I feel out how laid back each situation is. Inevitably, if the tats are showing, I get lots of questions (kids are so nosy!). “Does it hurt?” is by far the most common and I don’t lie. Yes. It hurts. A lot. I like to compare it to a tooth drill in your skin (although I never say that to the children). And yet many people, including me, often to go back for more.
Though I will probably not change my answer regarding pain when addressing impressionable youngsters, I may have to add an addendum when answering of-age adults capable of making life-long decisions (hopefully). Yes, machine tattoos hurt. Yes, getting tattoos on your feet and wrist is a BAD idea if you have a low tolerance for pain. BUT, in my experience, getting a traditional bamboo tattoo, on fleshy-ier parts of your body (aka, not your wrists, feet, and ribs as is so popular for us “stupid girls”, see below) is NOT the same experience. In fact, I would almost be willing to admit, fully aware of how addicted to tattoos this makes me sound, that it was almost an enjoyable way to spend an hour.
Okay, that may be stretching it a little far, but truly the hour I sat for what is now my largest tattoo was FAR less painful than the five minutes the hearts on my foot took.
Now, does this mean I am advocating getting a tattoo on a whim in Thailand with two girls you met only three days before? No. But I am saying that if you do your research ahead of time, look up some reviews of shops and come prepared with a design and questions regarding health and safety there is absolutely no reason you should be any more apprehensive about getting a bamboo tattoo from a reputable shop in Thailand than you would be about getting a machine tattoo at home.
So, after that mini-lecture on being smart and safe, I will share that I did none of these things. I ended up getting a tattoo because a girl I was hanging out with had been talking about getting one and we passed a shop so we headed in to check it out. I saw a design I liked and got a quote and the next day I was in the chair getting poked over and over while watching Thai music videos on YouTube. The potential for a not-so-great situation was high, but the parlor was really clean and the artists took their time drawing out the designs and explaining the process, and I really just felt immediately at ease with the whole situation.
I had been thinking about adding to my back tattoo for years, but in the interest of saving money for travel I kept pushing it to the back burner. When I found out I could get it done in Thailand for just $90 I jumped at the chance. And because of the way bamboo tattooing works (with only one needle per person) the artist offered to touch up three of my old tattoos fo’ free! What a deal!!
On top of being less painful and a lot cheaper, I was thrilled to find out that the healing process was so much faster. Usually with machine tattoos you are warned to keep your skin covered and avoid swimming for a few weeks, but with the bamboo tattoos there are no such rules, which is awesome if you are travelling somewhere with beaches and intense heat.
When all is said and done I do not regret getting tatted (and re-tatted) in Thailand and I would definitely do it again.
To sum up why you may want to consider getting a bamboo tattoo on your next trip to Southeast Asia:
- It hurt SO MUCH LESS.
- They healed SO MUCH FASTER.
- It was SO MUCH CHEAPER.
Tattoo, travel memory and souvenir, all in one fell swoop.