Tattoos Abroad: Dirty? Unsanitary?

 Scared to get Tatted
Since I was 16 I have always wanted to get a tattoo. I’ve always known what I wanted to get, but quite frankly was always afraid to pull the trigger for a few reasons. The first reason is that I wanted it to be perfect, I have seen many of my friends rush into tattoos, whether it was getting one from a friend who just started inking people, or if they found someone to do it for cheap. I wont use any names, but seeing the work that they had done, it simply scared me enough to always second guess getting a tattoo right away. Another reason I always hesitated was because it simply it’s just so expensive to get a tattoo in the states, that is if you want a quality artist. So trying to justify spending a boatload on a tattoo was always an issue that made me think twice.

Old Laos flag
The old Laos flag with the three elephants

I’ve come close to getting inked up several times but never pulled the trigger. A couple of weeks before our trip to Laos/Thailand I told tarah that I was seriously going to consider getting a tattoo while we were on our trip. She replied with a half-hearted ‘awesome’, she actually wanted to say, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it…’ She never told me until after the fact, but she was nervous and worried about getting a tattoo in a different country, as most people are. She was scared that it would not be clean or sanitary, but me being the care free spirit that I am, had no worries.

The Sign
We waited for the tail end of our month long adventure until we got our tattoos for one specific reason. We did it for the simple fact that you are recommended to keep the tattoo out of the sun for several weeks as it is an open wound, and will affect the healing process of the tattoo in a negative manner. Also you are required to not submerge the tattoo into water for long periods of time. As we were going to be on the beautiful beaches of Thailand for a couple of weeks, I was not willing to stay in the room and avoid paradise for too many days.

With one week left, it was starting to become crunch time, I knew I had to find a place to get a tattoo or I would never get one. Then a sign from the heavens above came down on me and there was no backing down now. We were staying at the New Coconut Bungalows in Koh Lanta, Thailand, and connected to the property was an awesome bar called ‘The FinStoned” bar, named appropriately for the owners of the bar were constantly rolling J’s and playing reggae music all night long.

New Coconut Bungalow Koh Lanta Thailand
Lana Fin's Stoned Bar

The owner and bartender of the bar were simply the coolest guys around, they made our stay in Koh Lanta that much more enjoyable. The first night we were there we went to the bar to eat and enjoy some blue hawaii cocktails. As we were getting to know the lay of the land I discovered some tattoo art work on the wall, and started to glare. The owner asked if I had any tattoos and I replied “No, but I have always wanted to get one”. And this was the sign that I had to get one, he then informed me that he owned 2 tattoo shops on the Island and there was one 1 block up the street up on the main road! My eyes lit up like a kid on christmas morning as I turned to tarah. She smirked a nervous smile as she knew what I was thinking and going to say, “I’m getting a tattoo here!” The samples that they had were simply amazing and the prices they quoted me were so cheap I knew this would be the place.
I decided I was going to wait until the last day on the island to get the tattoo so I wouldn’t have to worry about avoiding the sun until we left. That day was an unforgettable and eventful day. We woke up early to go on an adventure where we get to visit and feed elephants! Seeing the elephants were high on Tarah’s must-do list, and we were not leaving Southeast Asia until we visited the elephants. The elephant adventure was fitting for the whole day since the tattoo I have always wanted contains 3 elephants.

The Meaning

This symbol is well known in Laos and Thailand. It represents the symbol of a warrior. The symbol used to be featured on the National Laos flag before the new flag was adpoted after Laos became the Communistic Lao People’s Democratic Republic, in December of 1975. I grew up seeing this sign every day, and it represented a piece of home that I only knew from the first few years of my life. It has always had a special meaning to mean, and it was only fitting that I get it tattooed on me in the country that I was born.

The Sketch

After our elephant adventure we were dropped off at our bungalow and walked right pass our room to the Lucky Ink Tattoo Studio. When we walked in, we were greeted right away by an artist Nattawon Madmak. He was super friendly and spoke a little bit of English, which is awesome because it did not require me to use much of my broken Thai. After consulting with him for a few minutes I showed him the image that I wanted to base my tattoo off of and he began working right away. Nattawon specializes in the traditional Thai tattoos which use bamboo as the instrument. The tattoo that I wanted was also not in his expertise so he respectfully referred me to Tu who specializes in more realistic artwork. Boy, was I happy with his recommendation! They both started working on getting the image onto the computer and printing it onto their special paper. The process of me showing them the image and having him start to sketch took all of 30-45 minutes. As he was doing the sketch, I wanted to get one good shower in before I sat for several hours, as he estimated that it could take 4-5 hours to complete.

tattoo sketch
The original sketch

When we got back to the studio he was ready with the sketch and I was more than pleased with what he came up with. He had his own interpretation of what would look the best and he was the professional, so I put all my trust in him and it came out amazing. It was better than what I had pictured myself! At this point there was no turning back. I laid on the table, and nervously awaited that first cut of those needles piercing my skin. That is exactly how I would describe it as, it initially felt like someone took a scalpel and was taking long deep cuts into my arm. The whole process is not as bad as I am making it seem, it wasn’t that painful, but the first initial cuts were a shock to me and I can still remember it vividly as I am typing this. There were more painful parts than others, especially the long lines he would make. Also when he put the white in some areas that part was a little more taxing than others.

3 elephant tattoo

About 90 minutes into the process I had to take a tiny bathroom break and eat something as I was feeling a little woozy, because I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. But by that point it was already almost halfway done. He did such an awesome job, it only took roughly 3 and half hours to complete, which was music to my ears because I originally thought it was going to be 4-5 hours. If I didn’t take that break it could have been around 3 hours. When we were finished I was overjoyed with the final product. The detail and precision that he applied to this masterpiece was simply amazing. The best thing of it all is that it was only 10,000 Baht for this piece (roughly $300 $U.S.). When I showed this image to some of the best artists in the States, I was quoted well higher, anywhere from $500-1000, which is way more than I want to pay.

Tip Tattoo
The Finished Product!

Tarah’s Turn
The whole time I was getting tattooed Tarah was debating whether or not she wanted to get one also. After a little bit of pushing from me she figured out what she wanted and where she wanted it. She picked a picture of an elephant, pretty fitting huh? The most amazing part of this process is that Tarah found the image on her phone, and Tu did not need to print it out to outline it. He simply laid the phone next to her arm and drew it free hand on her wrist, and it was a perfect replica of the image that she chose. Once Tarah gave him the okay, he started in and the whole process only took about 30 minutes. From the look on Tarah’s face and by how much she was squirming it looked like a very painful place to get a tat. She already has a tattoo on her foot but says that was a piece of cake compared to the wrist. She was glad that it only took 20 minutes because much longer and she might not have made it. Her tattoo only cost 1000 baht (roughly $30) which is the minimum charge for any work. Afterwards they took some pictures for their portfolio. They informed us of all the things we needed to do to ensure that tattoos healed correctly. We left a very generous tip and were walked back to our room. The only complaint I have about this whole process is that I had to stay out of the sun on our next destination Krabi Thailand. It was only for 3 days so it wasn’t that bad.

Tarah tattoo
Tarah’s tattoo on her wrist

I now have an itch for tattoos and can’t wait for my next one. Im thinking my next one might come on our trip to central america in January 2016, stay tuned…

What are some tattoos you have gotten while traveling? 

Is getting a tattoo abroad safe? Learn about our experience in Thailand- Fit Two Travel

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  1. Wooow, I like both the designs (and I am not even a big fan of tattoo) πŸ™‚
    I think it is important to have memories that cannot fade away easily and I think your tattoo will remind you of your great days in Thailand for quite some time. Wondering what other people collect as travel memories πŸ™‚

  2. These are both cool but I loooove Tarah’s – such a cute design! I have thought about getting a travel tattoo for a long time, but so far never bit the bullet. I have, however, had many friends get tattoos while abroad and I think it is perfectly safe as long as you do a bit of research to see if the place has a good reputation and maybe scope it out for cleanliness, overall feeling etc. Good job guys!

    1. Aw thanks! I knew I wanted an elephant so google to the rescue! I want more while I travel now, but I want them to be meaningful! And yes, so true, just like here in the States, its important to research! We are very happy with them though πŸ™‚

  3. I still haven’t gotten a tattoo despite my brother being a tattoo artist and considering it for years. Getting one in a country I visited would be meaningful though. I can see the appeal.

  4. I’ve always wanted a tattoo, as well, but never got one because my skin doesn’t heal properly. I’d hate to take a chance and then it turns out to be a disaster. Yours came out awesome! I really like Tarah’s, too. It’s adorable πŸ™‚

  5. Cool-looking tattoos! Your caution and preparation paid off! You have good-looking ones and a great experience to repeat! Congrats.

  6. They look great! The three elephants look awesome. I got my first tattoo a couple days ago on Phi Phi. I went with the bamboo technique instead of the gun as you can swim and go in the sun after you’ve had it done.

  7. I love tattoos too! But the best tattoo I had is when I visit the Philippines I have to travel hours for this tattoo and walk for hours just to reach the place! finally, I meet, Whang-od Oggay She is often described as the “last” and oldest mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) and is part of the Butbut people of the larger Kalinga ethnic group.

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