The bamboo tattoo


 When I booked my trip to Thailand I decided that this was the place that I would get my third and final tattoo. But I didn’t want just any tattoo, I wanted something unique.

By unique I thought I meant in appearance, however although it is a unique design, my tattoo experience was unique for many reasons other than this.

As I wondered the busy moonlit streets of Phi Phi I looked into all of the different tattoo shops. Walls covered in designs, leopard print chairs and display cabinets filled with jewellery for every type of piercing you could imagine gave most shops a slightly intimidating feel. This was going to be a permanent fixture on my body; I needed to find one I had a good feel about. And eventually I did.

tattoo shop Thailand

After speaking to several different tattooists in several different shops I decided on one. This would be where I would have my last tattoo done.  In preparation my friends and I went for some drinks; I needed some Dutch courage!

When I arrived they took a lot of time designing the tattoo exactly how I wanted it (or so I thought, you will see what I mean further down the page!). Eventually they took the needle out of the box and began to prepare the bamboo.

Yes that’s right-bamboo! I was about to have a bamboo tattoo! Traditionally in Thailand tattoos would be done with bamboo, this means that it’s not done electrically like at home, but entirely by hand.  

bamboo tattoo

For this reason it took a lot longer, but it also hurt a lot less.

The tattoo was on my side, so lying on the other side I had one man holding my skin in place and the other was carefully transferring the stencil onto my skin. The shop was small and there were several Thai men that worked there occupating the surrounding seats. They were all very jolly, drinking Thai whisky and beers whilst singing along and playing the guitar. The setting was great and was certainly a fantastic distraction! With the occasional swig of my beer my friends and I sang along with the Thai men to ‘Hotel California’ whilst almost forgetting that I was actually lying there being repeatedly stabbed in the side with a needle. We were attracting a lot of attention too- for the first time every I can actually say I felt like a tourist attraction! 

tattoo shop

After a couple of hours it was finished. I looked in the mirror and decided it looked ok and we left to continue drinking down at one of the beach bars. 

Later on that night we returned back to our rooms where I had the chance to give my new artwork some proper examination.

OH MY GOD.

I hated it, absolutely hated it. I could have cried. I went straight into my friends’ room to inform them of this tragedy 

‘He hasn’t given me butterflies in my tattoo, he’s given me bats!’

My friends, quite surprised at my sudden arrival so late at night agreed with me, that yes I did indeed have bats on my skin.

Bats?! Seriously!!! What was I going to do?! When he drew the butterflies they looked good, but when he filled them in the appearance changed entirely and they no longer looked like butterflies at all! I was going to go back to the shop first thing in the morning, this problem needs to be rectified.

But the problem was that we had booked our transport off the island and had to board our boat set to leave at 1.30pm. So as soon as I woke up I rushed back down to the shop to find that is was closed. Oh dear. Knowing they were asleep the other side of the shutters, I began to knock in attempt to wake them up.

I knocked and I knocked and I knocked. After all that whisky last night they were probably dead to the world. But I couldn’t give up. Eventually they appeared, blurry eyed and confused, from beneath the shutters. Phew!

I explained to them the problem and showed them a photo of a butterfly that I would like them to copy. So without hesitation they were underway with the cover up procedure. My skin was already sore from last night and now I was stone cold sober and alone. There was no musical distractions and I was under extreme time pressure.

As the tattoo was done with bamboo (which I did still think was extremely cool!), it seemed to take forever and the cover up took around the same amount of time as the original tattoo! My friends came down to meet me, had food went and sunbathed on the beach and then transported all of our rucksacks down from the hotel to the pier in the time that it took to fix my tattoo. I literally arrived with 5 minutes to spare, it was a very close call.

But I was happy.

So the end piece ended up being a bit bigger than I had anticipated, but I liked it. I was happy.

Before

Before

After

After

I had always wanted to my last tattoo done in a destination that meant something to me. With all of my experience in Thailand and this being the start and the cause of many of my subsequent travels, this was the perfect place.  The design was unique, the location was unique, the method was unique and the experience was most certainly unique! And for the rest of my life when people ask me about this tattoo and will be able to relay this rather humorous tale.

The tattoo reads ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ in Thai and has two small butterflies to represent my time in Thailand, my travels and my free spirited nature.