As with many popular destinations on the Thailand tourist trail, Koh Tao has become a popular location for travellers to get some permanent memories etched onto their skin. As with Koh Tao scooter rental, massage shops, dive centres, and pharmacies, there is no shortage of tattoo parlours on the island, and it is unlikely you’ll walk the length of any street without finding one somewhere along the way.
For some people, a Koh Tao tattoo may have been on the ‘bucket list’ all along, but for many it is definitely a more spontaneous experience! With most Koh Tao tattoo shops staying open late into the night, the temptation after a few drinks can prove a little too much for some, and let’s just say we’ve certainly seen our fair share of ‘interesting’ ink over the years. You have been warned! There are also a few other factors to bear in mind…
Contrary to popular expectation, Koh Tao tattoo shops are generally incredibly clean, sterile, and hygienic. Most are probably even cleaner than in western countries. That being said, it pays to double-check procedures and ask questions ahead of time if you have any doubts.
Bamboo Vs Machine Tattoos
If you decide to go ahead, the main decision you will need to make (design aside of course) is whether to have your Koh Tao tattoo with bamboo or machine.
Bamboo tattoos are the most traditional in Thailand, and the art goes back over 3000 years. In the old days, monks would have religious scriptures and texts tattooed onto their bodies for protection, and soldiers and civilians alike would flock to the temples to get tattoos from the monks for protection, strength, luck, prosperity, and even invisibility! The most common bamboo tattoo is probably the traditional Sak Yant, which is sported by Thais, travellers, and even some celebrities (Angelina Jolie has one).
The benefit of a bamboo tattoo is that it heals quickly and does not bleed or scab as a machine tattoo can. This is because bamboo tattoos only break the skin as far as the epidermis, whereas a machine tattoo needle reaches deeper down into the dermis itself. The upside to this is that with a bamboo tattoo you can get in the water straight away without risk of improper healing or infection, whereas machine tattoos typically take longer to heal. This is great news for those on scuba diving courses, or those who want to go swimming and snorkeling around Koh Tao during their stay. On the other hand, because they penetrate deeper into the skin tissue, machine tattoos tend to hold their colour and shape for longer, whereas bamboo tattoos can fade and fuzz at the edges over time.
As there are so many individual artists and Koh Tao tattoo shops, it is difficult to make specific recommendations. However, Thai Art has an excellent reputation and has won many awards in Southeast Asia.