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Do you love traveling? No, really, do you love traveling enough to have a permanent souvenir of a trip forever carved (literally) into your skin? In a world where authenticity is becoming all too rare, there are still a few reminders of the way the world used to be. At the crossroads of travel and art lies a handful of one-of-a-kind forms of traditional body art. We’ve tracked down 5 unique and traditional tattoos for a travel memory that will last a lifetime. 

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Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai Thailand - Photo by

Feel the magic of the Sak Yant Tattoo in Chiang Mai Thailand | Photo by

Sak Yant Tattoo: Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia
Visitors to the Land of a Thousand Smiles can leave with more than just a grin. A visit to a temple in Thailand can yield a magical tattoo. For more than 2,000 years tattoos have been a part of Thai culture. Applied by a monk, they carry special significance and are meant as a blessing and thought to grant protection or other benefits to the tattooed. There are many designs and symbols, but often the monk chooses the tattoo based on his reading of you and your spirit needs. The Sak Yant tattooing process is a religious practice and if you choose to receive one, it’s best to brush up on Sak Yant Tattoo etiquette to respect the Thai culture and fully appreciate the process.

Traditional Travel Tattoos

The patterns of the Ta Moko | Photo by Graham Crumb – Wikimedia cc

Tā Moko Maori Tattoo: New Zealand
Among the more hardcore traditional tattoos comes from the Maori people of New Zealand. The Maori traditionally cover their bodies and faces with the spiraled patterns of their Tā moko tattoos. What makes this style inking unique is the way it’s carved into the skin rather than simply punctured as in most other methods. The process leaves grooves in the skin along with the ink rather than a smooth surface. The designs are both beautiful and mesmerizing. 

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Traditional Travel Tattoos

This tattoo is here for a limited time only in the Philippines | Photo by

Batok Traditional Tapping Tattoo by Whang-Od: Philippines
Would you let a one-hundred-year-old woman give you a tattoo? Well, if you want a traditional Batok tattoo, you’re going to have to—she’s the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) of the Butbut people. Born in February of 1917, this year was her one-hundredth birthday and many worry, if it’s not passed down, this tradition may die with her. Her name is Whang-od Oggay and you’ll find her in Kalinga Province where she uses the same methods her ancestors have used for over 1,000 years. Her ink is made from a charcoal and water mixture and is applied with the thorn of the pomelo tree. The sharp thorn is coated in ink and tapped with a wooden block into the skin, which is said to be a bit more painful than modern methods. The designs are derived from nature and are often geometric in shape. Whang-od herself is covered in tattoos she’s had for most of her long life. Up until earlier this century, most of her people had tattoos like these, but now she’s the last artist of her kind. Now that’s a tattoo with a story.

Traditional Travel Tattoos

Remember a trip to the Holy Land with a traditional cross tattoo | Flickr photo by Wei Tchou

Certificate of Pilgrimage by the Razzouk Family: Jerusalem
Another tattoo steeped in history can be found in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Razzouk family has been said to be performing tattoos for the past 700 years with their roots in Egypt. The family’s ancestors marked Christian Copts with a small cross tattoo on their wrists. This cross allowed access to churches and helped early Christians avoid persecutors. Without a cross tattoo on the inside of the wrist, it would be impossible to visit a church, so it was common for even very young children to receive this type of marking. To this day, the family keeps alive the tradition of tattooing crosses on visitors who make the pilgrimage.

Traditional Travel Tattoos

Get a Irezumi-inspired piece or a whole body suit in Japan | Photo by Jeff Laitila – Flickr cc

Traditional Irezumi Tattoo: Japan
One of the oldest known tattoos used for both spiritual and aesthetic purposes started in Japan around 10,000 years ago. Traditional Irezumi tattoos are still done with wooden handles and metal needles connected by a silk thread. The process can take years to receive a full body suit in true Irezumi style and cost over $30,000. Historically, people would cover their arms, legs, back, and chest, leaving an un-tattooed space down the center of the body. You probably won’t find an Irezumi tattoo artist in Tokyo, but finding one is part of the adventure.

Inspired by these traditional designs? If so, it’s worth noting that a large part of why these traditions have survived some many centuries is because they carry a significance to the artists and the local people who receive them. If we’ve inspired you to get some traditional ink, we also encourage you to do so in a way that respects the culture each belongs to. Take some time to understand the meanings and customs behind the ink and you’ll enjoy it even more.

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Tagged: Asia, Japan, Thailand

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Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers
Hannah & Adam are travel writers & photographers who have called the road home since 2013. Their passion for adventurous travel has brought them to 60 countries and counting. They blog about their adventures on their travel blog
Hannah & Adam | Getting Stamped Bloggers

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