Want a permanent reminder of that trip of a lifetime? We bring you a list of ink-redible spots to get a one-of-a-kind souvenir. This article is an excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013.
Wat Bang Phra, Thailand
Looking for superhuman powers, such as the ability to stop a speeding bullet? The Buddhist monks at Wat Bang Phra can help. They’re known for inking yantra tattoos that bestow the wearer with mystical strength, protection and good luck. It’s not for wimps, as the holy tattooists carve the monkeys, tigers and ancient Khmer/Cambodian designs using a scary 45cm needle. But hey, if Angelina Jolie can take it, you can (she’s yantra’s most famous canvas). Each year in early March the temple holds a wild tattoo festival where attendees go into trances and ‘become’ the animal spirits of their tattoos.
Wat Bang Phra is in the Nakhon Chai Si district of Nakhon Pathom province, about 60km west of Bangkok.
North Island, New Zealand
Think ‘Maori warrior’, and an image of a fierce-looking dude with blue tattoos swirling across his face appears. In New Zealand’s indigenous culture, the complex designs – called ta moko – represent a person’s identity, origin and bravery. It’s like a history on the skin for those who know how to read it. Traditionally artists made their mark using a bone chisel, though today they tend to use less-painful modern technology. True ta moko is sacred, so if you’re Mike Tyson or otherwise non-Maori, you can get a similar-type motif called kirituhi. Auckland and Rotorua are centres for the art form.
Te Uhi a Mataora is a national collective of ta moko artists; many are listed at www.maoriart.org.nz (under Profiles).
Henna Souq, Fez, Morocco
Henna is the tenderfoot’s tattoo: an orange-red paste stencilled on bloodlessly, that washes away in a few weeks. In Morocco, women henna their hands and feet with arabesque whirls for weddings, while boys get the job done before circumcision ceremonies to protect against evil spirits. Fez has an entire souq dedicated to the art, tucked deep in the old walled medina past the gilt-thread wedding-belt souq and around the corner from the carved-wedding-throne souq. Browse the spices, aphrodisiacs, hennas and lucky-talisman stencils for sale, then settle in with an artist who will paint your hands in the tree-shaded courtyard.
The Henna Souq is located off Tala’a Kebira and generally opens from 9am to 6pm (closed Friday mornings).
Yokohama Tattoo Museum, Yokohama, Japan
Horiyoshi III, arguably the globe’s most famous ink man, sets up shop here. He specialises in Japan’s age-old full-body tattoos intertwining dragons, peonies, koi and other mythic images – a process that can take up to five years of weekly visits and cost US$30,000. Tokyo’s Yakuza mafia are the most famous practitioners. Tat fans pilgrimage to the museum to see underworld photos, traditional tools of the trade and curios that range from shrunken heads to stuffed tigers, and even letters from Charles Manson. Horiyoshi’s studio sits above the spooky collection, though he now limits his work to finishing existing clients’ tattoos.
The museum is located near Yokohama Station in the Imai Building, Hiranuma 1-11-7; it’s open from 1pm to 6.30pm daily.
The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth, Las Vegas, USA
The Guinness World Record–certified name doesn’t lie. More than 40,000 tattoo-ees converge at this raucous show in Sin City each year. Big-name international artists wield ink guns on site, so you can offer up skin to a master for whom you’d otherwise have to travel oceans. Afterward, indulge in an only-in-Vegas establishment located in the same building: King Ink Tattoo Studio & Bar brazenly combines alcohol and body art, all to the thumping beat of a DJ. A little tequila, a little Lady Gaga and the possibilities become endless…
Amsterdam Tattoo Museum, Netherlands
Opened in 2011, the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum holds enough relics to earn its ‘Tatican’ nickname. The first electric tattoo machine (from 1891), preserved pieces of tattooed flesh, painful-looking tribal implements, freak-show posters and a serious research library stuff the rambling building. Want a memento of your visit? Sure there’s the gift shop, but ascend to the second floor where resident artists apply the ultimate keepsake. Note, too, when you patronise the museum you’re doing good: the venue provides work experience to 300 socially disadvantaged people per year.
The Amsterdam Tattoo Museum (www.amsterdamtattoomuseum.com) is at Plantage Middenlaan 62; open 10am to 7pm daily.
The prize for most tatted-up city in the USA goes to Miami, which has about 24 tattoo parlours per 100,000 people. No wonder tattoo reality TV got its start here. Miami Ink was the genre’s first, following the life and times of five guys working the scene on South Beach. Assorted porn stars, skateboarders, death metal bands, comedians, film actors and NFL linebackers walked through door, as did celeb chef Anthony Bourdain (who opted for a skull tattoo on his shoulder). The drama was so intense producers spun off the series to LA Ink, London Ink and NYC Ink.
The Miami Ink guys operate LoveHate Tattoo (www.lovehatetattoos.com) at 1360 Washington Avenue; open 11am to 11pm daily.
This is the nation that gave the world tattoos – or the word, at least. It comes from the Tahitian tatau, ‘to strike’. Long ago, artists took a comb with teeth of sharpened bone, dipped the tips into organic black ink, then used a second stick to tap it into the skin. The sound it made was tat tat tat. Artists mostly use tattoo guns now, but you can opt for the old-school method at many shops. It’s more expensive, requiring helpers to stretch your skin while the artist pokes you thousands of times. Turtles (fertility) and tikis (protection) are common symbols.
On Sundays in the capital Papeete, local tattoo artists sling ink on the main market’s upper level.
Indian mehndi is similar to Moroccan henna – temporary, orange-red tattoos that last a few weeks or so – but artists apply the paisley, peacock and other flowery designs more densely. Women typically henna their hands in an elaborate ceremony before getting married, with the groom’s name written somewhere within the pattern. If he can’t find it, the bride will have control in the marriage, so the story goes. Beauty parlours have mehndi artists on staff, and markets often have mehndi-wallahs. The latter are particularly prevalent in Delhi’s time-hewn bazaars.
Mehndi-wallahs cluster around the Shelton Hotel at 5043 Main Bazaar, Paharganj.
London Tattoo Convention, England
London has had its ink on from the get-go. Pritani, the oldest known name for Britain’s inhabitants, means ‘the Painted People’, after their whopping tattoos. By the end of the 19th century, British sailors were carrying on the custom, with more than 90% drawn upon. So tattoo culture runs deep, and it’s why 20,000 people stream in for the convention, keen to take in the tattoo art exhibits, Oxford-curated tattoo historical displays and of course, tattoo contests. Best of Day, Best Back Ornament, Best Colours and Best of Show are just a few prizes to aspire to.
The London Tattoo Convention (www.thelondontattooconvention.com) takes place in late September.