Breathing life into the
markings of Lanna culture

By Shayan Amin and Cat Costa

Near the borders of Myanmar, nestled in the hills of Thailand, is Mae Tan subdistrict in Tak province. Tattoo artist Sarawut Waewngam (Od), age 57, went to Tak province in 2014, specifically to hunt down a specific style of tattoo: Sak Kha Lai Lanna. A monk had come into his shop in Chiang Mai asking Od for some ink to work on his own tattoos. Od asked to see the tattoos, and was immediately mesmerized by the intricate details diligently placed from the monk’s hips to above his knees. He found a lead: Ajarn Lada Sri Ubet, who Od went on to hunt down and get inked by.

Getting a tattoo starts with an intimate dance with the tattoo artist, where your skin is the canvas. As with any art form, there are different schools of thought when it comes to tattooing. Arguably the highest form of this art comes to life in the weaving of culture and history: the oldest known human to have tattoos preserved upon his mummified skin is a Bronze-Age man from around 3300 BCE. In the millenia since Otzi the Iceman (who was hardcore, he had 57 tattoos, your faves could never) passed, Lanna tattoos, or Sak Kha Lai Lanna, came to life, became a cultural hallmark of the border regions of Thailand and Myanmar.