Is Thailand really ordering a crackdown on religious tattoos among tourists?

Picture: Phuket Gazette

According to some sensational headlines going around the world at the moment, foreign tourists might be arrested if they are found to have tattoos on their body with an image of the Buddha. Probably the most over-the-top reporting so far is from Fox News in America:

“Thailand ordered a crackdown on the “alarming trend” of foreign tourists having religious images tattooed on their bodies while in the country.”

To make it clear, foreign tourists will not be strip-searched at the airport to have their body checked for inappropriate tattoos. There is no such law forbidding religious tattoos and it is highly unlikely that there will ever be one. In fact, the majority of tattoos on the bodies of Thai men are very spiritual in nature and are often blessed by monks.

It all started when the Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat made a comment that there seems to be a growing trend of foreign tourists having religious tattoos done while on holiday in Thailand. Religion is highly respected in Thailand and it is not appropriate to put religious items on the ground. The same goes for your body. It is disrespectful, for example, to put a Buddha image tattoo on your ankle.

If you have been in Thailand for a while you will know that many ministers just like the sound of their own voice. Many of them also speak without thinking of the consequences. At the most, a memo will be sent to tattoo parlours asking them not to put religious images on inappropriate parts of the body. However, I think this will just be another classic example of a “crackdown” being forgotten about in less than a week.

How will this affect foreign tourists? If you already have a Buddha tattoo on the lower part of your body, you might want to keep it covered while on holiday in Thailand. Buddha image tattoos on your chest, forearms or shoulders shouldn’t cause offence to most Thai people.

UPDATE: As expected, the Culture Minister has backtracked and denied that he made a statement against foreign tourists with religious tattoos. According to the Pattaya Daily News, he said that it was “a misunderstanding by foreign Media that Thailand would do a body check on tourists while visiting the kingdom”.

One thought on “Is Thailand really ordering a crackdown on religious tattoos among tourists?

  • June 2, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    There is nothing remotely Buddhist about the tattoos.
    It is a Thai thing and that part of thaibuddhism that is not in reality Buddhist


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