Travel Tattoo Sam Kuok

​Travel Goal: A Tattoo in Every Country

Every year thousands of people travel to Thailand. Some travelers leave with a cheap “same, same but different” shirt. Others leave with a traditional bamboo tattoo.

Bamboo Tattoos

The art of bamboo tattoos originated in Southeast Asia and is said to go back over 3000 years. In Thailand, bamboo tattoos began with monks in Buddhist temples who received these tattoos as a religious text. The process of getting a bamboo tattoo begins with a bamboo rod. Very fine needles are attached to the end of the rod. Ink is applied, and the needles are tapped by hand into the skin. It is not as painful as it sounds.

Tattoo and Muay Thai

Last year, I traveled to Thailand with some friends. After four days of walking by what seemed like endless tattoo shops, I gave in. 

The fact that I jumped into a Muay Thai Ring fifteen minutes later was not an indication of my state of mind. Nor was the fact I had been drinking all day.

Muay Thai Fight
Getting ready for my fight.
Muay Thai Fight Thailand
I won a free bucket of booze!

Honestly, I had been thinking about getting a bamboo tattoo, and I do not regret it. I grabbed my friend Chris to come with me while my other friends held down our table at the bar. I walked into the tattoo shop and realized I had no idea what to get. I knew I wanted a word related to travel.

After throwing some words out, Chris said, “Journey.” Perfect. Sold. The guy translated journey into Thai, and another guy tattooed what I hoped was the correct translation on my foot. Worst case scenario, it said penis. Either way, it would be a good story.

Journey in Thai Language

And it begins…

Months later, I was heading to Spain. It was then that I set a goal to get ink in every country I visited. It needed to be in the native language and be related to travel. I decided I will place each tattoo in a line down my back.

These tattoos have become a representation of my travels. A souvenir that I do not throw in a drawer and forget. Each one has taught me something about an area of the world I have never previously been to.

Ready for Travel tattoo in Kuala Lumpur
Ready for my tattoo in Malaysia

Anar pel mon

Catalonia was once an autonomous province in the northeast corner of Spain. In 1714, Barcelona, along with the rest of Catalonia, fell to the Spanish and lost its autonomy. Its native language, Catalan, was almost lost along with it. There was an attempt at a revival in the early 1900s, but in 1939, the racist regime that had emerged imposed a harsh penalty for anyone who spoke it. Finally, in 1978, democracy was restored, and Catalan was revived once again. Even to the point of required schools in the region to only instruct in Catalan. 

I was introduced to the language when I was visiting Barcelona in 2017. I knew I wanted a tattoo representing Spain. I preferred not to get a tattoo in Spanish because that could represent many countries. Anar pel mon’ is a Catalan phrase that roughly translates to “Go for the World.” 

Catalonia Map BBC
Catalonia Region in Spain

Japanese Kanji

I was in Japan snowboarding. I dragged my friends and our snowboard bags through downtown Tokyo in the early morning. I only had a few hours to get a tattoo before my flight. 

The first kanji is “journey,” and the second is “to go.” Together they become a verb as in traveling or currently in motion on a treck.

Bunga Raya

I spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 1960, two years after receiving independence, ‘Bunga Raya’ was named Malaysia’s national flower. The hibiscus flower has vibrant colors that symbolize the courage and vitality of the people. Bunga Raya literally means “celebratory flower” and reflects the celebration of unity in the nation.

Bunga Raya Malaysia
New Tattoo in Malaysia Bunga Raya

Zamrud Khatulistwa

Zumrud Khatulistiwa is Bahasa Indonesian for “Emerald of the Equator.” Indonesia has this nickname due to its green and lush tropical rainforests and its geographic position along the equator. I need to thank my friend Firman from Tribe for this tattoo idea. Firman is the ‘night guy’ at the hostel I was staying at, and since I’m always up all night, we became fast friends. He loves history and would teach me all about Indonesia. Thanks, Firman!

Start Somewhere

The script on my back translates to “Start Somewhere.” I spent three months in Bali, Indonesia. Bahasa Bali or Balinese is a language specific to the island of Bali. Traditionally the language is written in script, natively known as Aksara Bali. Aksara Bali is a dying language. It can be seen on buildings and signs throughout the island, but very few people still read and write it. Through my tattoo, I am doing my part to help keep the language alive.

Travel Tattoo Catalan, Malay, Japanese, Behasa, Aksara Bali
Five down and many more to go.

And many more…

Someday I will be old and senile, living in a nursing home. A young, hot care tech will be giving me a bed bath. He will ask about my stretched and faded tattoos. I will be reminded of all the places I have traveled and all the people I have met. And that will make every painful tattoo worth it. 

(I did confirm that my Thailand tattoo does indeed say “Journey”… I am tempted to get “Don’t Stop Believing” on my other foot.)

Monkey Forest Baby Monkey

The Monkey Ate My Cookie and Other Stories from Bali.

Leaving Canggu

I made my way to Ubud, Bali. My reservation at Tribe Theory in Canggu was finished. I was sad to leave. Many of the people that stay at Tribe are there for a month or longer. We became a little family. It was my safety net, and I needed to spread my wings and fly.


First impressions of Ubud: It is beautiful and very touristy. I assumed the beach towns in Bali would be more crowded, but I was wrong. Ubud has upscale stores and restaurants with the people to match. 

I am staying at the Shindu Homestay. I have my own patio. There is always a carafe of hot water on the table for tea and coffee. The breakfast is also fantastic and free.

I thought all WIFI was the same. It is not. I have been learning the hard way. I can watch youtube and surf the web without a problem. Teaching English… problem.

I received a slap on the wrist for an IT issue. So I googled the nearest co-working place and practically ran there before my next class. This cost me a lot of money and time.

I am only booked at the homestay until tomorrow. I just, as I am writing this, found a place to stay with appropriate WIFI. 

Indonesia’s Visa Process

This might get confusing, so I apologize. The majority of Indonesia’s long-term travelers use one of two types of visas: Free Visit Visa and Visa on Arrival (VOA).

A Free Visit Visa grants you thirty days in Indonesia for free but is not extendable. It is issued at the immigration checkpoint and does not need to be applied for in advance.

A VOA (Visa on arrival) grants you up to sixty days in Indonesia. On arrival at the immigration checkpoint, you need to purchase the visa for $37 BEFORE IMMIGRATION. This grants you thirty days AND the option to extend.

DMV Meme
I am scared the visa process with look like this.

Extending the visa for another thirty days is not the easiest process. It takes three different appointments over a week’s time and more money. From what I have read, it compares to going to the DMV in the US three days in a row.

I’m Going to Malaysia. 

After thirty days with a Free Visit Visa or sixty days with a VOA, you must leave the country or face heavy fines. Although there is no specific length of time, you must leave the country before you can come back.

Let me introduce the “Visa Run.” A visa run entails leaving the country and then re-entering to obtain a new visa. The travelers I have met usually fly to the closest, cheapest country and fly black. Sometimes on the same day.

I have a VOA and would have to start the renewal process this week. This will only get me another thirty days, and I will be here longer than that. So I would also have to do a “visa run.”

Instead of going through the whole renewal process, I will fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Instead of turning right back around, I am going to stay there for a few weeks. When I re-enter Indonesia, I should receive a new visa, and it should last me until I come back to the states.

Sorry, that’s a lot of information. In short, I am going to Malaysia for seventeen days. Then I am coming back to Indonesia.

The Monkey Ate My Cookie

I went to visit the Monkey Forest to check one off the “what you are supposed to do when you visit Bali” list. It was a bunch of monkeys with a bunch of tourists trying to take photos. This may sound weird… but I already have a lot of photos with monkeys.

After I left, I went to a pharmacy to buy some food. I had to walk twenty feet, just out the pharmacy’s door and into Hubud. At about thirteen feet, a monkey jumps on me and grabs the whole unopened package of cookies. He came out of nowhere.

The monkey ate my cookies
Crackers Round 2

I put my head down in shame and went back into the store to buy another package of cookies. This time I put the package down my pants and ran door to door.

I would not have been a happy girl if that monkey stole my cookies again. You can steal my cookies once, and I will let it go. Twice, I’ll cut you. Obviously, the monkey would kick my ass, but I would give it a good fight. And flip him off as the ambulance drove away. 

Monkey with stolen cookies
I went outside later and he was still eating them!

Word of advice: Do not pay to get into the monkey forest. Just hang out in the area around it with a box of cookies. Preferably vanilla filled.

Ghost Palace Hotel, Bali, Indonesia

Living in Bali… Past My Prime?

I have been living in Bali for two weeks now. I am slowly seeing the island and learning about the culture. All while teaching english. It has been interesting.

Ghost Palace Hotel

I went on a little excursion last week with some Tribe members. We stopped at the Ghost Palace Hotel. Originally known as PI Bedugul Taman Rekreasi Hotel and Resort.

I am not sure if it is really haunted, but it does have an interesting story. The hotel was almost finished when the owner went to jail and the project stopped. It never opened.

The hotel is open to the public. You just have to pay the “security guard” at the fence a few dollars. It is massive. I only had time to explore the lobby area. I plan to go back. But not at night or by myself.

Court Yard Ghost Palace Hotel
Court Yard Ghost Palace Hotel

In America, a place like this would be boarded up with “no trespassing” signs everywhere. Or it would be a “historic museum” with a $10 donation to see three rooms. Just look. Don’t touch.

I fell in a hole 

That is the story. I went to the corner store for some candy and was running from tree to tree so I wouldn’t get hit by a scooter.

I took a step backwards and fell in a water canal that runs down the side of the road. Thankfully there was no water in it. I ended up with a few scrapes and bruises but my pride was hurt the most. A little girl watched the whole thing.

Past my prime?

I was in class with a twelve year old Chinese girl. I was asking about her family. She was very good at english and we could carry on a simple conversation.

She asked me if I had any children. I said, “No.”
Then she asked if I had a husband. I said, “No.” Looking at me with confusion, she asked, “How old are you?.” “I am 34.”

Well at this point she was about to fall off her chair. “No, no, no,” shaking her head, “You should have a husband and children.”  

Imagine how you feel when your mom questions you at Thanksgiving. Trust me, a twelve year old girl… ten times worse.

Pahk the Cah

VIPKID is going well. Even though I do not have a thick accent anymore, I can not deny the facts. I will always eat Fluffernutters, it’s a bureau not a dresser and I will never say my R’s right. 

Guess what my lesson was covering… the “ar” sound. I might have skipped over some stuff and pretended the connection was bad.

So don’t worry.. the kids in China will speak Boston. It’s called well rounded. 

The Squat Toilet

And I present to you a squat toilet

Squat Toilet
Squat Toilet

I discussed this in my last blog. I was shocked the hostels have had western toilets.

Normally, places in Asia have a squat toilet. This photo is of a bathroom at a house I was visiting.

If you ever come across this yourself. It is okay. Be confident and act like you know what to do. If you really don’t, then you can learn here.

Travel Tip

Shoe Rack in Bali
No shoes past this point.

Shoes are a big no no. Homes, restaurants, stores, hotel rooms, etc. It is really nice to walk around bare foot. Although, I have had a few moments where I felt like I forgot something.