Wincing slightly as the tattoo gun punches holes in the nape of her neck, Ohm says getting inked in memory of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last week, is the greatest tribute she can pay.
Tattoo studios across Bangkok are reporting a surge in clients asking for indelible reminders of the beloved king who died last Thursday, aged 88, after a reign spanning seven decades.
Most Thais have known no other monarch a figure associated with stability and virtue in a kingdom scored by political violence, coups and corruption. Ohm, whose full name is Kraipich Jarach, opted for “I was born during the reign of King Rama9” on her neck in the scrolls and flourishes of Thai script, referring to the monarch’s formal title.
“I might lose photos, but tattoos will stay with me even when I die,” the 32-year-old said.
Doubling up on the tributes, Kraipich also decided to have “King 9” — the first word in English and the numeral in Thai — tattooed on her forearm, a motif that has become increasingly popular.
Tattoos have a long lineage in deeply superstitious Thailand, where they are common among women and men as acts of Buddhist devotion, for protection and good luck.
“In case I am reborn… in the next life these tattoos might help me remember that I lived in the time of the best king in the world,” Ohm said.
Photos of people showing off new artwork, from large portraits of the king to elaborate maps of Thailand with his name across them, are doing the rounds of social media.
Celebrities have got in on the act, while parlours are offering free or cheap sessions as the kingdom mourns.
Petchy, the Thai owner of OD Tattoo Studio, says that since Bhumibol’s death he has had around 10 customers a day keen for an enduring mark representing their king.
“Thais love their king… tattooing is a kind of art. The king also loved arts, he painted, he played musical instruments, he composed songs,” the heavily tattooed 42-year-old said.
“So this is a way for many people to show respect. They don’t just have his photos at home but a tattoo that is part of their bodies,” he explained, adding he also planned some fresh ink in commemoration.
Most Thai households and companies have a portrait or photograph of the king on their walls.
Thais have donned black in a remarkable show of public grief, while everything from concerts to football matches have been cancelled out of respect.
But by late Tuesday Bangkok’s famed night scene was cautiously creeping back to life after a five-day hiatus.