One day in the Walk
Ants attack my laptop
November 2011 and I found myself walking across the widest part of Thailand.
For about half the walk my Thai friend, Onanong accompanied me. While
it is not too unusual to see a backpacker in Thailand, it is unusual
to see them actually walking with a goal other than to drag their packs
from one guesthouse to another as they move down the road a hundred yards
from one guesthouse to the next.
It is even more unusual to see Thai people walking any lengthy distance.
On this stretch of highway Onanong was walking along with me. She is
a tiny woman, standing 150 cm (4’-11”) and weighing just
42 kilos ( 92 pound). Her backpack perched high on her back seems larger
her when she walks in front of me.
We were walking from the city of Phitsanilok toward Sukhothai the ancient
capital city of the Kingdom of Siam. Part of the road snaked perilously
through the mountains, a narrow, winding thread of concrete that at some
places had no shoulder so we were forced to walk on the roadway or on a
steep and slippery slope with a deep drop off just inches from where we
This stretch of road was really dangerous. I had visions of a car or
bus careening around a corned and just knocking me and Onanong off the
of the cliff-like roadside. We couldn’t walk on the opposite side
of the road, because the road was blasted and carved into the rock mountainside.
We could not risk being caught between the sheer vertical rock face and
some careless driver.
To add to our visibility I took a broken branch and used the sturdy stick
like a flagpole to tie a bright blue shirt onto the end of it. I carried
this makeshift flag so that it stuck up higher than my pack, fluttering
in the breeze.
Keith, what is that for?” Onanong asked as I cobbled together this
makeshift warning device. I explained it was so drivers might see us better.
Then in characteristic Thai fashion she didn’t say much more about
my warning flag. However as we started walking again, I noticed Onanong
was lagging behind me a bit. The gap of 10 yards made it seem as if she
wasn’t really with me.
Later that day Onanong confessed I embarrassed her carrying the flag.
The entire idea of walking and sleeping in strange people’s yard was
quite embarrassing to Onanong. So much so, that when she walked with me,
we generally found some National Park campground or a guesthouse or lodge
to room at overnight. Only when I was walking alone did I sleep in people’s
yards, schoolyards or on some temple grounds.
For me this adventure was a challenge of the physical kind. Walking 5 to
15 miles, day after day, carrying a backpack when the temperature was pushing
100 degrees in the shade was tough for me. Getting up in the morning, eating
a banana and then waiting while the Ibuprofen eased the pains in my body
enough that I could get up and carry the pack again was challenging for
The mental difficulties that Onanong faced as a devout
Thai woman trying to throw off the cultural shackles of 2000 years of
to do something
beyond the comprehension of the average Thai was far more difficult a
challenge to overcome. Whenever a friendly driver would stop and offer
us a ride,
Onanong was forced to face the same barrage of questions each time. “Pi,
you need a ride? Are you walking because you cannot afford to buy a ticket
on the bus? Are you okay? Is this farang (foreigner) forcing you to walk
so he can save money on bus fare? You want to go to Myanmar, why don’t
Onanong’s challenge was of the mind, something far more difficult
to overcome than the few aches and pains I suffered during our walk.
She could not swallow 2 Ibupropen then wait 15 minutes for the embarrassment
to go away. It dogged her every footstep.
Onanong wants to say a few words about this walk. Here is what she has
Walking from Phitsanilok toward Sukhothai and Myanmar – by
Cars and buses were driving very close to us on this part of the road west
of Phitsanilok. Keith decided to tie a blue shirt onto a stick. Then with
his stick and rag we walked along, him feeling safer, but I felt shy a
little! When we walked many people looked at us with strange expressions
on their face. They thought we waiting for the bus or maybe that we had
no money to buy tickets.
One couple stopped their car. Both of them were very nice and friendly. “Where
are you going Kha?” (that is a polite greeting like sir or ma’am)
Sukhothai I answered!
They said ,”Oh dear that far from here please get on the car we going
the same place”, then they asked me more questions. “Why
do you have to walk? Are you not tired? Why are you doing this?”
I replied, “We will walk all the way across Thailand. This trip
is really spectacular.
They had more questions like “where do you sleep? Do you bathe in
the rivers? What do you eat?” And the most difficult question for
me to answer, “Why are you walking? You will get hot and tired.” I
tried to explain we were doing this because nobody had ever done it before.
I said “kah we meet nice people like you and get to know more about
Thailand.” The nice couple offered me a ride one more time before
As they drove away I felt even more shy (sic embarrassed) about what Keith
and I are doing. But I told him I would do this, so I must do it.
This ends Onanong’s comments for now.
The day went by quickly. It was a day without any really memorable events.
We walked, we rested and then we walked again. Some days are like that,
even on a great adventure.
As my watch moved toward 3:00 p.m. we arrived at the outskirts of Sukhothai.
Once we passed the City sign and had officially entered the city, Onanong
flagged a songthaew (pick up truck taxi). We pushed our packs into
the back on the floor between the bench seats. Weary from the 18 kilometers
(10 1⁄2 miles) we had walked that day we stepped into the back
of the songthaew to gratefully ride the next 2 kilometers to the TR
Guesthouse where we planned to stay for the next couple of nights.
The Songthaew dropped us a few blocks from the guesthouse, leaving us a
short walk before we would get to dump the packs for few days.
A clean brightly decorated bakery was temptingly situated just where I
clambered from the back of the truck taxi. There was a display case filled
with various cakes and pastries. After a long hot day of walking a piece
of cake sounded heavenly. I left my backpack lying at the door of the bakery
while I purchased a full double layer chocolate and vanilla cake.
Onanong waited patiently, not once reminding me that I was still supposed
to be on a healthy diet plan.
At the guesthouse, once inside our room I placed the cake on a table. Since
we planned to stay in Sukhothai 4 or 5 days, I emptied my backpack so I
could launder everything. Then after a shower, shave and a second nice
hot shower I went out with Onanong to find some dinner.
After dinner we returned to the room. I had big plans to eat that cake
we had bought earlier. Sitting down to a small table in the room I
pulled out a folding knife I carry. It is spring loaded to open and
has a very
sharp 7” blade I use for peeling fruit or cutting cake.
As I made the first slice, a swarm of large red ants burst from the cut
in the cake. I jumped back, cursed and then finished cutting that piece
of cake. By then the ants were swarming all over the tabletop. I quickly
moved my laptop off to one side of the table.
With the large slice of cake removed, we could see ant tunnels throughout
Apparently these industrious ants had found an entrance to the
bakery display case and in just a few hours had set up house in my cake.
I closed the box on the cake and ants and folded it inside a plastic bag.
By then it was late. I was tired, Onanong was tired so we just left the
cake, thinking the ants were trapped inside the bag.
I slept in until sunrise the next morning. As the sky grew bright enough
for me to see easily in the room, I climbed from bed and opened the laptop.
The Macbook Pro powered up while I brushed my teeth. Then sipping a cup
of hot tea I opened my email program and began downloading mail from the
night before, which time is daytime in the USA and Britain.
I noticed a few of those red ants crawling near the laptop and brushed
them to the floor. As I waited for the email to download the laptop screen
began to get strange colors and missing spots. Clearly something was wrong.
I jammed a USB memory stick into a port and as fast as possible began transferring
my most important files, those I knew were not backed up on my backup drive.
As I finished and ejected the small memory stick my laptop screen was turning
some awful blue and orange colors one pixel at a time. I just sat and watched
the computer turn to garbage. Finally I turned it off. Then knowing what
I would find I picked the dead laptop off the table and began shaking it.
Perhaps 50 or 100 red ants swarmed out and ran in circles on the table
I was too disgusted with myself to bother the ants. I ignored them
as they swarmed around the table searching for their next portable
at Onanong, shrugged my shoulders, said “let’s go change this
for a cake with no ants”. I grabbed the ant riddled cake and
headed for the door. Onanong was quiet, waiting for me to explode in
But how can you blame ants for searching out all those warm crumbs
that had accumulated in the spaces on the keyboard between the keys.
There’s probably more than one lesson in this story, but I never
bothered to try and figure out what I should have learned from the incident.
I found new cake without ants. I eventually bought a new laptop. I still
eat too many sandwiches and salads while I write on this laptop. I do try
to put the laptop away in the carry bag at night when I’m traveling.