Ant Attack!

169km Pak Chong to Chok Chai

Ants!!!It was past midnight and we were in our tent. We should have been asleep but we were listening to the rain come down and wishing it would go away. And between the drops of water pitter pattering on our home we also heard the birds having a late night chat in the trees and thunder rumbling off in the distance. Then we checked the time and realised we really should try to get some sleep so we rolled over to doze away. Andrew brushed his cheek just before we turned in our beds. “What’s that?” Friedel asked. “Oh, just an ant,” Andrew mumbled. Just an ant. We’ve camped plenty by now. One ant roaming free is no big deal, we thought, as our eyes closed.

What happened next was like a scene from a horror film where the pincers of a giant ant reach out around a beautiful woman and slowly squeeze the life out of the heroine. In our nightmare scenario we saw not ‘just an ant’ but a whole ant highway. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of ants, flowing in through a minuscule crack where the zippers come together to seal the door to our sleeping area.

Out went the lovely, warm, fuzzy feeling of just waking up and in came shock and disgust as we realised the full scale of the invasion. Ants were everywhere. On our sleeping mats. In our clothes. On the tent roof. On the floor. When we finally shook enough ants free to get dressed, we noticed everything else we owned was crawling too. Our shoes. Our panniers. Even our water bottles.

That was quite enough for us but the ants wanted more. As we moved and started shaking and brushing the ants started biting. So tiny, barely a few milimeters long, but their tiny jaws packed a sting and we screamed a few unprintable words. Out we jumped from the tent, looking at our belongings with eyes wide open. Ants were clustered so thickly on Friedel’s swimsuit that the fabric was barely visible. It was just a swarming brown mass. The buggers even chewed several holes through the groundsheet, leaving parts of it looking like a slice of Swiss cheese.

Three hours later, without a drop of coffee to fuel our frantic cleaning, we had used several litres of campsite water to clear most of our things of ants but not all. Through the day a trickle of ants continued to emerge from various cracks in our bags and we wondered what kind of pet we could adopt to eat them all. A lizard? A bat? We’d watched thousands of bats fly out of their cave near Khao Yai in search of a sunset meal. We could feed a large extended bat family with the ants that attacked us.

On the move now, we cycled past rice paddies and waved hello to the friendly Thais running food stalls and gas stations along our route. “Need any help?” one called. “Want to take some ants off our hands?” we thought. Several hours later we still felt phantom stings on our arms and legs and that tickly feeling you get when something is crawling over your body.

Totally cured of any desire to camp, we sought out a hotel in the afternoon and used a strong spray of water to wash the last few ants out of our bags. Now, like any crime victim, we just wanted to know why they chose our home in the first place. We didn’t cook near our tent. We had almost no food with us and what we did have was all unopened. When we removed the tent, we didn’t find an ant hill underneath. Was it just our bad luck? Were we particularly juicy targets? With a string of forest parks offering camping in our path, we’ll have to work up our enthusiasm if we’re going to try tenting in Thailand again.


  1. James Hustler
    10th July 2008 at 3:49 pm #

    Oh dear what a horrible way to end the day.

    Happy Birthday Friedel – hope your ant attack didn’t spoil the day itself

    James xx

  2. Gayle Dickson
    10th July 2008 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Friedel and Andrew! Remember us? We met at Nomads…..I’m sure you didn’t forget that place. Just enjoyed catching up with your stories, it’s a great read. We made it to Pakistan and are staying with an old friend from home here in Islamabad. So plenty of home comforts and relaxing days before we head north to the Himalayas for some serious trekking!!

    Sounds like it’s your birthday today so Happy Birthday from us!! Strange coincidence, my birthday is tomorrow!

    Fight those ants!!
    Gayle and John

  3. Andre B
    11th July 2008 at 8:26 am #

    Hello again from NB

    I dont know if you are already aware of Tim and Cindy, world cycling travelers, you can check out their web site at They have done a lot of touring in Thailand and I dont recall reading that they did camping. Maybe there is a reason for that. (Think ants). It may be worth contacting them via email.
    Just a thought. Good luck,
    I’ll keep you posted on my research of finding the best road across Canada

    André B

  4. Dad
    11th July 2008 at 8:23 pm #

    For what it is worth we found that powdered cinnamon discouraged ants, but judging from the size of the infestation you encountered you would have to find a forest of cinnamon plants/trees! For the last week we have finally had hot weather (but it is also humid)

  5. Scott Drennan
    21st April 2009 at 9:10 pm #

    Hi Friedel & Andrew,

    I don’t know if you ever got an explanation for your ant attack, and ways to prevent it, but a friend in Thailand sent us this note about “Ant Chalk”, which is supposed to discourage ants from visiting you, including the “fire ants” which it sounds like you had…

    You’re far more likely to run into angry ants than rash red shirts, so I should have told you about ant chalk. Everywhere insecticides are sold you’ll see bright yellow boxes about twice the size of a cigarette lighter. Inside is a plastic bag with a rectangular piece of chalk about the length of blackboard chalk. Ants will NOT cross a line drawn with this chalk, as they’ve already learned if they do, they’ll spasm and die. Just how they pass this information on I haven’t a clue, but I’ve only seen them die the first time we used it. For the past few years, they just won’t cross the line.

    You can’t draw a line to defend against fiery red ants about 3 mm long.
    These stay exclusively in sandy soil, into which their fiery bodies burn deep trenches, but deal with them by scraping the chalk against anything rough that dust falls on their parade. You can also dust their mounds — they will pack up and leave.

    Don’t concern yourself too much about ordinary red ants that are about a centimeter long and live in trees. They tend to fall on you when you take shade under one. They pinch hard but don’t break the skin, and they don’t sting. Also, they’re edible. Their eggs are sold as a delicacy, but never eat more than a tablespoonful at a time, as more than that may give you a tummy ache.

    The most painful ant sting comes from black carpenter ants, also nearly a centimeter long, with soldiers much bigger than, with huge, grotesque heads. I’ve never seen them enter dwellings, only crossing trails in search of wild wood. All of them, not just the soldiers, can drop pure acid on your skin — oddly enough, only one of them will — they full well understand that one drop is enough! Once you know what to look out for, they are as easily avoided as red, blue and yellow shirts.

    • andrew
      24th April 2009 at 12:48 am #

      Hi Scott, this is a great tip. Thanks! If only we’d known about it sooner…. I hope you guys aren’t running into any ants. You should be safe in hotels!

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