I remember driving through Los Angeles and watching the trash swirl around an underpass. I thought about how protected I was to be in a car as we made a U-turn at the next exit. Vehicles safeguard us in many ways. As a lifelong pedestrian, I’m exposed to more than just the elements. I’m vulnerable to the surfaces, and the things that we can ignore when we move at a faster pace.

*Note to the reader. I normally do not write long posts because I don’t expect folks to read them. When I can, I include an audio upload, and in this case, I’d recommend it. Also, all of the photos included here are from a hike I did with friends in Alabama in 2009. Enjoy.


In Thailand, it’s the smell that lets you know that you are not in America anymore. When you’re walking, you can sometimes see the sewage under open blocks of concrete lining the side of the street.

When you’re walking, you often see trash stuck in the weeds, next to walls, and stuffed into crevices. Some cities have trash bins conveniently placed, and others do not.  It is not unusual to see an overflowing garbage bin.

In Cambodia, I couldn’t believe how many people in the countryside dump their trash right outside their homes. As our minibus sped us to our destination, I stared at piles of plastic, trash, and waste among palm fronds and leaves.

Some piles were deliberate, and were certainly going to be burned at a later date. Other trash simply lined the dusty road as school kids on bicycles rode past them. Other garbage looked like it was chucked out the windows of traditional wooden houses on stilts, where it landed made no matter to its occupants.

When I lived in Ecuador, it was a welcome sight to see effective street cleaners. Women pushed silver cylindrical drums on wheels up and down Cuenca’s hilly streets. They wore uniforms. There were many of them, out and about when the city was quiet, and mostly out of sight when the sidewalks were busy, but the evidence of their presence was still to be found.

Pedestrians and People

As a pedestrian, I’m considered a second-class citizen in Thailand. Thais don’t normally walk unless they are at a park doing it for exercise. There is no right-of-way for folks who walk. Crosswalks with people on it are often ignored, and zebra crossings are neglected until the paint has faded away completely.

If you’re walking, you’re obviously too poor to afford a motorbike or car, so get out of the way. This is where I think most Westerners have the hardest problem with Thai or Cambodian culture. The rules of the road are so different than what we are used to, and lives are at stake.

I was in a tuk-tuk that was weaving helter-skelter through downtown Siem Reap when I saw a blond woman cursing and yelling at the side of the road as she was trying to cross it. As we rambled by, I was sympathetic, but as a long-time expat, I wanted to tell her, you just have to brave it. Frogger is not only an 80s video game, but a way of living over here.

I’ve been known to link arms with a friend when crossing streets. I sometimes shriek. After all these years, I’m still a terrified rabbit. It’s the unpredictability of drivers and they don’t necessarily slow down when you’re near. I know a couple of people who were hit while walking, both in Thailand and Cambodia.

My BF is the worst. He’s learned to walk into traffic no matter how many times I’ve gotten angry at him for being so blasé about his life and limbs. As someone who has lived in China and Vietnam, he’s learned to pretend he doesn’t see them. This, of course, goes counter to what we Americans have learned – make eye contact with the driver before you cross. But he’s right, you can’t look at them, if you do then they know you know they’re there.

Walking with an umbrella is the key. I can use it as a weapon. It makes me more visible and larger. I wave it around when I’m feeling vulnerable. It shields me from not only the laser rays of the sun, but dust from the street, and exhaust from cars. If there’s something unsavory around, I can, for example, use it to block out a person who is staring at me. I always carry it with me even if I don’t always use it.


I don’t like the rain. When I was a child, storms would prevent me from sleeping. If it’s raining and I don’t have to leave the house, then yeah, it’s nice and cozy. But there’s no romance in walking in the rain. With every step, street grit is kicked up and sticks to the back of my legs. My shoes get soaked. Surfaces become slick. Sometimes it’s difficult to see puddles.

Raincoats here are not the raincoats of home. They’re paper thin plastic ponchos that seem as effective as taking a large garbage bag and sticking your head and arms through.

And yes, this is the land of monsoons and heavy downpours, and still, folks walk around with a plastic grocery bag on their heads, and poorly made raincoats. My students come to class soaked and shivering. Proper drainage is no guarantee.  Particular areas are known to flood, including right outside my apartment.

The other day a car sped by splashing a wall of water up. I couldn’t help it I gave the driver the bird.


On my first day in Cuenca, I got caught in the rain, and learned to hate not only my lack of directions, but cobblestone sidewalks. I twisted my ankle on those damn uneven surfaces and my LL Bean jacket by this point was barely keeping me dry as I kept trying to get back to my guesthouse. I was a soggy mess by the time I made it back, long after the sun had set.

I watched the women in their tacos (high heels) link arms with their friends or sisters as they daintily navigated walking around town. It’s the only way to do in those things, I figured.

Back in Thailand, Chiang Mai made the decision years ago to rip up the cobblestone city center and replace it with the standard gravel and tar. The city claimed it was too expensive to maintain. Folks and shopkeepers along the street saved some of the bricks.

Since I worked in the main city center, I was there when they took out the cobblestones and after they had tarmacked the road. As I reached it, waiting to cross the street, the waves of heat practically knocked my senses out of my head. I couldn’t believe how much hotter the area had become simply from repaving the road. Yes, the cobblestone had aesthetic appeal, but I had no idea how much better they were for the environment as well.


Until I left Hawaii for Colorado, I had no idea that snow could cover the landscape like a photo filter making everything look better. And when the snow started to melt, a reverse filter would show up creating a slushy, dirty mess. Snow though, is a lot of work to walk in. Only when it is falling gently, and when no one else is around is it the best condition to walk in.

These are the moments where magic is alive. Where walking down the middle of the road feels like Christmas because you’re the first person to create footsteps in the snow. It’s so quiet. It’s not too cold. It’s you and your friend or just you, and listening to your shoes make that crunching snow sound.

Or it’s that awkward gait as you figure out how to walk in snowshoes. You flounder and shuffle. Sometimes you laugh, sweat, and wished your nylon clothing didn’t make that swish-swish sound. You soon discover that some shoes are better than others. The old fashioned wooden ones aren’t nearly as effective as the fancy aluminum ones.  But it’s fun, especially for this girl from Hawaii who was used to sand rather than snow.

I hated walking on ice. I never felt like I perfected it, taking mincing steps, holding on to a friend or anything, really, so I didn’t fall. I have wonky ankles and knees, both of which don’t instill confidence when walking on slippery surfaces. I once hurt myself badly on a freshly mopped floor. My coworker made jokes about calling 911 as I reeled in pain.


When you grow up in the States, you simply assume sidewalks (like so many things you take for granted) are the same around the world. They are not. My first post under my previously named blog Tell-Thai Heart was about looking down at the ground while you walked.

You never know what you might accidentally step in. Dog shit, trash, food offerings to birds or spirits, puddles, rebar, uneven surfaces, cracks, sewage, sticks serving as orange traffic cones, and my favorite – holes that you can lose your leg in.

Sidewalks in Thailand and Cambodia also serve as a kind of car park, spaces to park your motorbike and SUVs. It’s an extension of people’s homes and shops, places to hang laundry, dry fish or a slab of pork. I hear in some places in Vietnam that it’s impossible to walk down a sidewalk because they’re covered in scooters.

I’ve seen large groups of tourists take to walking in the street. Sometimes the BF does it, and I hate it. Of course, anyone who walks is forced to do it from time to time. If you’re lucky, the street dogs will be friendly.

I suppose you could daydream while you walked over here, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Dirt roads

I don’t mind a dirt road unless a car drives by and kicks up the dust. If you’re driving in a caravan, then you learn to drive a distance apart so that you don’t smoke out the car behind you. If you drive fast down a dirt and gravel road, you’ll most likely start to fish-tail. That is, your back end will start to move from left to right or right to left, and you’ll soon be out of control.

But walking on a dirt road or path reminds me that I’m in the countryside. Someone decided to not pave this road because it didn’t make sense to do so. It feels leisurely unless you have abandoned your car and are looking for help. Mostly, I like feeling alone in the world. That might seem strange, but if you think about hiking through the woods, you normally don’t want to walk on a crowded trail.

Good shoes become important, so the gravel or the uneven surfaces doesn’t bother you. Some folks like to leave the path, but I don’t. It’s not safe and unless I’m with someone who knows what they’re doing, I don’t chance it. I don’t want to be another ‘lost in the woods’ story.

Dirt roads make you feel like you’re here for the journey, and paved ones are all about the destination.

River walks

I fell in love with river walks when I lived in Oregon.  My first city was Eugene, which is home to University of Oregon. I learned to become attuned to the way things were said here, from ‘Eugene’ to ‘Oregon’ to the ‘Willamette River’. And while I bicycled a lot here, I equally did a lot of walking because it’s a damn fine city to do both in.

There is a great long bike path from Eugene to the nearby city of Springfield. In Portland, I walked along the river, too. It’s invigorating. It’s cold and crisp. In the La Plata Mountains of Colorado, I felt hot and at elevation, but along Oregon’s rivers I often shivered and kept a brisk pace to keep warm.

River walks have a tendency to feel never-ending even though some river walks are better maintained and continue longer than others. On a mountain or trail, I had a destination, even if it was an in-and-back-out again hike. But rivers encouraged me to keep going.

Long walks

Mililani, my hometown on the island of Oahu, is a walkers’ delight. Well, except for the hit and run fatalities and accidents. (If you don’t believe me, Google it.)

It’s a planned community with tree-lined streets and maintained sidewalks. There are parks everywhere.  There are hills and long stretches, and you can walk for a long or short time depending on your mood.

I miss long walks. Walking in Thailand or Cambodia is pretty much confined to the city park where you’re most likely going to be going in a loop with all the other walkers when the sun is at its weakest. In Bangkok, there are throngs of pedestrians during rush hour, but the City of Angels is also infamous for its traffic.

Whether I lived in California, Oregon, or Alabama, I did a lot of walking. I’d explore neighborhoods with my then-boyfriend. We’d dream about the future, discuss plans, or whatever TV show we were watching. It didn’t matter, we walked and then walked some more. It was not uncommon to do more than one walk during the day. I can recall those walks more vividly than anything else from those times.


I walked to school with my younger brother. It was probably a 20-minute walk, maybe 15 as we cut through the high school. It’s hard to say as I never timed it, and as kids, I don’t know how fast we walked. The walk to school was uphill, but the walk back wasn’t.

When I was 16, I stopped walking after I got my driver’s license. But generally speaking, it was a childhood of walking and playing out of doors. The weather was fine, usually. Our neighborhood, safe. Plenty of other kids walked like us.

Looking back, I’m grateful. Walking to school and back home was a mini-adventure. It still is.


How often do you walk? Do you enjoy walking?

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31 replies on “Walking: an essay

  1. I regularly walk and I have increased it more than normal this year. I love walking and especially in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t walk as much as I probably should. I need to foster the idea of walking for enjoyment‚ something I have never really done unless I’m on a beach. I’d always rather run, but walking is a better long-term option.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d rather walk than run any day. Although I used to run (because I was crazy) … another story for another time perhaps.


  3. What a lovely read, Lani. I enjoyed how you categorized the different walks. I love walking, and do so as often as I can. Our neighbourhood here in Abu Dhabi, has lovely sidewalks and walkways through a park and along water channels, as well as a beach fringed by mangroves, which makes walking a very enjoyable activity. The best way for me to experience a place is to walk, but I also often give up on it, especially when travelling in South-East Asia, as one tends to focus so much on survival that all the joys of walking disappears.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahaha. Oh, so well put. I wish I had said that. 😛

      Yes, I’ve really come to appreciate cultures and places that make the effort to provide a safe and clean walking (and biking) environment.

      Everyone loves public parks and even the ones here can get super crowded, but there aren’t as many. Bangkok, for example, has the least amount of green space out of any city its size.


  4. I really enjoyed reading this Lani.
    Because I don’t like driving I either walk or take public transport everywhere and it does give a completely different perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know that about you, so I’m glad you shared that.

      You get to really know a place when you’re at ground level – and when you take public transportation. I think anyone who commutes this way has a zillion stories as a result.

      But when we drive, we’re in our little bubbles. It’s a totally different experience.

      Thanks, Darren!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your descriptions of Thailand brought back so many memories. I used to also carry an umbrella and would have it ready to spring open in front of me like giant lizard gills to scare away the soi dogs. We have been away from Thailand for 3 years and when I come to a cross walk in our town of Coimbra, Portugal I am still hesitant to step out. Drivers here shock me because they stop to let you cross!

    When we moved to Chiang Mai we met a woman from Germany that had moved there a few months before. She also walks everywhere and she showed us around. I nearly had a heart attack when we were going to cross a very busy road. She confidently stepped out in front of the traffic with her arm outstretched and palm out as if yelling HALT! I never got used to it and for some strange reason it works for her. I had to ready myself when we were with her. I would whisper to Vince, “She is going to do it”! I shake my head at the memory.

    There are so many things about walking that are interesting depending on who, where, when, etc. Here in Coimbra, we have hills and medieval cobblestones that have been worn smooth over the ages. They are slippery wet or dry. There are granite stairs worn so smooth there is a sag in the center like a well worn mattress. I have to be so careful here. I learned to walk in a very un-lady like way, legs apart, tromping flat footed, no tip toeing here. On the other hand, I watch women who have traversed these streets since they were toddlers speeding up and down in heels RuePaul would be proud of. Some of them are up into their 70’s and have calves like an Olympic runner.

    People here walk. They find free places to park across the river and walk to town for work. We walk that route and it is about 2 miles each way. People here are fit. We see old people walking with canes up and down the hills, it is just how it’s done. We are in better shape than we have been most of our lives.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your wonderful response. You made me laugh over your German friend. I’ve seen that too! I’m not brave enough for the stop hand. I’m actually the sniveling opposite, practically crawling and looking at drivers with sad fearful eyes.

      Yes, in Portland, drivers will come to a screeching halt if they see you half a block down the road. After living in China, Eric was visiting family in LA, and when the drivers yielded he threw back his head and laughed out of surprise and joy.

      I imagined Coimbra would be lovely to walk around in (sans wide legged walking :P). It really is my dream, to be able to get back somewhere where I can walk and walk for miles in nature. Or even an interesting city center. I can’t see myself going back to a car, and if I did it would be purely functional which is what a car is anyway. Although, that’s actually not so obvious these days.

      Thanks again! xxoo back at ya!


  6. This was a really enjoyable, longer post from you. Felt like you fleshed out your thoughts on walking very well, covering different countries and surfaces. Like you, I also see rubbish in Asian cities such as Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s just a normal sight to see overflowing dustbins and places where people dump their trash as you walk outside the train station or walking in a semi-maintained park. I remember long walks were usually uncomfortable in these places because the weather was hot enough to make you sweat all the time.
    Lol I think we should have the right footwear for all kinds of walks. For me sport shoes or runners are the best, more so wide-toed shoes which are so hard to find these days 😛
    I think I don’t walk enough these days in Australia. I do walk to and fro work, and on weekends I try to walk for a couple an hours per day. Walking is such a good form of exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You bring up an important point. It is HOT and HUMID out here. I had to look up the humidity here because Hawaii, too, is a humid climate, but then I saw the difference.

      But, I would argue and I know you’d agree, that just because it’s hot doesn’t mean cities could create shaded tree lined streets or areas not filled in with concrete. Things grow incredibly fast here, it wouldn’t take long to do this, but they never will.

      Based on your photos, I figured you for a walker. And yes, I can no longer tolerate shoes that aren’t comfortable or bras for that matter – you reach a certain age and being in discomfort in order to be fashionable doesn’t work anymore!


      1. In Singapore there are many trees lining the city. Yet you feel hot and humid walking everywhere and right after you need a shower.

        I am indeed a walker but admittedly comfortable shoes are hard to find. Some days I am just tempted to wear crocs all day but they don’t exactly have heel support 😛


      2. There’s a big difference between having trees and no trees even if it doesn’t feel like it. I remember walking by empty lots of weeds and trees, and overgrowth and how much cooler it would be in comparison to everything else on the road. Water also has that effect, I’ve noticed. So while Singapore may still be hot, it would be worse without those trees! I still need to make it over there!

        A Crocs girl, eh? 🙂


      3. I have never been to the desert, but I guess that’s the reason why deserts devoid of much shade are generally hotter than most places on Earth.
        Crocs always, never heels 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a great story about your experiences with walking! I can relate to many of them, and it makes me realize that our pedestrian issues here are slight compared to some other countries. One thing we enjoy about living downtown is our ability to walk to nearby restaurants, shop & events going on. I do love a nature walk best but feel like I don’t do it enough. Unfortunately, our community is not designed for walking & biking as much, but we do try to opt for the exercise & reducing our driving when possible. I’m impressed with the trials you are willing to go through to get around this way! The world definitely looks and feels different from this perspective 🏃💯. Be safe out there Lani!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Anne! I think many American cities and towns are walkable, at least in particular areas. Some places are better than others, obviously. Even though America is a car culture, I believe they still are aware of pedestrians and it’s not looked down upon if you walk – quite the opposite.

      I think countries that are ‘developing’ or in recent history have been financially poor see walking as a lack of status. And the idea of public spaces being land for everyone is not seen the same way over here.

      As far as trials, you get used to it and embrace it as much as you can. It is what it is, and I know this isn’t my forever.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved this. It’s like a long poem.

    I don’t walk anymore, not really. In Texas, places are so far away from each other you have to drive. Even the buses and trains don’t really help. I walk around small shopping areas, but even that’s rare. It’s one of the biggest reasons I miss Korea. I miss walking everywhere. I miss the exercise, but also the forced interaction with my environment. Feeling Korea under my feet, smelling it, seeing the details of it…you don’t get that in Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Texas, I would imagine like many places in the South, based on experience, has nice parks and places to go, but it’s not really connected in a pedestrian way. It’s considered too hot and everyone has a truck, right?

      Perhaps your neighborhood is a nice place for a stroll? Often those were my walks.

      Thanks, Audra, glad you enjoyed it. Really didn’t expect folks to take the time to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is an entertaining read. I am trying to think the last time I read an article about walking 😊

    I also like walking and long walks (and rain).

    Back in Jakarta, I didn’t do much of it mainly because being different = endless cat calling on the streets and the eternal unsafe feeling.

    But when I moved to Singapore, it’s ‘by foot’ to almost everywhere. I was either walking or standing inside the train to go to another place. I quite liked it. I felt healthier and happier.

    Nowadays, I don’t walk as much as before (still adjusting with the subtropical weather — I sometimes prefer to stay home instead of embracing the winter). Mainly just to and from work. That’s bad no? I should do something about it because I do enjoy walking. It helps me organized my thoughts and generate ideas. Also, more walks = more adventures. There are so many things I still have yet to see in Melbourne itself.

    Btw, the longest walks I have ever done r usually tied with travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, travelling does force you to do more walking. I’ve definitely done long treks around the city exploring and sightseeing.

      I’d say if you live in a nice city like Melbourne, then take advantage of the walks! It’s such a blessing and I so so miss those kinds of spaces.

      Glad to hear that you haven’t read many/any articles on walking 😛 Thanks!


  10. I also like walking, it’s basically the only exercise I do haha. Unless holding the baby counts (he’s getting heavy).
    My district is very different from the rest of China because we have wide sidewalks. But, with the pollution in the winter and the horrible heat in the summer… I don’t walk as much as I’d like. Especially working from home. Sometimes I don’t leave the house in 3-4 days…

    Here we have the same problem with the cars, they don’t yield to pedestrians. Theoretically there is now a regulation that says they have to, but almost no one does. Every time they don’t yield I give them the stinky eye and one day I’ll flip them the bird too. It’s like, they are seeing me there, under the sun, with a stroller, and they are going to have to stop 20 meters ahead anyway because the light is red there… nope, they still don’t yield. Sometimes I think they don’t even know yielding is a possibility xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate to suggest this, but street cameras would probably help. I think if drivers knew ‘big brother’ was watching, they might behave better.

      Three or four days! Wow, I feel successful if I don’t leave the house for one day. 🙂 Then again, I don’t have a baby 😛


      1. There are cameras everywhere!! But I’m not sure not yielding to pedestrians is considered very important. Although there is supposed to be a rule saying cars have to yield…


      2. Really! Well, Big brother is watching, but if there are no consequences, unfortunately, I believe people will keep doing what they want to do.


  11. Yup. Think you covered all the topics there. 🙂 I too felt this way about LA the first time I visited, but have learned to love the area after repeatedly walking around its different neighborhoods. As for trash, it is ubiquitous, everywhere country I’ve been to has had swirling bits of it or little plastic wrappers snagged among the grass or on the beach or just two inches shy of the rubbish bin. Lovely little meander with this post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even the dingiest neighborhoods have some redeeming quality. There’s a tree or someone has potted a plant, I hope. But I know what you mean. Thanks for always reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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