It's Friday morning, a bit before 9:00. I have about an hour to kill before I need to check out of the hotel and catch the train back to the Bangkok airport. If all goes well, there will be transportation waiting for me to get to my hotel in Bangkok. If not, I guess I'll need to resort to Plan B. Which I'll need to figure out. Seems like I've had lots of "Plan B" moments this trip.

Yesterday on the trip back from Lop Buri as I was watching the countryside go by, I noticed that the railroad crossings all had crossing guards. They carried little flags, one red and one green. And there were often manual gates that they apparently moved whenever there was a train coming. It was an odd juxtaposition considering that in Lop Buri, only a few minutes away, I found shops with the latest electronic gadgets, several places that offered Internet access and the latest Playstation games, and a host of other modern conveniences. But on the railroad there was still a lot of manual labor. There were a few automated gates but not many. And it was hard to figure out which roads merited the automatic gates and which got the guard.

We also passed many rice fields. I didn't see a lot of workers but a few. That, too, looked to be very manual labor. It's probably not done so differently now than it has been for generations.

I don't think I've mentioned the dogs. They're everywhere. All of them strays but all of them looking relatively well-fed. There was one merchant in Lop Buri yesterday selling puppies. But for the most part, the dogs just roam around, snap at each other occasionally, and nap in the shade. According to Lonely Planet, the stray dogs are an untended consequence of a Buddhist culture that places a high value on compassion and affirmation of life. Many of the dogs end up at one wat or another for the monks to take care. There they might even be neutered so that they don't breed again.

Now that I'm on the home turn on my trip, I've begun to think about the ups and downs. Definitely downer was the trip over, the sleep deprivation, and the incredible homesickness. That first Sunday, I was ready to call Orbitz and say screw it, book me the next flight out of here. Between getting adequate sleep and having David to call on in Chiang Mai, I managed to wade through that really difficult time.

Also a downer, or perhaps more mixed, is traveling solo. I expected to connect with other westerners (farang, as we're known to the Thai) but so far really haven't. I haven't run into any other Americans at all. I exchanged a few words with a German couple over beers the other night and that's been about it. So it can get a bit lonely. Especially at night. During the day, it's easier not to have to negotiate what to do. "Oh, no, dear, not another day visiting ruins. How about some shopping?" Now the negotiation is with myself. Yes, I'd really like to visit the bridge over the River Kwai but it's a 4 or 5 hour bus ride versus a one hour train ride to Lop Buri. Decision made.

But at night, it's not so much fun to eat dinner alone every night, and I'm not one to easily pick out a bar or nightclub to visit. Drinking alone is drinking alone, whether in a nightclub or in the hotel bar. And then there are the occasional bouts of insomnia when it's comforting to have someone else besides ESPN in the room.

So put it all together and I'd rather have a traveling companion than not.

(Hmm, the cat that lives in this Internet cafe just came in with a present. It's a little lizard. A little lizard that isn't long for this world, I'd say. The cat is talking just like Smokey and Bandit do when they come home with presents. Now the cat has the lizard under the table and is playing with it. Seeing how far it can go before he pounces. Cats will be cats.)

The good is the all the self-reliance I learn and a sense of adventure. Following "streets" that are little more than paths through overgrown weeds just to see where it goes. Learning to speak in one word sentences, trying to pick out the word that the listener will understand. And forever trying to figure out how to pronounce Thai words.

I've enjoyed very much the random meetings with Thai folks here and there. All the school kids who are eager to learn English and want to chat. Their teacher who hopes to come to America later this year for a year or two. The too-full-of-himself bar-keep next door. It's all good.

But there are more adventures to come. I'ts just that yesterday that train trip put me into a pensive mood. Probably because it was so damn hot and I was sweating just sitting on the train. (No air conditioning on the train. But they do, helpfully, provide fans that hang from the ceiling of each car. At least the air moves.)

So on to Bangkok.


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