It's my first morning in Chiang Mai. Sitting in the lounge, having coffee, I have a distant view of the hills. A slight mist covers them, giving me a promise of the days ahead when I hope to be out there in the hills and among the villages.
Last night, I walked out to the night market. It should be packed at this time of the year, high season in Chiang Mai. But it is deserted. Just a handful of tourists browsing, bargaining, not really buying, from what I can see.
An elderly woman selling silk bed linen beckons me over. She looks Chinese. She speaks to me in Mandarin, "Where are you from?" I tell her. She tells me she is Thai but has a Chinese mother.
"You buy? It's beautiful," she says, as she shows off the bed cover. It is beautiful. It is not expensive. I don't really need it. But I cannot resist her eyes and words. It's her first sale of the night, she tells me.
I walk away, with a bed cover I do not need, feeling strangely foolish because I have probably fallen for the oldest sob story in the world yet strangely good because, if it's true, I have made her night.
Thing is, it is easy to believe it was her first sale. Chiang Mai is largely devoid of tourists. The closure of Bangkok airport for a week led to mass cancellations for not only Bangkok but also the north.
The ASEAN Summit should have been held here, but that too evaporated. Corporate meetings, incentives, leisure groups - most have disappeared from the books.Who knows when they will be back.
Bangkok is a vital lifeline to the north and with travellers avoiding the capital city, Chiang Mai is facing a drought this winter.
The hotels are eerily empty. It reminds me of the days when I stayed in a Hong Kong hotel at the height of the SARS epidemic. Single digit occupancies. Staff are being told to clear all leave before year end and some have been told to take unpaid leave. These are the lucky ones.
"I feel sad," said the masseuse as she kneads on a knot in my neck. "This time we should be busy. But now no one." She has two children to feed.
It's when you are here that you feel the full impact of the political stalemate in Thailand. It's only when tourism dries up that everyone realises how vital tourism is an economic lifeline. No one is spared. This political crisis is affecting the tuk-tuk drivers, shopkeepers, villagers selling their handicrafts, masseuses ... everyone.
Hoteliers are doing what they can to cut costs and save jobs. Chiang Mai has an oversupply especially in the five star category in the first place - 22,000 rooms for a city that has 4,000 air seats a day and how many of those stay in five star rooms?
But it's going to be tough going because the solution is essentially out of the industry's hands.
As depressing this all is, I am enjoying being back in Chiang Mai and selfishly having her to myself. The place is unrecognisable from my last visit six years ago. The first thing I was shown by my driver was "the largest shopping mall", unlike the first time I visited when I was shown "the largest temple".
But the people are as friendly and as charming as I remember. The service staff I have spoken to speak better English than in Phuket, Pattaya or even Bangkok. Their smiles are genuine, their service impeccable. They are happy I am here; I am happy I am here.
Isn't that what travel is all about?
Later this morning, I will head off to the hills and stay in a hill lodge. My bed cover could come in handy then, I am told it's rather "cold to very cold" up there.