I wave goodbye to my Hmong guides from the back of a motorbike taxi they've arranged for me as we accelerate away down the dodgy road back to Sapa. Swerving around potholes, the cold air rushing by us, we reach town as the sun descends behind the mountains, the temperature dropping in sync, reaching zero as the sun sets.
Darkness envelops the town, street lamps few and far between, the biting cold and heavy fog creating an excellent setting for a ghost story.
Poor timing, I'm sick for the first time in three years, coughing as I ascend the stairs to my sparse room. I search for a thermostat, a radiator; none, no central heating, not only in this hotel, but anywhere in Sapa. Weigh my options, it’s almost as cold in here as out, maybe there's a nearby business which is warmer.
I find a "spa" still open. They bring a bucket of steaming water, I dip my feet in and out several times before my nearly frozen extremities adjust to the temperature.
I welcome the touch of human hands on my head, shoulders, legs and feet. I pay and linger, doing my best to converse between my coughs with people who know little English. Eventually it’s time for me to go.
Night life absent, I return to my room and start coughing- phlegm, no fun. The only thing I can do to stay warm is remain clothed in four layers and hide under the covers. I try to fall asleep but my cough prevents me.
One thing for sure, it would be unwise to remain in these freezing temperatures another day. I wake in the morning, check out of my room, and purchase a train ticket back to Hanoi which will arrive there in the wee hours of the morning.
I consider taking a trip to Haolong Bay, which is pretty much on every tourist’s itinerary in Vietnam, but that would mean another night in ultra-noisy Hanoi. Instead I book a plane ticket via Bangkok to the beaches of Krabi, the thought alone warming my body.
Winter is definitely not the right time come here, especially the Northern part of the country, my poor decision magnified by the fact I fell ill. Another American retreats from Vietnam, beaten, unlikely to return.
My last view of Sapa before I took the bus to the train station