What Causes the Burning Season?There are several reasons for Chiang Mai's lousy air quality. Pollution caused by vehicles are the usual suspects but what triggers the alarm is the Burning Season in Chiang Mai.
In the dry season, the farmers in northern Thailand burn their fields to prepare their land for the following year and also to get rid of biowastes like corn that can't be sold in the market. Although It's illegal to burn the fields as it causes harm to the environment and people's health but due to the lack of cheaper alternatives farmers continue this practice.
Next up, the unregulated pollution of tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks add up to the bad air quality. Even though newer vehicles cause less pollution, its effect has been negligible on the environment. The problem gets severe during the peak seasons (October- February) when travelers flock in millions from all across the globe and traffic on the roads increase.
The city is also surrounded by mountains like Doi Saket, Doi Suthep, Doi Khun Tan, and Doi Inthanon which create a dense valley that traps the smog over Chiang Mai.
Lastly, rains get over in Chiang Mai by the end of October. No showers to clean the air means that by February, the air gets dry.
When does the Burning Season Start?There's no official date for the Burning Season in Chiang Mai to start. The dates vary from place to place. You will start feeling the heat in January, followed by increased heat and smog in February. Things start taking a toll in March when the temperature hits an all-time high, and the visibility reduces due to the smog. If you want to be safe and out of the toxic air, try not to travel to Chiang Mai in March. And if it rains, you might be in luck as farmers postpone the burning if rains hit in February, but it's rare.
When does the Burning Season in Chiang Mai End?Like there's no official start date, there is no official end date for the burning season. The heat reduces in mid-April, just before the Thai New Year water festival. The water festival is the time when the very laid back and silent Chiang Mai turns into a celebration destination as thousands of tourists are seen throwing water balloons on the streets.
1. Head out of the CityAlthough not a good option for the locals whose livelihood depends on the city, tourists surely can move to a better destination. Domestic flights are cheaper than usual during this season so you can book a ticket to the south of Thailand and spend some time on the beautiful beaches and bays that the places have got to offer. If budget is not an issue, head over to Bali or Malaysia for a relaxing tour.
2. Wear N95 or Higher Grade MasksMost of the local population wears the cheap masks which are available for a mere 10 Bahts. That doesn't solve the problem as it doesn't filter the harmful particles. N95 grade masks protect you from 95% of the harmful particles the size of 0.3 microns or larger. The masks can be purchased at a local store or online and are available in cool designs and vibrant colours to beat the smoke season of Chiang Mai.
3. Indoor Filters or Air PurifiersIndoor filters or purifiers fit into your air conditioner and filter the harmful particles from the air. These are really effective for people who get affected easily by poor air quality. The purifiers can be purchased online or from appliance stores all over Chiang Mai.
4. Stay IndoorsThe best way to avoid getting affected by toxic air is to stay put indoors. As the temperatures are at an all-time high during this time, it is best to go out only early in the morning or late in the evening. Rest of the time, just switch on the air conditioner and put on a good flick on the TV.
Chiang Mai's Burning Season can make you uncomfortable real quick and if you plan to visit the city, you will definitely miss the good views as everything will be covered in smog. So if you have breathing problems or pollution-related issues, you might want to give this trip a pass.