Every December and January in Chiang Mai the one topic you can’t seem to avoid is the burning season.
Having experienced my first burning season in 2013, I’ll try and help you out with this post.
If you suffer from any allergies or asthma, the smoke and pollution will be an irritant. If you’re in good health, you should notice the smells and may feel the odd effect but you’ll be fine (though your long term health may suffer (no research).
Everyone reacts differently, many people have spent years in Chiang Mai throughout the burning season with zero side effects so there’s no way to know if you’ll suffer.
If you’re a backpacker, don’t let burning season turn you off right away (if you have even heard of it)!
Burning Season Resources 2017:
- AQICN.org has live readings on the quality of the air.
- Air Quality Index app – Google Play Store (updated hourly)
- Air Quality Index app – Apple Store (updated hourly)
- With the last rain usually happens in November (it did rain in Jan 2017 this year which has believed to delay the burning season)
- The high season for tourists is December/January adding more pollution into the air from tuk-tuks and songthaews which gets trapped under the smoke. It’s not pretty
When Is The Burning Season In Chiang Mai?
Theres no official dates of the start and finish of burning season. Towards the end of January you hear a few murmurs of people feeling the effects of the burning. It’s not until March when the heat and burning kicks in that you’ll no longer see the Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking the city.
The unofficial end of the burning season is during the Thai New Year, Songkran. It’s still mighty hot in April though so there will be smog around for another week or so, but the worst of the burn over.
What Causes The Smokey Season?
The Thai farmers have a traditional practice of burning (interesting Nat Geo article) their land to start preparing for the following year. This is a norm for them, without consideration of the larger consequences. Chiang Mai is like the center of a bowl with surrounding hills and mountains, the smoke floats down into the bowl and settles on the city, creating the burning season kerfluffle.
Note: the burning is ‘illegal’ and the Government says they’ll hand out cash rewards for any burning reported, though that didn’t do much last year.
Another couple factors don’t help:
How To Survive The Burning Season
1. By A Ticket To Southern Thailand
Many of the expats will leave Chiang Mai as soon as they start noticing the smog. Domestic flights in Thailand can be cheap at the last minute. I’ve only been to Koh Samui, but you’ll find people going all over southern Thailand, Bali and a few to Malaysia. You can book a flight back for Songkran in mid-April.
2. Wear N95+ Masks
You will see a lot of people wearing the masks brought for 10 baht. They will help a tiny bit, but the little particles in the air won’t be filtered out. The general recommendation is to get a mask at least N95 grade (meaning 95% of particles larger than 0.3 micrometres/microns in diameter).
You can check the prices on Amazon (or get a badass looking one), they’re affordable and a positive life investment overall.
You can get them in shopping malls I believe (or try Lazada online for Thailand delivery). R100 is the highest grade.
3. There Are Indoor Filters
These are self-explanatory, you install them on your air conditioning unit and they filter out all the bad stuff. You can pick them up in malls (haven’t got any experience with this).
4. Stay Indoors
Exercising outdoors is asking for trouble during the burning season (it doesn’t stop me). It’s so hot anyway, you’ll be happy enough staying indoors during the hottest parts of the day. Start venturing outdoors first thing in the morning and the evening.
My Personal Experience
Personally, I don’t take any precautions. I still play tennis a couple times a week and go on scooter powered tiki tours around Chiang Mai. I have noticed my eyes will burn when I am not wearing my sunnies, but that’s more likely to be the scorching 38+ degree heat.