One of the worst things in Thailand – mainly in the North (Chiang Mai included) – is the burning season. Many people who live there, who have lived there or who have visited decide to ignore it and act as if it never happens, but the truth is that burning season is one of the biggest problems when it comes to living in Thailand. And everybody should know about it and prepare for it.
What is Burning Season and when does it happen?
This is a practice that happens all over Thailand, each year. Farmers start burning their fields during the dry season in order to prepare for the upcoming season. As a result, clouds of smoke fill the air and all that fresh, beautiful mountain air that you love about Northern Thailand turns into a nightmare.
It’s really difficult to breathe when it gets at the peak levels and those are the times that many people traveling to Thailand start wishing they weren’t there. It is truly horrible for those suffering from asthma or allergies, for example… but everybody is affected. Including the views, as the smoke takes over everything. But when your health comes into play, views don’t matter that much anymore.
The burning season usually begins in mid February (sometimes even sooner) and lasts until early April (around April 10th), just before the Songkran – Thai New Year’s Day which is on April 13 each year.
If you are still thinking that it can’t be that bad, think again! It is extremely bad because it’s not only the smoke that makes life unbearable in Northern Thailand during the burning season. You get all the smoke, indeed, and that is bad enough no matter where you are. But it also acts as a sort of a dome over the region, trapping all the pollutants inside. And you know how many scooters, tuk tuks and cars are there, not to mention the regular pollution coming from the houses…
Here is one video, posted by Trading Traveler, showing the Burning Season’s effects in Chiang Mai:
That’s pretty bad indeed and you can imagine how horrible it feels to have no other option than to breathe in all that smoke!
How to survive Burning Season in Chiang Mai / Thailand
The good thing about the Burning Season is that it only affects the Northern areas of the country. All Northern Thailand is bad, even though it’s not usually as bad as seen in the video above. But it’s not great either and you get bored pretty easily from inhaling all that smoke!
There are a few options for you and although none is ideal, it’s better than having to breathe in smoke instead of fresh mountain air. They usually involve moving away from the area, but it’s a good excuse to see other places, right?
1. First, you could visit Southern Thailand. The South is not affected by the Burning season, because there are no hills/mountains to trap all that smoke in. You can go to Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket, any of the islands or basically any city in the South of the country. I am attaching a screenshot below from Google Maps, showing you the area that would be safe during the smokey season (so it would be from the arrows downwards):
2. Leave the country! Many people decide to do so during the Burning Season, especially if they are in the North. Actually, many feel forced to do so when the air becomes unbreathable and the views are ruined by all the smoke.
There are many countries nearby that you can fly to and get to for a low price. Best options would be, in my opinion, Indonesia (a good excuse to visit Bali, for example), the Philippines or Taiwan. Basically, anywhere else in the world would be better – and you have a lot of cheap choices nearby.
3. If you really have to stay in Chiang Mai or Northern Thailand during the burning season, you should do your best to protect yourself. Avoid staying outside for as long as possible and when you do go out, always wear a good mask. Also, installing an air filter at home would be a great idea, if possible. There are some co-working spaces in Chiang Mai and most likely other northern cities that already have HEPA filters installed and spending time there if you don’t have one at home would be a really good idea.
In the end, always consider this: your health is more important than the minor costs of leaving the area for a while (if your working situation allows it) or at least the costs of spending more time inside a good co-working space or installing some air filters in your home.
Burning season in Thailand is really bad and I really can’t understand those who downplay it or completely ignore it. It is a reality that the country has to deal with and fortunately measures are taken. It will be some time before they will actually make a difference and despite all the trouble, this doesn’t make Thailand a bad country to live in.
If you enjoy Thailand or if you think you will enjoy it, you will do so even with the Burning Season. But it’s best to avoid it if possible. Because your health is the most important possession you have!