Chiang Mai, Rose of the North, the spiritual capital of Thailand and the center of Thai Traditional Medicine, Thai Massage, alternative and complementary healing reached the status of being the most air-polluted smog city in the world in March 2019.
A complete paradox, for the “healthy city” of the North, but then again smog has been a yearly occurrence in the whole of Northern Thailand (and to be fair, also Bangkok suffered with an emergency state for elderly people and children in January). Nevertheless, this year the situation appears to be the worst with Chiang Mai topping the air pollution world ranking charts.
Apart from the obvious health issues, the situation raises concerns with regard to the potential impact on tourism. Yet, strangely enough there seems to be little trouble with cancellations of bookings or a decline of tourist influx.
Perhaps one of the reasons of it is that the majority of tourists visit Chiang Mai and the North of Thailand in the months of November up to February, months where the situation is almost the opposite, being a rather nice, clear and cool season.
The so-called smoky season in Northern Thailand usually happens during the months of February, March, and April of which the exact moment and severity of the smog changes every year, depending on human activity and the weather.
Although the rainy season starts in June, there is usually enough rain already in May to clear up most of the smog. Actually, the air quality in Chiang Mai is quite good for nine months of the year, but the rest of the time it can be just horrible.
There are supposedly three main causes of the yearly smog: natural forest fires, set forest fires and the burning of crop fields. And I would like to add the heavy increase of traffic in Chiang Mai over the past decade, which really doesn’t help to ease the pain.
If you really need to be in Chiang Mai during the smoky season, it’s advisable to limit your outdoor activities, to wear a mask when outdoors and to purify the air within your home.
The future? Well, studies covering the past 15 years show that things don’t improve and that necessary actions are not taken by the government: set fires, crops burning and increased (non-filtered and diesel) car sales flourish as never before!