Chiang Mai — lovingly called the Rose of the North — is the spiritual capital of Thailand and the center of Thai Traditional Medicine, Thai Massage, and alternative and complementary healing. Well, that all may be, but in March 2019, Chiang Mai also reached the status of being the most air-polluted smog city in the world.
A complete paradox for the “health city” of the North, but then again smog has been a yearly occurrence in the whole of Northern Thailand (and to be fair to Chiang Mai: in January 2019, there was also an emergency state of air-pollution in Bangkok). Nevertheless, this particular year the situation appeared to be the worst in Chiang Mai, with the city topping the air pollution world ranking charts.
Of course, 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 bookings being cancelled or a decline of tourist influx.
Perhaps one of the reasons of that 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 both 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 to that: 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 mouth–nose protection mask when outdoors, and to purify the air within your home.
The future? Well, studies covering the past fifteen 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!