The burning issue: Chiang Mai’s season of smoke

If you’re planning a trip to Chiang Mai, there’s a unique season you need to be aware of the Burning Season. This period can significantly affect your experience, transforming the lush landscapes of Northern Thailand into a haze-filled environment. Despite Chiang Mai’s allure as a top destination, the Burning Season brings challenges, including smog, pollution, and soaring temperatures.

Why is there a burning season in Thailand?

You might wonder why each year, parts of Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, face what’s known as the burning season. This phenomenon traces back to agricultural practices deeply rooted in the region’s farming culture. Slash-and-burn agriculture stands at the crux of this issue. After the harvest period, farmers burn the remaining stubble and vegetation. This method, though traditional, releases vast amounts of smoke and particulate matter into the air, contributing significantly to the haze that blankets the region.

From January to April, Chiang Mai and other parts of northern Thailand experience their lowest air quality levels, with March often seeing the peak. The smoke from agricultural fires, combined with urban pollution, creates a thick, smoggy haze, severely impacting air quality. It’s a period that catches many travellers off guard, affecting not just the view but health as well.

If you’re in Thailand during these months, you’ll notice the haze almost immediately. It’s not just a visual nuisance but a health hazard too. The air carries fine particles that can infiltrate your respiratory system, posing risks, especially to those with pre-existing conditions. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are ways to navigate this period, staying healthy and making the most of your visit, by choosing indoor activities and considering travel to the south, where the air remains clearer.

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What do they burn in Chiang Mai?

Slash-and-burn farming largely contributes to the smoke you see in Chiang Mai during the burning season. Farmers clear land by burning off vegetation to prepare it for new crops. This method, although cost-effective, plays a significant role in the haze that engulfs the area. Not just that, but the drive to grow mushrooms, highly sought after in both local and international markets, adds to the urgency of these burnings.

Apart from agricultural practices, unregulated emissions from motor vehicles compound the pollution problem in Thailand. Moreover, Chiang Mai’s situation worsens as cross-border smoke from neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Laos drifts into Northern Thailand. These nations practise similar agricultural burnings, inadvertently contributing to Chiang Mai’s deteriorating air quality during this period.

The burning issue: Chiang Mai's season of smoke | News by Thaiger
PHOTO: via TerraPass

During this smoky season, it’s not just the fields that burn. Certain areas see the disposal of waste through fire, adding to the environmental concerns. Plastic, which releases harmful chemicals when burned, occasionally finds its way into these fires, posing health risks beyond just the smoke from vegetation.

The act of burning sugarcane fields in Central and Northeast Thailand, even extending to Cambodia, also amplifies the region’s pollution levels. It’s important to remember that the severity of the haze can fluctuate greatly not only from one year to the next but also from one day to another. Unexpected forest fires or agricultural burning can cause sudden spikes in pollution, dramatically affecting air quality.

What causes the burning season?

At the heart of the burning season in Chiang Mai lies a practice called slash-and-burn agriculture. This method, which farmers use after harvest, involves burning off residual plant material. While it might seem like a simple farm management technique, it significantly contributes to the smoke haze engulfing the region.

The real trouble starts when these agricultural fires escalate uncontrollably into forest fires. Astonishingly, these events account for 90% of the pollution during the burning season. This smoke isn’t just a nuisance; it carries fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which poses serious threats to your respiratory health.

The burning issue: Chiang Mai's season of smoke | News by Thaiger
PHOTO: via Travel Thailand Together

But agriculture and wildfires aren’t the only culprits. Cross-border smoke from surrounding countries and unchecked emissions from vehicles add to the haze, making it denser. Cities like Chiang Rai, Pai, and Mae Hong Son also face these smoky conditions, but Chiang Mai bears the brunt. Here, over 75% of the air pollution during this period stems from these activities.

It’s crucial to remember the impact isn’t uniform. The severity can vary significantly across Northern Thailand, with Chiang Mai often facing the worst air quality levels. Recognizing what fuels the burning season doesn’t just help you make informed travel decisions but also supports the push towards more sustainable practices in the region.

How can you protect your health if you stay in Chiang Mai?

Understanding the impact of Chiang Mai’s burning season on air quality is crucial for protecting your health. If you find yourself in the city during these challenging months, wearing N95 masks is a key step in safeguarding your well-being. It’s also wise to stay informed about daily air quality indexes to make informed decisions about outdoor activities. Remember, planning your visit outside the burning season is the best way to enjoy Chiang Mai’s beauty without compromising your health. Stay safe and make well-informed choices for a pleasant experience in this enchanting city.

If you’re in search of an enjoyable journey in Chiang Mai, our article A Fun Ride Through Chiang Mai is tailored for you.


Sugandhi Batra

Embarking on her journey in content writing, Sugandhi Batra brings a fresh perspective and an eagerness to explore new horizons. Her love for words and her versatile approach facilitates the creation of engaging content across various fields.

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