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crellston Apr 1st, 2012 12:21 AM

Pollution Problems in Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand
Just read this report in the weekend paper:

The seasonal "slashing and burning" has started and, once again is causing severe pollution. Anyone thinking of visiting the region should check out the current situation carefully, particularly if suffering from any form of respiratory condition. Apparently a number of local tour operators are advising people to stay away.

We experienced this in April 2007 when the smoke was everywhere. Flying into Chiang Mai was like flying into a war zone with massive plumes of smoke everywhere. It was difficult to breathe and just got worse as we traveled on to Chiang Rai. We woke up at the Anantara the morning after arrival and teh whole place was covered in black ash. We then traveled by boat to Luang Prabang which took 2 days and most of the time we could not see the banks of the river from the.

Things were a little better in LP, less smoke but it still smelt of smoke everywhere. In the end we got a flight out a few days early to Bangkok, where, unbelievably, the air quality was much better!

I have seen no mention of Northern Lao in any reports this year but would be surprised if it is not affected in some way.

travelkarma Apr 1st, 2012 12:53 AM

Whoa I had no idea pollution was that bad in Chiang Mai! We are planning to go in August - hopefully its all good by then.

crellston Apr 1st, 2012 12:56 AM

travelkarma - it is very much a seasonal thing as the farmers burn off the vegetation following the dry season. August will be ok

Vientianeboy Apr 1st, 2012 01:30 AM

Nthn Lao is fine as there is far less slash and burn now than Crellston's experiences 5 years ago. Smoke disppates around the middle of April in Chiang Mai.

Hanuman Apr 1st, 2012 01:46 AM

Again for anyone who doesn't know this is seasonal and last from February to early April.

This year the smoke is very bad. I couldn't believe my own eyes at how thick it was and ashes were falling down everywhere.

It has already started to clear up, just a bit, and it should be gone soon.

nokomis Apr 1st, 2012 04:25 AM

We will be there late June, hope it is gone by then?!

yestravel Apr 1st, 2012 11:57 AM

Thanks to previous posts from crellston we changed our trip to avoid the slash/burn effects. We went this january & February and there was already some effects of the slash/burn. We drove thru one town on the way from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai and it was completely smoke filled and off in the distance one could see the fields ablaze. In CR out in the countryside, there were fields burning in the distance. Our guide told us that slash/burn had started, but then it rained so people had stopped--this was in mid-January. In the Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai areas we continually saw smoke in the fields and mountainsides which did cause some smoke pollution in the cities at various points. Even though it was January and not as bad as it could be, I felt the effects of the smoke.
We took a boat from Luang Prabang to N.Thailand and had no issues. I was talking to the guide on the boat and he said, as crellston described, that at times the smoke completely fills the air on the boat trips. He said it is particularly bad when it is hot.

N.Thailand is beautiful and wonderful to visit, but definitely try to avoid the burning season.

progol Apr 4th, 2013 03:42 AM

I'm planning a trip to northern Thailand for 2014 and this issue has me a bit concerned.

We are planning to go in mid-January to beginning February, and want to go to the Chiang Rai/Chiang Mai area. From my reading, it looks like the burning generally starts around mid-February, but yestravel's post suggests it could start earlier.

I know the burning is unofficial, but any thoughts about the likelihood of experiencing the smog in mid-end of January? I'll make plans to go somewhere else if the smog is going to interfere with our trip.

yestravel Apr 4th, 2013 05:38 AM

I will be in NThailand in mid-February in 2014. Hanuman posted a current article on one of my threads about the pollution in March in this area. Hopefully we won't have a problem with it during the week we are in the area.

I had a trip planned in 2011 that would have me in the area in March and after researching the subject, did postpone the trip until the following year to avoid being there during the worst of the burning season.

shelleyk Apr 4th, 2013 05:48 AM

Several years ago I was in chang mai and chang rai in late January, and the pollution was pretty bad even then (at the beginning of the slash and burn season). I arrived home with a respiratory problem that took a few weeks to resolve. Anyone prone to respiratory problems should think twice about being in this area during the slash and burn season.

crellston Apr 4th, 2013 08:30 AM

The burning season will depend upon the arrival of the dry monsoon which varies from year to year. The earlier you go the more likely you are to escape the effects. I have travelled many times to the north usually between nov and April and have only once been badly affected ( in april) and that was one of the worst years on record. If you google the subject you should come up with some of the historical air quality data. There are no guarantees, but I would be very surprised if you experienced problems in January.

Hanuman Apr 4th, 2013 08:48 AM

For the past 3 years the months to avoid are March and early April. January and February have been fine in recent years but as crellston has mentioned, it will depend on the weather as well.

progol Apr 4th, 2013 01:39 PM

Thanks, everyone, for your replies. It feel a bit easier about our plan. Weather not being in my control, I accept that there is some risk, but overall, the chances of smog are low.


jobin Apr 4th, 2013 09:58 PM

I just returned to HK from 2 weeks in Chiang Mai and found the air pollution not nearly as foul as HK's and nowhere near as bad as Beijing's, esp during the winter time in north China. The smoke in north T'land is mostly plant residue, think nice wood fire, while more urban pollution in auto exhaust which i find much more irritating to the throat and lungs. And yes, CM has the auto pollution too, esp in the tight old quarter and the moat roads. I would caution all of us to consider our personal pollution footprint, from transportation esp, before making any nasty comments about poor and primitive agricultural locales. Regarding CM in general, i found the daily temperatures of above 100F, 40C, day after day, very oppressive. Saw many fair complexions burnt red and many older ladies as wrinkled as crones, i guess in the pursuit of beauty. Food was great, as always.

Friendship_Bay Apr 6th, 2013 04:02 AM

In Chiang Mai now. No smoke. Just heat.

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