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Burning Season In Chiang Mai – All You Need To Know & What To Expect

Chiang Mai’s famous burning season or smoky season can cause worries for people thinking of visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand. How bad really is the burning season in Chiang Mai?

This post covers what happens during the burning season in Chiang Mai and what you can do to protect yourself.

Contents – Burning Season In Chiang Mai

What Is Burning Season in Chiang Mai?

Also known as smoky season, burning season is the period of time when the air quality in Northern Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai, drops really low. 

Many travellers aren’t aware of this and get a bit of a shock when they arrive as it can cause health problems and can greatly affect your trip due to the vast amounts of smog.

When Is Burning Season In Chiang Mai?

Burning season in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand usually takes place between January and April every year. It is generally over by mid-April and the peak tends to be around March. The exact timing can vary from year to year.

What Causes Burning Season?

There are many things that add to Chiang Mai’s poor air quality and these tend to build up around January-March, causing a burning season. 

Firstly, many farmers burn their fields to prepare their land for the next year of crops releasing pollution into the air. This practice is generally frowned upon but many farmers still do it.

Forest fires can occur naturally which also add to the pollution. Cars, vans, tuk-tuks etc all add to the poor air quality – this gets especially bad during the peak tourist season from October to February where the pollution builds up over time. 

Northern Thailand is quite a mountainous area which means that the pollution and smog gets trapped in the valleys. Chiang Mai itself is surrounded by mountains so the smoky air gets trapped in the city. 

It is also really dry from October onwards and the lack of rain means there is nothing to clean the air so the pollution builds up. By February/March, there won’t have been any significant rainfall for months so the smog cannot be cleared.

What Happens During Burning Season?

Burning season in Chiang Mai

During the burning season, temperatures soar. You can expect the heat to rise in January and get hotter throughout February and hit an all-time high in March. 

From February, the smog builds up, reducing visibility and this accelerates during March. You can expect the blue skies to be replaced by a grey haze.

Normally in Chiang Mai you’d be able to see mountains in the distance but these won’t be visible anymore. You may also find it difficult to see nearby buildings through the fog. The smell of smoke also lingers in the air.

Whilst there is no official start and end date, burning season tends to be over by mid-April but this can vary. 

The smog doesn’t fully clear until rain comes and clears the pollution out of the sky. It begins to rain a little at the end of April and in May which helps to clear the smog. 

This mainly affects northern Thailand but does also cause problems in the neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Laos.

When Is The Peak of Burning Season In Chiang Mai?

This does vary but the peak tends to be in March.

How Will Burning Season Affect Me?

Burning season can and does lead to adverse health effects for many people. It also causes other issues especially if you’re a tourist. 

Firstly, as Chiang Mai gets very hot during burning season, it can be very uncomfortable to be outside.

You’ll also miss a lot of Chiang Mai’s stunning views and scenery due to it being covered with thick smog. The nearby mountains of Doi Suthep, Doi Saket, Doi Inthanon and Doi Khun Than won’t be visible from the city as they usually are.

If you have breathing problems or tend to be affected by pollution then this could cause difficulty for you. The toxic air can have effects on everyone, even if you’re a healthy adult so it’s best to avoid it if you can. It could cause significant problems for people who have respiratory diseases such as asthma. 

Burning season is especially dangerous for young children, the elderly and anyone with a respiratory condition. 

The smog has even been so bad some years that flights into Chiang Mai have been cancelled due to such poor visibility. Hospital visits also spike in northern Thailand during this season.

How To Deal With Burning Season In Chiang Mai

1. Get Out Of The City

The best option is to avoid burning season all together. Avoid travelling to Chiang Mai during January, February or March.

There are plenty of other places to visit in Thailand during these months – why not head to one of the Thai islands in the south? Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Samet all provide a wanted respite from the smog.

2. Wear A Mask

If leaving Chiang Mai isn’t an option for you and you’ll be in Chiang Mai for burning season then why not tackle it like the locals do? Most locals wear masks to protect themselves from the poor air quality.

You can buy cheap masks all over Chiang Mai however these masks won’t filter out all of the harmful particles and are essentially useless.

Purchase a N95 grade mask which will protect you from 95% of the harmful particles. They will be advertised as N95 filter grade. You can buy these either online or in local shops around Chiang Mai and they generally cost around 150 Baht. Make sure you get one that fits snugly around your mouth and nose and doesn’t allow any toxic particles to get in.

3. Purchase An Air Filter Or Purifier

Another good way to help reduce the harmful effects of the burning season in Chiang Mai is to purchase an indoor air filter.

These devices simply fit into your air conditioning unit and filter out the harmful particles providing you with purer air. You can purchase one of these online or in a local shop in Chiang Mai.

4. Stay Indoors

Finally, one of the best ways to protect yourself from the harmful air is to simply stay indoors as much as possible. This also helps as the temperature outside will be really high so you’ll feel a lot better inside.

If you do need to go out, try to head out early morning or in the evening when the temperature won’t be as high and the air pollution is a little lower.

Remember to keep your windows shut during the day as if you have them open then the toxic air will enter your room and you won’t be much better off.

Thanks for reading this article. I hope it gave an insight into burning season in Chiang Mai and what you can do to protect yourself. If you do decide to travel to Chiang Mai during burning season then good luck and safe travels.