What is burning season?
Burning season is the time of year when the air pollution in Chiang Mai is at its peak.
- The name burning season comes from the act of northern Thais burning the old crops to make way for the new planting season. Not only is it the cheapest way to prepare for the new planting season, but after burning the fields, a particular type of mushroom pops up that can be sold for a very high price. These factors make it hard for the government to regulate and stop people from participating in burning season even though it has adverse effects on the environment.
- Chiang Mai is home to the songtaew (red truck) and tuk-tuk – two vehicles that are known for pumping out clouds of black smoke as they ride past.
- The last thing that makes burning season so terrible is that the rainy season for Thailand begins in July and ends in October, so by the time February rolls around, it’s been about three full months with little to no rainfall to clean the air.
How long is it, and how is it measured?
Burning season can start as early as mid-January and last through the middle of April. Songkran, Thai New Year, usually marks the end of burning season. I use this website: AQCIN to check the air quality each day. Anything between 0-50 is Good Air Quality (AQ), 51-100 is Moderate, 101-150 is Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, and anything 150+ is Unhealthy. Higher than 150 AQ is obviously horrible, and you should not even be stepping foot outside. I must admit, though, since burning season started, it’s common to see days between 100-190 AQI.
What’s the best way to deal with it?
- Purchase a pack of 3M N.95 masks and wear them when you’re walking or riding around town. N.95 masks should filter out at least 95% of the dangerous chemicals you can inhale. I purchased mine from Lazada, which is basically Thai Amazon, and I got a pack of 20 masks for 570 baht (USD 18). At first, I stopped at a pharmacy to pick some up, and they said they were out of stock. Within two or three days, they were selling them as an entire box, two masks for 120 baht, and even one mask for 70 baht.
- Most people who know me know that I have pretty bad asthma, so I bought an Omron Compressor NE-C28 nebulizer from Lazada for 2000 baht (USD 60) just in case the air got to be too much to handle. The medicine for the nebulizer only costs 400 baht (USD 12) for a pack of 20 liquid capsules, which makes it an excellent investment.
- Buy an air purifier to keep the air in your room even more breathable than usual, and don’t forget to change the filter!
- Stay indoors or just get out of the north altogether. While I do think that’s dramatic, I’ve seen westerners do it with the swiftness.
So far this year, many have said it’s the worst burning season in a while, but it doesn’t feel that bad to me. I have experienced dry eyes when riding around town, but I haven’t had any asthma attacks or shortness of breath when I’ve forgotten to wear a mask out. Though, I am a teacher, so I spend most of my days indoors with the air-con on. As for backpackers and leisurely travelers, I would definitely recommend wearing masks for sightseeing, but I wouldn’t let burning season ultimately deter you from visiting the area during the time.