Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia and one of my personal favorite cities in the world. Chiang Mai is not, however, a place any tourist should visit between the end of January and beginning of April. If you do, you’re likely to sorely regret it. Why? Because Chiang Mai has a fire problem that, in over 10 years, Thailand’s government hasn’t even started to solve. As a tourist, do you really want to spend your vacation in smoke-filled streets, with streaming eyes and difficulty breathing? I know I don’t.
Every year, Chiang Mai’s smog and smoke is caused by fires set by farmers burning land during Thailand’s dry season to prepare for planting season, and every year it gets worse. In 2012, it’s been worse than in many previous years with smoke in Chiang Mai so bad the city’s hospitals are filling up with people who cannot breath or have problems with their eyes. A government spokesman recently said the pollutants in the air in Chiang Mai are three times higher than is considered ‘safe’. When I tell you that, in some areas of Chiang Mai, you can barely see 10 feet in front of you because of the smog, I kid you not.
In 2012, the fires in Chiang Mai have been so bad many tourists are leaving and others are cancelling trips. At one point, the Thai government was even talking about evacuating children and the elderly to cleaner parts of Thailand, as they were so concerned about the air quality.
Needless to say, for any tourist to book a holiday to Chiang Mai between February and Songkran (the Thai New Year, which hits in the middle of April, and is the start of the rainy season), you’d really have to be crazy. Or have a death wish.
So, if you want to visit Chiang Mai, avoid it like the plague during February, March and part of April. November is lovely, December is nice and, if you love heat, May, June and July are roasting, But, until Thailand’s government makes even one step towards fixing the problems with illegal fires and the resultant smoke and smog, we don’t recommend anyone set foot in Chiang Mai during the dry season. It’s just too dangerous for your health.