There is really only one time of year that I suggest not coming to Chiang Mai for your first time around, and that’s burning season.
When is Burning Season in Chiang Mai?
Every year, sporadically from mid-February to mid-April, the city of Chiang Mai is engulfed in smog created by local rice farmers who are cleaning off previous crops, weeds, and weed seeds from their fields with fire. Sure beats using chemicals, but it can be incredibly unpleasant for allergy sufferers and people sensitive to smoke in the surrounding area. It is not ideal to experience Chiang Mai for the first time through watery eyes.
Chiang Mai is located in Thailand’s northern regions where rice farming is one of the main economic contributors. Burning season starts off with watery eyes and a reduced view of the surrounding mountains, and occasionally progress to extremes like obstructing your view less than 100 feet in front of you and forcing you to keep windows closed during the day.
Some years, farmers make a solid effort to do a controlled burn that has less effect on surrounding areas, sometimes not.
Most people in good health will consider it an annoyance, but not a detriment to their health. Others who are more sensitive to air pollution may want to head south to beach country for a few weeks.
Where Should I Go During Burning Season?
Many Digital Nomads temporarily migrate south or to neighboring countries during burning season and welcome the opportunity. A lot of people plan small Exodus’ and rent a place together down south for a month.
A small price to pay for living in Chiang Mai; 11 months out of the year isn’t so bad for a culture that prides itself on location independence.
Real-Time Air Quality Index
Once you’re here and understand what the air quality is like from one season to another, you may find this tool useful. The pollution indices and color codes available on this website follow the EPA graduation, as defined by AirNow. They’ve also got an app in every major app store.
To put it into context, the pollution in Chiang Mai during burning season is much lower than areas north of the city and in neighboring countries.
Unless you arrive in advance of these peak tourist holidays, I wouldn’t recommend winging it and arriving without reservations booked well ahead. Demand for accommodation increases dramatically, and so do prices. I’ve met my fair share of backpackers passing through, scrambling to find a place to stay. Not a good scene.
December 21 – January 3: Christmas and New Year’s Eve for Westerners
February 19 – 21: Chinese New Year celebrations for Chinese Tourists
April 13 – 15: Thai New Year celebrations “Songkran”
NomadList will provide you with some background for when to go, as well as providing new options for where to go after you’re more comfortable with your new life as a nomad. After Chiang Mai, the world is your playground. Some say it’s not the most accurate, so cross-reference information between sources.
You can find all of Thailand’s public holidays on Time and Date. Back in 2015 I got permission to use the “before and during” burning season image above and I’ve since lost the name of the photographer; if that’s you, please comment below and I’ll update the article.
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