Remember that tune by The Hollies from 1974 “The Air I Breathe”? That plays in my head as I speed through Chiang Mai on the back of my daughter’s motorbike. I wear a white mask along with my helmet. And sensible shoes. And long pants. I rode one time without the helmet to a night of Thai barbecue. As cars sped past us nearly sideswiping us off the road, my mantra was “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” The little Thai gals sit sidesaddle on the back of bikes in straight skits, their pretty dark hair not hidden by an ugly helmet. Never mind. I want to live.
Anyway, back to the mask. If you remain in northern Thailand for the burning season, which can run from February to April, you will encounter smoke, dust and haze. It is everywhere. In the mountains, the valleys, the city. If you suffer from sensitive sinuses as I do, it can be especially problematic. The air quality suffers so badly this time of year because all the rice farmers burn the leftover straw in their fields. It’s sort of like when they burn the sugar cane in Hawaii.
This photo was published in the Telegraph Travel Section in 2012 showing those protesting the declining air quality. It got so bad that year, a record number of people ended up in the hospital with breathing difficulties. Supposedly, some laws were enacted to alleviate the situation but it is unclear how well these are being enforced.
So what can you do?
Well, first of all, if you can avoid traveling to the north from March through June, you should miss the haze and bad air. With the start of the rainy season in June, the air will begin to get scrubbed clean and the air quality should slowly begin to improve.
Go to the south. Tour the famous Buddhas of Bangkok. Lay on the beach in Krabi.
If you must be in Chiang Mai at this time of year, then plan to stay inside as much as you can. Now would be the time to pay more for an expensive taxi and leave the motorbike at home.
Invest in a good quality air conditioner. Go to your local Tesco Lotus and buy the best one you can afford. Buy one with a built in air purifier if possible. Run it continuously.
While you’re at Tesco, buy some nasal spray. Get two bottles: one of saline and one of Nasacort. Use the saline often. Use the Nasacort as directed on the package. It is wise to be proactive with it especially if your like me and get sinus infections easily.
When you must go out, wear a mask. Get a good one that is rated N95. You might have to go to a department or home store to get one of these. I usually purchase a box of them for myself back in the states and take it with me.
Burn season will be unpleasant, but it won’t last. Spend a little extra money. It will be worth your health in the long run.