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I could go on all day about how beautiful Northern Thailand is. Lakes, mountains, rivers, caves, waterfalls and jungles are everywhere just asking to be explored and the weather is usually some of the best in the country – cooler, yet still clear and sunny.
That is, until February and March.
While November, December and January are just about as perfect as you could get when it comes to comfortable temperatures, no rain and abundant sunshine, February and March bring the start of hotter temperatures and bad air.
During this time there’s widespread burning of fields and forests for farming and, as I’ve been told, cultivating a special type mushroom. There’s very little rain and that, combined with the heat and the fact that the city of Chiang Mai is in a valley, makes it so the smoky and polluted air stays trapped.
The pattern happens every year, though some are worse than others. 2012 was particularly bad, while this year it’s been more of an annoyance, but still not good. When I asked my Thai teacher about it she said the burning, smoke and haze continues, “…until my King makes the fake rain.” It was probably one of the best, and most confusing, things I’ve heard living here. But that’s what happens. This is where I live.
The air usually seems worst in the morning (when the photo above was taken) and clears up a little throughout the day. Many people I know have been complaining of congestion, dehydration, lack of energy and lethargy. They don’t feel sick, like they have a cold, but something just isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it except wait it out. (Though I know of several long term expats and retirees who regularly plan to leave during the ‘smoky season’, coming back in April or May.)
I’m a big proponent of traveling to places in the off season. I wouldn’t hesitate telling someone to visit Thailand during the rainy season, but I don’t recommend coming to the north during February and March if you don’t have to. The weather definitely puts a damper on things and doesn’t show off the region in the best light. In fact, it’s a really smoky, hazy light.
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