Thursday, March 14, 2013

Burning Season in Chiang Mai - Smog, Smoke, Training in February, March and April

It's the middle of the "burning season" in Chiang Mai and I'm currently training for my next Muay Thai fight.  It's been hard to run as the smoke pollution fills your lungs making it hard to breathe.  It's also a lot hotter than it would be usually since the smoke traps the heat.

The problem is two-fold, first, during the months of February, March and April, farms will burn their crops.  But the big problem that can be easy fixed is enforcing smog pollution control coming out of tuk-tuks and songthaew taxi trucks.

Personally I boycott all Tuk-Tuks (the 3 wheeled taxi's) in Thailand as most of the driver's are rude, try to rip you off, and more than half of them are terrible for the environment as they produce tons of smoke from their exhausts.  The taxi-trucks called Songthaews (pictured above in red) are much better as they usually charge a flat, fair fee, 20 baht (67cents) within the city and 40 baht to go slightly outside old Chiang Mai.  Unfortunately I've recently seen a lot of Songthaew's with smoke coming out of their exhausts as well.

Technically it's already illegal in Thailand for cars and trucks to have "excessive black smoke" coming from their exhausts but no one ever enforces it.  I wish they would.

As far as training Muay Thai in the months of February  March and April in Chiang Mai.  I would recommend you do it somewhere else or not come during these months.  I stayed through it, hoping it wouldn't be too bad, but if I could do it again, I would have avoided the north, and maybe even Thailand as a whole during these months. 

The smog isn't as bad as it gets in Beijing, China, but it's a lot worse than it is in Los Angeles on a bad day.  Most of the time it just feels hot, muggy and stuffy.  Your breaths are short as it's hard to get a full lung of oxygen and running becomes both difficult and dangerous to your health.  The only saving grace is that when it rains, it temporary stops the burning and the fires clearing up the air.  Normally I can see the moutain Doi Suthep from my doorstep quite cleary, but during burning season,  the entire mountain disappears into gray smoke.  

When not to come to Chiang Mai:

Do not come to Chiang Mai between the dates of February 10th - April 10th.  In December and January Chiang Mai is awesome.  The air is great, it's high season and tons of tourists come to spend Christmas and New Years and it doesn't get too hot during the day.  In fact, it gets quite cold at night, cold enough to wear a light jacket.  

Starting April 13th-16th Chiang Mai is AMAZING, it is the start of Songkran which is a nationwide water gun fight.  It is far better in Chiang Mai than it is anywhere else in the country, so make it a point to be in Chiang Mai during those dates.  However, all of March avoid Chiang Mai at all costs.  Either stay at home and don't come to Thailand during that month, or if you must, go down to the south, to Koh Tao, Phuket or one of the other islands.  

Training Muay Thai during Burning Season:

Classes are still going on, and honestly, it's not bad enough to stop training.  You might not even realize that it is that bad.  But if you've been here since November as I have and remember how crisp and clean the air is usually, then you know how dramatic the difference is.  So the short answer is, yes you can still come to Chiang Mai to train Muay Thai during the months of February, March and April.  All the gyms are still open and there are still people here.  You can still fight and life goes on as normal.  However, it'll be extra muggy and hot, the air won't be very clean and you may have trouble running outdoors.  Personally, if I could have avoided being here these months, I would have.  If you insist on coming to Chiang Mai during burning season, it might be a good idea to stay at a gym further away from the old city as the majority of the car pollution gathers there.  Santai maybe a good choice as it is 40 minutes outside the city.  The new Tiger Muay Thai Chiang Mai is also 40 minutes outside the city, however it is in Mae Rim Valley where a lot of the field burning takes place.


You can email the Tourist Authority of Thailand, Pollution Control Department, Thailand Government and whoever else may have a say in the matter voicing your thoughts about how the burning season and more immediately important the car smog and pollution is bad for tourism.  

Warm Regards and good luck training where ever you may end up,

Johnny - Read the book if you plan on coming to Thailand!

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