Burning Season Has Started in Chiang Mai.

Yesterday was the first day of burning season this year, the first day where the air quality got bad enough where I wished I wasn't in Chiang Mai. For some people it was a week ago, and for others they won't really notice it or care until mid next month.  I love clean, fresh mountain air, so whenever the pollution gets bad enough for me to stop seeing the mountains or want to go for a run outdoors, it has started.

Last year the date was March 15th. The day I remember it being bad enough where I wanted to get away.  Keep reading to find out when it ends, why it happens and where I plan to go until it's done.

2016 Edit: This year it started today February 15th and it's already getting really bad. Which is why I'm taking off to Koh Lanta tomorrow.

Why it happens?

The farmers in both northern thailand and bordering Burma burn their fields during this dry season to prepare their land for the next year. It's technically illegal, and really bad for the environment, but it isn't enforced. 

That combined with with unregulated pollution of taxis, cars and trucks lead to bad air quality in northern thailand including Chiang Mai, Pai, Chiang Rai and everywhere north of Bangkok. If the Thai government would simply regulate smog from Taxis, Trucks and Tuk Tuks, the burning itself would be a bit more bearable, but since the car pollution gets trapped under the smoke from the mountains, it becomes toxic and unbearable. 

When it ends?

Even though the official start date of burning season varies everywhere, and usually gets really bad mid-march it changes every year. If you want to be safe, try to be out of Chiang Mai by mid to late February, the starting dates vary depending on how dry it's been, so if it rained recently, you can be assured the burning will be postponed for at least a few weeks. 

However, it always ends on April 13th which is a few days before the Thai New Year water festival known as Songkran.

What to do?

I don't recommend anyone stay in Chiang Mai, Pai or northern Thailand from March 1st-April 13th. A lot of how bad it gets depends on if you have allergies or are sensitive to smoke and bad air pollution.  But it's NEVER good for you and if you have a location independent business or the freedom to travel, you should.

Personally, I go down to Koh Lanta and enjoy the fresh ocean air, beautiful white sand beaches and continue my life as a digital nomad down there for a few months until it clears up.

The solution?

Read the blog post I wrote exactly: 5 Tips to Survive Burning Season in Chiang Mai. 

What am I doing?

I have flights booked to Krabi for mid March as my parent's are coming to visit then. I also told Larissa that if the air gets worse before then, we'll just change or forfeit our flights and go down a few weeks early. We're within walking distance to PunSpace and to our gym, both which are indoors and filtered.

Best times to come to Chiang Mai? 

Anytime between April 13th - February 15th so it's great 10 months of the  year.  Life still goes on in Chiang Mai during burning season, there are still people here, apartments can be found for cheap, 100% of businesses are still open, but I personally advise you not to come between March and April. 

Alternative places to go during burning season?

Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan, Bali, the Philippines, Saigon, Taiwan, anywhere, the world is your oyster and we are location independent digital nomads for a reason!

Edit: February 25th

It's been a few days since I wrote this and thank goodness the air cleared up again. It's now Feb 25th and the air quality is actually really good. It looks like March 15th is still the date that it'll start getting bad enough not to be in Chiang Mai.

Edit 2: March 4th

It's gotten so bad in Chiang Mai that we booked a last minute plane ticket and are now down at Koh Lanta.  

Stay healthy!


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Post a Comment

  1. Come to Phangan Johnny! Would love to meet and you and Larissa could work in Koh Space :-)


    1. Hey thanks Peter. We'd love to check out Koh Space in the future but we're meeting my parents in Lanta this trip!

    2. That sounds great! My parents are visiting me early May on KP, also very excited about that. I guess I'll see you when I see you.

  2. Are you still paying rent for your apartment in Chiang Mai while you're away for a month?

    1. Yup. We signed a 1 year contract for our condo as it was significantly cheaper, and at the end of the day, it's not a huge deal to keep our place empty for a month knowing that all of our stuff will be untouched when we get back.

      For those renting month to month, if your rent is less than $300 and you can afford it, I would still rather keep the apartment empty and not deal with looking for another place when you get back.

  3. Dang! Just as I was about to fly to Chiang Mai for a month to try to kickstart my drop shipping business, like you and Anton inspired me to do, the burning season has started. I have been voraciously consuming your podcasts and blog posts for the past couple of months and now I can't get Chiang Mai out of my head. I only have the next 5 weeks off work though, so I was wondering if you have any advice on where else a rookie like me could go to connect with other online entrepreneurs and focus on bootstrapping my business? Are there any good digital nomad hubs in the south of Thailand that you could recommend, or is it still worthwhile to go to Chiang Mai?

    1. Hey Darko, if you can't move your vacation time, come to Koh Lanta instead. I'm sitting at KoHub right now and it's a good place to connect and work. I wouldn't go to Chiang Mai until after April 12th. Best of luck and see you inside the forums! If you can, start it before you come as it'll be easier to be in the U.S. time zone.

    2. Thanks for the quick reply Johnny! That makes my decision much easier. I will be booking my ticket tonight. I'm super excited to come out there. I have been working my way through the Anton Method, but with a 90+ hr/wk work schedule, and kids it is so hard to focus and give the business the attention it needs to get off the ground. KoHub looks like just the place to do that. I can practically smell the coffee and taste the banana pancakes from here.

    3. Hey Darko, you're going to love it there! It'll be good to have time to yourself to focus on building your store and to clear your mind and relax.

  4. How does the cost of living in Thailand/Chiang Mai compare to a place like, say, Belize? Also taking into account trips abroad and back home for visa purposes.

    1. Chiang Mai is much cheaper than Belize and a much better standard of living. The islands of Thailand are also much better than the Bay Islands. (I've lived in both)

      As far as going back to the US. If you live in TX Belize is easier, but for San Francisco it's the same.

  5. Hi Johnny, thanks for this article.

    I'm a kiwi flying from Brisbane. I am booked to arrive Chaing mai, 12 March. Bad timing I know but too late to change.

    My plan is to find an apartment and set up for 6 months.

    My question is, will I be able to find an apartment easily in March, will there be lots of empty apartments since everyone has left? are all the apartment managers still around? also, would I get a cheaper deal at this time of year?

    I could go visit friends in Cambodia, but I dont want to waste 4 weeks drinking and partying, really fired up to just set myself up and get after it.

  6. We are planning on going to Chiang Mai end of April beginning of May. Should the burning season be over by then or should we plan on doing beaches first and go to Chiang Mai a week later

  7. We are planning on going to Chiang Mai end of April beginning of May. Should the burning season be over by then or should we plan on doing beaches first and go to Chiang Mai a week later

    1. Hey Christine, it ends around April 13th so it's over now. =)


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