Has Burning Season Has Started in Chiang Mai?

Every year around this time the internet, facebook groups, and online chats start talking about the burning season starting here in Chiang Mai which is why I've updated it again for 2019 / 2020. In this post, I'm updating this article for the 5th year in the row detailing exact days when burning season really started and started getting bad enough for most nomads including myself to leave. Is burning season really that bad? Is it really unhealthy for you? Can I stay in Chiang Mai? Where should I go instead? This post answers it all so keep reading for a definitive answer from someone who's actually been through the worst years, and has both stayed through as well as escaped burning season for five years now.

When I first wrote this post on February 22nd, 2015, I wrote "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." What hasn't changed is the fact that  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. Officially burning season in Chiang Mai is from March 1st - April 12th every year but can start a week before or after depending on the weather and rain. Keep reading for details and more information.

When is Burning Season?

In 2013 I was just starting my first online business and was too broke to leave Chiang Mai. Luckily the burning didn't start until mid March and since I didn't have any options I sat through it just as I did the year before in 2012 when I was training and living at a Muay Thai gym.

In 2014
 the burning season really started getting bad on March 15th. It was the day I remember it being bad enough where I wanted to get away.  Luckily, Rock Climbing in Krabi was only a cheap flight away.

In 2015 it started on February 21st which is when this post was originally written before the updates.

In 2016 : This year it started today February 15th and it's already getting really bad. Which is why I flew down to Koh Lanta for a second year in a row.

In 2017: This year it started after February around 28th which is the day I left Chiang Mai for Bali then escaped there to Barcelona.

In 2018: Today is February 12th and although there there is haze in the air, the air quality is still fine for most healthy people, including myself who is normally the first one to jump on a plane down to the islands as soon as it starts getting bad. Watch this video for an overview of burning season in Chiang Mai and everything you need to know.

Update: Today is February 22nd, 2018 and the air is very good, you can see the mountain clearly along with clouds. This is why people get so confused as it seemed to have started two weeks ago, cleared up, but will surely get bad again in March. Watch the video below for more info.

In 2019: Today is February 1st, 2019 and same as last year, there is a bit of haze in the air so it's getting harder to see the mountain, but in general the air quality is still fine. My plan is to stay until February 20th for the month then go to Sri Lanka.

2019 Update #1: The burning season has started early this year on February 12th, 2019. There is a lot of haze in the air and we can feel the dryness. It's not yet bad enough to cause coughing or red eyes, but it's a shame that it's happening early this year as normally it doesn't start until closer to the end of the month.

2019 Update #2: Oops, false alarm. This happens every year so I should have known better. On Feb 12th a few farmers started burning which caused the air to be terrible that day. But then the authorities cracked down and by Feb 13th you could see the mountain again and the air was fine. A lot of people have left prematurely but the air was actually fine even on February 18th,

2019 Update #3: This was the worst air quality and burning season of the decade. In the past 6 years I've been living in Chiang Mai, 2019 was by far the worst. The good new is that it was so bad that even the deniers had to accept that it's bad for your health and many of them left. Hopefully it was bad enough for the Thai government to actually step in and do something about it next year.

2020 Update #1: I'm back in Chiang Mai for 2020 and the air right now at the end of December 2019 is fine, you can see the mountains, and all is well. However, the fear mongering has started early this year and some nomads are already starting to planning to leave prematurely this year even though January is one of the best months to be here and those leaving early will definitely miss out.

2020 Update #2: It's Dec 29th, 2019 right now and the internet it freaking out about burning season starting and the air quality being bad already. Pieter Levels who isn't even in Chiang Mai is warning people not to come. However, as someone who's actually here right now, and has been living here for 6 years, it's the same cycle I've seen. Some farmers start to burn early, then they stop, or it rains. Then the rest of January is fine and a great time to be here. In fact I just went for a 2 hour hike yesterday and walked around the old city for 3 hours without any issues. (and i'm sensitive to bad air). My prediction is that the same as the past 6 years, it'll start and stop, then really start Feb 15th-20th, in which time you should leave and come back April 13th.

He was wrong and January was a great month. 

2020 Update #3: It's Dec 30th, 2019 and the air in Chiang Mai is good again as predicted. It rained yesterday and cleared up all of the smoke and wet the fields so farmers won't start burning again anytime soon. Just like I mentioned in this post as well as the video below, the same thing happens each and every year. It kind of starts, people start freaking out, then it rains, clears up, and the rest of January is great time to be in Chiang Mai.

Morning of Dec 30th, 2019, air is great.

2020 Update #4: it's now February 3rd, 2020 and the air in Chiang Mai is actually better than it is in Bangkok. Don't get me wrong, I wish that burning season would just not happen in the first place, but it's a shame that people online spread fear and tell people not to go to Chiang Mai as January was actually a great month and those who skipped it missed out.

2020 Update #5: it's now March 11th, 2020 and as predicted, the air quality in Chiang Mai is once again terrible due to the crop burning of both northern Thailand as well as neighboring countries such as Burma. Until Thailand figures out a solution, as mentioned in this article, avoid Chiang Mai all of March and come back when the rains start usually mid April.

March 11th, 2020 - Chiang Mai Burning Season

Watch this video below:

This is a full explanation of what burning season, why they do it, how to know when it really has started, and how to help stop it from happening again in the future.

The Burning Denyers

Just as there are flat Earth advocates and moon landing deniers, there's also people who simply refuse to believe that burning season is bad for you. These people usually have a reason why they need to stay in Chiang Mai during March and want to encourge others to stay. Some are just lazy and comfortable here and don't mind dealing with moving around. Not talking about the Thai locals who call Chiang Mai a home, but as for the foreigner denyers some have kids, jobs or businesses, property or businesses here or are simply too broke that they can't leave. Others just don't really care about their health and are the type who would happily live in polluted cities like Beijing or smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.

Either way, just be warned, there are a handful of very loud, outspoken people who will deny that burning season is bad for you. Don't listen to them. Watch the video above for my explanation on why you should 100% leave Chiang Mai from end of Feb-March-April if you have the option and why it's as bad and as unhealthy as it sounds.

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 as well as get rid of bio waste such as corn husks and cobs that can't be sold. It's technically illegal to burn, and even farmers know it's really bad for the environment, but it isn't enforced and until very recently there hasn't been a cheap, easily solution or alternative. More about that solution later in this post. 

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 a lot more bearable, but since the car pollution gets trapped under the smoke from the mountains, it becomes toxic and gets trapped under a blanket of smoke. Luckily the red trucks and tuk-tuks below are slowly getting phased out to newer models and Grab Taxis that don't spew smoke, but it's taken a lot longer than necessarily due to corruption and bribery. 

This photo is dramatized to show how bad it sometimes feels.

When the Burning Season 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 or a few days before April 13th which is a few days before the Thai New Year water festival known as Songkran. We're lucky that the big water festival brings thousands of tourists, nomads and expats back to Chiang Mai every year as without it, there would be a big chance people would move on and leave Thailand at least until the high season starts again the start of November. If you've never been to Songkran, it's best in Chiang Mai, and it's something that you have to do once in your life.

Burning season in Chiang Mai, Thailand this year and every year starts from February 20th through April 12th. It can start a week or two earlier but always ends on April 12th right before the Songkran Water Holiday Festival. However last year in April 2019 the burning continued until the end of the month past Songkran, I hope it's a trend that doesn't happen again. 

Should You Stay?

I don't recommend anyone stay in Chiang Mai, Pai or northern Thailand from March 1st-April 12th. A lot of how bad it feels immidently depends on if you have allergies or are sensitive to smoke and bad air pollution. But in the long term it's bad for everyone and can literally takes years off of your life. It's NEVER good for you and if you have a location independent business or the freedom to travel, you should. That's the whole point of being a digital nomad. 

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. I have flights booked to Krabi for mid March as my parents 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.

Update: February 25th, 2015

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.

Update 2: March 4th, 2015

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

Update 2020: Read the updates on the top section to see what I've been doing for the past 5 years since I first wrote this article. I update it each year but also leave in the data from before so you can see the trends and dates. 

2018 Update and Thoughts

Even though the air is still fine enough to be here right now, and there are plenty of other digital nomads and friends in town as of February 12th, 2018 and i've been going hiking outdoors everyday without issue...if I would have planned my year better I would have opted to fly out earlier. It's ideally better to arrive in Chiang Mai from October 15th and stay until February 15th if you want to assure yourself of the best weather and air quality. August and September are the rainy months and starting in March it's the burning season, but those 5 or so months in between are perfect. It never gets too hot, it doesn't rain too much and the air is great from all of the rainfall clearing it up.

My plan for 2018 is to arrive as early as October 1st, 2018 and stay until February 15th, 2019. That way I can enjoy a long period of time in Chiang Mai without moving around too much, and leave before the smoke gets bad. That being said, we scheduled the 2019 Nomad Summit for mid January to assure it's well before the burning starts. If you haven't already, please watch the video I made talking about the burning season in Chiang Mai and if you want to help support the solution to ending it all once and for all, check out the Stop the Smoke Campaign and make a donation. 

2020 Thoughts and Updates

The pollution is starting to have a major effect on tourism and local businesses that rely on foreigners, expats and digital nomads. This past year was the slowest I've ever seen tourism and the smallest digital nomad crowd I've seen in years in Chiang Mai.

Luckily the Nomad Summit held this year January 18th, 2020 still brought 300 attendees to the event and to Chiang Mai, but it was actually a smaller crowd than we had last year. A lot of people wanted to come but were afraid of burning season starting early this year as it did in 2019. If it wasn't for the Nomad Summit, over 200+ digital nomads wouldn't have come to Chiang Mai this year at all, which would have resulted in thousands of dollars being lost by local businesses. 

We still had a good turn out and had an amazing conference, but already are fearful for the burning season affects for 2021 or even just thought of it causing digital nomads not to want to come to Thailand during January which is traditionally a very good month air quality and weather wise. Here's a video from the most recent event which brought in 300 attendees from all around the world, who collectively brought in and spend over 10 million thb ($317,000 usd) during their trips to Thailand this year.

Stay healthy!

Johnny FD

Enjoy this post? Share it with your friends.

Like This Post? Share It!

thailand 8453608676631098764

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. =)

  8. Hello, other than Chang Mai what other countries or cities have a huge digital nomad following? Ive huge Bali is huge but wanted to see other cities/countries that may have a cheap cost of living and lot of entrepreneurs to network with. Thanks

    1. Las Palmas is a great spot as well!

  9. Super useful post. I'm a friend of Miles Beckler btw. Johnny, what do you think about showing up mid-April for a month or so? You don't mention the months of May or June at all in this. Just wondering. I'd be there about a month.

    1. Mid April is when it usually tails off, as the rains begin. There was a touch of rain yesterday. The smokey season has been earlier this year, so maybe the rains will be easrly too, to clean the air? If it is bad here are some tips like which face masks to wear and why you should get more vitamin B

    2. Thanks for your take. I appreciate it. Just as soon arrive after the need for a facemask!

  10. What sort of PM pollution levels does Chiang Mai have at other (non-smokey season) times of year? Is it within the ‘moderate’ (50-100) range? Does it ever get to ‘good’ range of 0-50? Thanks!

    1. During May-January the air is clean and is usually in the good range, especially during and after rainy season in the summer. I can't find any data with exact numbers, but i'll be sure to check it again during the good times, but in general aside from the pollution that comes from the corruption controlled tuk-tuks and taxi-trucks (which will hopefully be phased out soon), the actual air quality is very good in Chiang Mai.

  11. To those following this thread, I wanted to ask if burning season is over yet for 2018 in Chiang Mai. Anyone able to relay up to date info? Tx, Tom

    1. It's been really bad this March, 2018, but it'll be over in a few days as farmers stop burning for the Thai New Year (Songkran) starting around April 12th.

  12. Great Information sharing .. I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post home page

  13. Would you advise skipping Chiang Mai late February (22-25)? Is the haze pretty bad during this time even though it begins March 1st?

  14. Thanks Johnny for the detailed post and discussions. Given that the new law bans burning from March 1 to April 20, does this not push the farmers to burn their fields earlier? When are they allowed to start burning? On 2019 update#2, you mentioned a few farmers started burning on February 12, and were stopped by the authorities. I am unclear as to when they are actually allowed to start. I am planning to go to Chiang Mai in February 2020 and move south from their. Could you please comment on this?

  15. Hi Johnny! I plan to stay 2 weeks in chaing mai from feb 4 until 18 this year. Should I worry? Or this time the air is still good? Aucatlly I live in bangkok so here is also bad air quality most of the year.


Please take a second to log in before you comment. I've turned off the anonymous commenting option. I'm open and respectful with you, please be the same back. Stay positive, trolls and spam comments will be automatically deleted.


Home item

Blog Archive

Are you an Insider yet?

Search this Blog

Keep in touch


Any product or service I recommend on this blog I personally use and would recommend to both friends and family. All links on this site are affiliate links so please use them in the resources page or anywhere on the blog if you want to give me credit for referring you.

If you want to learn more about how to start your own blog and make money as an affiliate by earnestly recommending products, check out my course Income Boss.

Featured Post: Read Me!

2020 Travel Plans and 2019 Recap: 11 Countries Traveled!

Want to start an online business?

Want to start an online business?
A post written for friends and family - Step by Step instructions on How to start your own online store.