Post image for Purple Haze: Pollution in Chiang Mai

Purple Haze: Pollution in Chiang Mai

by Michael on April 5, 2012

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We really looked forward to visiting Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Travel writers outdid themselves crafting clever similes to describe its ethereal beauty and local color. Others used one word repeatedly to describe it: amazing. That overworked description should have been our first clue that it would be anything but.

Just another tourist ghetto?

Perhaps Chiang Mai was once a magical place for a visit. But whatever attracted those early tourists has morphed into what our Canadian friend Markus calls a “tourist ghetto,” places where the visitor and their wallets are fresh meat. The amenities of such a place are usually no different from hundreds of other similar towns around the globe.

Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai each block takes on a monotonous sameness: hostel, laundry, pub, souvenir shop, 7-11, cross the street and start over again. One sign of a tourist ghetto is a locale where the burger and fried chicken joints outnumber places offering the local cuisine, which in Thailand is a real sin.

Adding to the atmosphere, quite literally, is the incredible air pollution hovering over Chiang Mai. After spending a week hacking and wheezing through the gray air of Hanoi, we looked forward to finally getting out in the country and giving our overworked lungs a break. That was not to be.

Burning season in Chiang Mai

As our flight from Bangkok descended into the muck of Chiang Mai we noticed a change in the cabin air quality, as if some long-lost “Smoking” sign had turned on and the first twenty rows obliged. A view out the window revealed sporadic fires spewing various shades of gray on into the horizon. Farmers here engage in a form of slash-and-burn agriculture that creates a burning season as predictable as spring or summer. Add to this the local custom of burning trash wherever it sits and it appeared that we were descending into Dante’s Inferno.

When we got off the plane we noticed that the air was actually worse than Bangkok, a crowded city of 18 million people. Chiang Mai sits in a bowl formed by the nearby mountain ranges. All that smoke has to go somewhere but it can’t. Instead it gets breathed in and filtered by the people trapped below.

Chiang Mai street scene

The sex trade in Chiang Mai

On the ground our impression of the place didn’t improve. We knew that Bangkok had a notorious red-light district and was a world leader in sex tourism. We didn’t think that Chiang Mai, a city with over 300 Buddhist temples also offered its own tawdry side.

One night after dinner we strolled a few blocks from our hotel. We came upon a street that appeared to be the type of pub row found in many tourist areas. Upon looking in the open-air bars a little more closely we noticed that the typical male tended to be a Westerner in his 60s, gray-haired and paunch-bellied.

Sitting out in front of the pubs were clusters of understandably sullen twenty-year old Thai women available for the hour, the day, the week; legs splayed provocatively to show off their wares. Their lips were painted such a bright scarlet they practically glowed in the dark, as if they were each advertising their own personal red-light district. Now that’s a simile the writers never use to describe Chiang Mai.

What places have disappointed you in your travels?

Click on the link for our candid review of a rubbish-filled beach in Bali. Instead of a burning season this one has a “trash season.”

Chiang Mai air quality update

One of our readers suggested we do a bit more research on the air quality in Chiang Mai. We did and found this interesting story in the Bangkok Post which addresses some of the deteriorating air qualities issues in Northern Thailand. It looks like we were sort of fortunate because the air got even worse during the month after we left. Lesson learned here, even if a place sounds great do your own thorough research before going there. Since we’ve been traveling for so long we got a bit careless and didn’t do so.

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave April 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Sounds from the post like you guys didn’t leave a few block radius around Tha Pae gate and the Night Bazaar. That is by far the most touristed spot in Chiang Mai, with the same mix of sleaze bars and fast food joints you’ll find anywhere else that foreigners congregate in Thailand.

Head several blocks in any direction from there, and you’ll have an entirely different experience. I lived in Chiang Mai for three months, and encountered the issues you’re talking about only on the odd occasions I went to that particular part of town. I chose to spend my time in the small sois tucked well away from the ‘tourist ghetto’, or outside the old city entirely, and it was a very different experience.

It’s a shame that you visited during what is apparently one of the worst burning seasons that northern Thailand has had in many years – even the locals are complaining loudly that the pollution is far, far worse than usual.

Shame that you didn’t enjoy Chiang Mai but hey, there are plenty of other great places in Thailand to explore!

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Us April 6, 2012 at 3:37 am

Hi Dave,

We did get further afield but the air was so bad it didn’t matter much. It’s too bad about the burning season being worse this year. Thanks for the comment.

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Jeffrey July 14, 2013 at 12:16 am

So right Dave, clearly they only wanted to see the bad and stayed only in the heavy tourist area. CHiang Mai is wonderful 9 or 10 months of the year

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Michael July 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

Hi Jeffrey,

I’ll repeat what I told Dave. We did venture further afield from the tourist areas and were still not won over by Chiang Mai. To say that we only wanted to see the bad is an unusual statement. Why would someone only want to see the bad in a place?

I’m glad you are able to enjoy Chiang Mai during the 9 or 10 months of the year.

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Anonymous January 21, 2014 at 1:12 am

I think the issue here is that from your post, you seem to make a blanketed statement about the city. Saying things like “In Chiang Mai each block takes on a monotonous sameness” can lead people to believe that you haven’t ventured far enough from the “tourist ghetto” to get a real sense of what the city has to offer.

My wife and I have been here a couple of weeks, and we spent our first couple of nights within the old city walls a.k.a “tourist ghetto” and didn’t like it much either. We then did a litte research and found a serviced apartment on the outskirts of the city located near one of the universities in a mellow yet active neighborhood filled with friendly locals and excellent food. We’ve not seen another guidebook toting backpacker or any signs in English for days and we love it.

Having said that, I absolutely feel for you with regard to the air pollution thing. I have athsma and that would be an absolute nightmare for me. This is why we’ll be moving back south in a week or so before the buring season starts. I also don’t like Chiang Mai as much as I thought I would so far, but that has less to do with it being a “tourist ghetto” and more to do with me missing the beach.

I hope this perspective is helpful and that you’ll give the city another shot in the future!

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Michael January 21, 2014 at 2:11 am

There are so many places to see in the world it’s hard to imagine returning, but thanks for sharing your experience in Chiang Mai.

Anonymous March 21, 2014 at 12:20 am

And seriously damahing to your health for the opther three months! Apparently the lung cancer rate in Chiang Mai is higher than anywhere else in the country, higher even than Bangkok.

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Rick April 6, 2012 at 6:02 am

We were in Chiang Mai last year and had sort of the same experince. They said its the burning season. I guess thats kind of like the wet season in other places.

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Us April 6, 2012 at 8:40 am

We were in Bali for two weeks during the wet season, just couldn’t avoid it with our scheduling, but at least the air was clean.

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Barry April 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Dude is that a real photo because that air looks nasty.

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Us April 8, 2012 at 5:53 am

Yes they are real photos.

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Melissa April 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I think you guys just came at the wrong time…pity really…because there is reason and truth behind why so many people call Chiang Mai ‘amazing’. You should come during winter or rainy season next time, and venture out of the old city….into the countryside, into the lush fertile plains, away from the tourist crowds. You say that you did venture further afield but it didn’t change that much, well I don’t think you could have ventured that far ! Remember that Chiang Mai is an entire province, not only the city and surrounds.

Next time, venture at least 1hr from they city, go visit some villages, mountains, soak up the authenticity of ‘real’ northern Thailand. Perhaps next time, get a local to show you around , I’m sure you would no longer call Chiang Mai ‘disappointing’

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Us April 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for the thoughtful advice. We did head out to the countryside and still weren’t impressed.

Cheers!

Larissa and Michael

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Carl April 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm

It sounds like if you adjust avoid the burning season, the rainy season and the hot season things are great.

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Us May 1, 2012 at 8:38 am

We guess those are good planning tips.

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Lauren April 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm

This post is ridiculous.

If you were expecting clear skies then you should have done your research before arriving as it is well known that there is high levels of smog at this time of year.

There is so much more local food than Western food. By far. Why didn’t you go to the night markets if you wanted Thai food?

It sounds like you spent the entire time in the touristy areas and didn’t venture away from Tha Pai gate. If you had done, you would have found the *real* Chiang Mai…

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Us April 8, 2012 at 11:44 am

Hi Lauren,

Good to hear from you. We did venture further afield out into the countryside but the overall feeling about the place didn’t change much. Yeah after we got there we Googled “Chiang Mai” and “pollution” and got lots of hits. We hadn’t thought of that ahead of time because we read so many positive stories about Chiang Mai before we went, none of which mentioned the issues we referred to in the article. We’re just trying to provide both sides of the story so others are aware of these issues.

Thanks for checking in.

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Lauren January 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi! I just stumbled across this post again and eep! I just wanted to apologise for leaving such a rude comment.

I’m not quite sure why I seemed to get so upset by your post but I sound like a huge idiot. I also hope I never catch myself referring to “the real [place name]” again. I’ll just go curl up under a rock now.

Hope you both are doing well, and sorry again! :-)

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Michael January 5, 2014 at 9:15 pm

No worries Lauren. We still enjoy following your travels.

Cheers and good luck.

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Nic April 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

How is this post ridiculous? Too many travel bloggers write how every place they go is amazing. It’s nice to read the truth for a change. Hey Lauren, don’t get offended so easily.

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Jeffrey July 14, 2013 at 12:20 am

Well, it’s not really the truth, but really I would like living here better if we had no tourist at all. So maybe you did me a favor

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Jeremy March 21, 2014 at 12:27 am

In all conscience you have to put people off visiting Chiang Mai in the months of March and April. The haze carries PM₂.₅ particles which are seriously damaging to human health. Even people who own property here get the hell out at this time of year.

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Jeff Fields April 10, 2012 at 7:46 am

It’s funny Larissa and Mike, we had the same thoughts our first few days in Chiang Mai. We ended up doing a 1 month massage training about 9 km outside the city, partly due to its charming location in a small village and partly because of the air quality issues cited above. But as we continued to visit over the course of the month we did find redeeming qualities in hip local bars like Sudsanan and Salsa nights on the 2nd floor. It’s a place that was disappointing for us, but if your o.k. being around a lot of Westerner’s in some parts, it can be a lot of fun as well one you accept that.

Anyway, my wife and I have been traveling through SE Asia for about 3 months now. We are from Philadelphia and my Mom told me about your blog after reading it in the paper. We went from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang to celebrate the Lao New Year here – let us know if your coming to this area!

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Us April 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Agreed-it’s nice to be able to delve a bit deeper in these places–and it’s good to get a “Western fix” every now and then. I did take a cooking course out in the countryside one day, where the air was a bit better. But without a reason such as yours to stay for a longer period, the city itself did not entice us to hang around. We did not make it to Lao but have heard great things.

Glad your mom liked the articles.

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james July 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Laos sadly is heading in the same direction.

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Jodi April 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thank you for coming by my site to ping me about this post. I’m sorry to hear you only explored Chiang Mai on a surface level, because the city does have quite a lot to offer. The smog, however? That’s a yearly problem, one that people have been writing about for a long time. The burning of the fields is a chronic problem, with the exception of last year’s early rains. This is always the case in N. Thailand during March and April, regardless of whether it’s Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Mae Hong Son. Plenty of smog in between those too 😉

As to the food, I’m not sure what you ate! The city is full of incredible street stalls and many of them populated by locals only. Falling back on stereotypes of ‘fried chicken’ doesn’t fly well in Thailand either – it’s a Thai speciality! Look no further than the Huay Kaew fried chicken spot that is full of Thais eating dinner – nary a tourist in sight. As with anywhere, scratch a little and you’ll be rewarded with what’s under the surface. Sure, Loi Kroh has some terrible bars, but if you had gone to Nimmen just outside the city walls you’d have been with all Thai people, drinking Sangsom on the lawn.

It is very easy to get away from the touristy nature of the core streets, so I’d recommend heading back there during a different time of year and doing so. Get out to the rice paddies, enjoy Mae Rim, head to Chiang Dao for the caves and the stars. Lots to see.

I’m the first to admit that I love Bangkok far more than Chiang Mai – the energy, the ability to create your own life and daily routines within the confines of the crazy chaos, the people and the food. But Chiang Mai is also a wonderful place if you take the time to explore.

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Us April 11, 2012 at 9:19 am

Hi Jodi,
Thanks for your thoughtful suggestions for future travel in Thailand. We were in Chiang Mai in February which per our research was before the burning season started. A few people have since told us this was a particularly bad year so maybe it started early. We did go further afield but it was tough for any charm to overcome the smog. In a year-long journey not every place will be a winner, just the luck of the draw sometimes.

Cheers,
Larissa and Michael

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Jodi April 16, 2012 at 3:03 am

Understood but your note about the food was unrelated to smog and I think one that could have easily been overcome with the plethora of delicious eats on offer. I’m not defending CM per se, just encouraging you to look past the initial impressions to dig under the surface. The food there is some of the best Thailand has to offer.

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Chris April 15, 2012 at 3:54 am

We were there in February. Based on recomendations and what we read said the burning didn’t start until march but it was just as bad as yur pics. We prob had better food than u but the air really sucked.

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Us April 15, 2012 at 8:20 am

We were there in February as well, so perhaps we were breathing the same bad air. It’s an interesting choice–avoid the rain, and experience the burning, or avoid the burning and risk the rain. The seasons in between may be fine but it still didn’t do much for us. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Tom Bartel April 19, 2012 at 6:00 am

I must say I had a similar experience, with both the air and the culture. Although I didn’t have too much trouble finding good Thai food by going down the side streets and looking for street stalls that Thais were eating at. At one even, a Thai man who spoke excellent English even complimented me for eating there. I was certainly the only Westerner eating there, probably because it took two cans of soda to get the spicy food down. It was excellent, though.

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Tom Bartel April 19, 2012 at 6:21 am

And, another thing: Bali seems to have a millennium old rice growing tradition that doesn’t involve burning. Maybe Thailand could fly over there and see how it’s done.

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Us April 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

We weren’t aware of that. Sounds like everybody should share best practices. Thanks for checking in.

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Richard Needham April 25, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Lauren (above) is just a wee bit blunt, I think. It’s fine to give a different perspective, but Lauren, please learn to phrase things tactfully and with consideration for others. Thanks

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Us May 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

We’ve found that some people take it really personally if we insult a place they like. We’re just trying to present our honest feelings about a destination so others know what to be aware of.

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Lawrence Michaels July 5, 2012 at 12:11 am

I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t really enjoy your trip to Chiang Mai, I really enjoyed it this past January. Compared to other places in Thailand, Chiang Mai as a whole is very friendly and not out to get your wallet. April is typically the worst month to go as the pollution is at it’s worst, this year was notoriously bad for some reason.

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Michael August 16, 2012 at 7:03 am

Hi Lawrence,

We had heard that April was bad which was why we went in February. I guess it’s tough to tell ahead of time.

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Nancie August 16, 2012 at 7:00 am

Apparently the burning started early this year, which was certainly bad luck for you. As far as the food goes, well I have to agree with the comments of other posters. There is great food everywhere in Chiang Mai and you don’t have to look all that hard. I’m not attacking you. I know when you visit a city for only a few days you don’t always find the best places to eat. I would advise giving CM another chance.

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Michael August 16, 2012 at 7:05 am

We were there for a week but just couldn’t get past the hacking and wheezing. Glad you enjoyed it. Your post noted above has some beautiful photos.

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Will September 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Too bad you didn’t like Chiang Mai! I lived there for a year and loved every minute of it. I also didn’t chance across the red-light district during my stay, which predictably can sour your impression. It’s SEA, prostitution and corruption happen. If that kind of thing turns you off to a city, research can help to avoid those unsightly streets which draw and repulse so many. For me, the charm in Chiang Mai lives in the small alleys of the old city, the cheap local markets, Nimman, Huay Kaew waterfall, and the people, some of the friendliest, gentlest, and most soft-spoken in Thailand. Millions come to CM every year and love it, but there in lies the rub: With the tourists and their dollars come unscrupulous businesspeople and practices that push out the local lifestyle, etc. etc…. Basically, it just ain’t as good as it used to be!

No matter how many PSAs the gov’t runs, there’s not going to be any serious reduction of smog unless they get serious about penalizing offenders. It seems to be epidemic in Thailand, nothing is done about anything until it’s too late. Hopefully they get the smog under control before all the tourists and their money runs away. I understand your sentiment though. I was in Laos this past March/April, and was underwhelmed by the environs due to smog and dryness. Try Chiang Mai again outside of the last months of dry season, if you get a chance. It’s a famous food city, and it’s not that hard to find good stuff outside of Tha Pae. Khao Soi, Hor Neung Gai, Nam Phrik, mmm! Thanks for the post, and making people aware of the burning situation, it’s bad!

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Michael November 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

It’is a shame how the popularity of a place can ruin what once made it popular in the first place. In Chiang Mai, and other areas affected by air pollution, it requires a change in centuries old traditions, which is difficult.

Thanks for checking in.

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Robin Lee November 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

Perhaps try Chiang Rai when you visit again. The air quality will be the same, but some how, it just didn’t feel that touristy to us. In fact, Chiang Rai is one of the places that we have stayed the longest on our 14 months so far. It was very relaxed. We ate with locals and took the most fantastic cooking class. Larissa, please let me know when you go back so I can give you the cooking class, it was amazing. The white temple is stunning and renting a scooter is a fun way to visit the temple, as well as the surrounding countryside.

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Michael November 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Thanks for the tip Robin.

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John Lee February 16, 2013 at 12:46 am

February 16, 2013. Here we go again. The air pollution is starting.
Will the air be unfit to breathe until the end of March? I cannot understand why anyone would come here.

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

They were supposed to cut back on the burning but I guess it was another bad year.

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John April 8, 2013 at 3:27 am

We arrived in CM in early April 2013. The smog is debilitating for me. I have had asthma since age 2 (I’m 49 now) and I take daily meds for it. This is month 6 in our RTW trip and it’s the first time I have been confined to our room. It sucks because I imagine this is a lovely place to visit during other parts of the year.

My wife bought a few 3M masks for me but at this point, with how lousy I feel, I just want out. She’s even feeling it, but our kids don’t notice it all thankfully.

The only other time I have experienced such severe smog was in Delhi during one of their notorious “black fog” episodes. By the time I collected my luggage, went through customs, and drove a long way to my hotel in a non air-conditioned taxi I had a full-on attack.

And yes, we should have known. I do see one sentence in the LP’s 972 page “SE Asia on a Shoestring” book now but missed it until after arrival. We will also modify the rest of our trip in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It’s a hot time of the year and we expected the heat and a little smog in the big cities (just like back in the US) but not this bad.

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Michael April 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

Hi John,

Sorry to hear about your troubles in Chiang Mai. We can certainly relate. For the rest of your trip, we found that southern Vietnam was not as bad as northern Vietnam. We were in Hanoi for 8 days and never saw the sun. Cambodia was ok until someone living next to where we were staying started burning piles of plastic trash, creating toxic clouds wafting over us. Good luck.

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John April 8, 2013 at 11:37 am

Thanks Michael, we have learned our lesson and now overlaying air quality reports and forecasts:) We have loads of flexibility on this trip so will adjust accordingly.

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Lawrence Michaels April 8, 2013 at 8:44 am

I see you commented on it in your post, but I thought I’d just reiterate it here in case anyone didn’t notice. Chiang Mai is exceptionally bad due to the contour of the surrounding mountains. It forms a bowl much similar to the Los Angeles basin. The smog, or in this case, burning agriculture, rises up but can’t escape the basin, so it just settles back down over the land. They were suppose to ban the burning last year after they had a huge health problem, I guess that didn’t really stick.

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Michael July 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Thanks for the tip. We did notice that basin when we were flying in.

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Sohtun May 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

We are from Ann Arbor, MI, traveling around the world. We came to Chiang Mai in Nov 2012 but liked it so much that we decided to make Chiang Mai our home for one year. Chiang Mai is bad if you don’t time it right otherwise, its BEAUTIFUL. We are plan to leave for Portugal, Spain and Cyprus at the begining of 2014.

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I hope you enjoyed your stay. Good luck on your global journey.

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Talon May 17, 2013 at 11:26 am

Thanks for doing a post that was real! Far too often I see nothing but glowing experiences. Yes, so many places are incredibly fabulous, but I’ve yet to meet anyone on the road for a lengthy period of time who experiences nothing but perfection.

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Michael May 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hi Talon,

As you can see, this post wasn’t without some controversy. But we get tired of everything being described as “amazing” so we threw in our two cents. Glad you appreciated it.

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Corey and Tom July 9, 2013 at 1:33 am

We visited Thailand in 2005. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, and Puttaya. We also crossed into Laos and even into Burma. The trip was truly one of the most amazing of our lives. We visited for three weeks in October, so while hot and humid, we did not experience poor air quality. The success of our vacation we attribute to having pre-hired tour-guides. We were met at the airports by the guides who provided their own cars and drivers. The spent the days with us from morning to evening and drove us to places we would never have seen otherwise. The guides were extremely affordable, and the Thai people one of the most gracious among any of our world travels.

So, we highly recommend a Thailand visit. Now, Puttaya was a piece of work. We stayed one night and left immediately. Yuke! We found it to be a dirty little place with lots of people approaching us for various purchases that we were not the least bit interested.

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thanks for the tips. We kind of prefer independent travel but a knowledgeable local guide can help sometimes.

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Nong July 9, 2013 at 2:57 am

I come from chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is nice. Your town of Philadelphia is a hell hole.

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Ah, the devil is in the details but I respect your hometown pride. You must have been in Philly during an Eagles game.

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Matt July 9, 2013 at 8:17 am

I moved there after reading so much about it online as being the ultimate destination for a (please excuse this awful phrase) “digital nomad”.

When I arrived, I was stunned at how dreadful it was. OK, I stayed in the Old City but it was so depressing. The place was deserted. It was like how I imagine the Australian outback bar scene to be. All I saw were sexpats with aging Thai girlfriends, the occasional gang of 20 something male US flashpackers with their baseball caps, sports vests and Wayfarer sunglasses, oh, and lots and lots of French couples with babies.

I stayed 10 days and decided I’d had enough – no way could I live there it was utterly depressing! I moved straight back to Bangkok.

Much better.

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Glad you enjoyed Bangkok.

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ron July 9, 2013 at 11:27 am

Hello,
I must say I find this article rather depressing and one sided, you clearly did not like what you vaguely saw of Chiang Mai. I love Chiang Mai and I live and work here. it is a beautiful and charming city, however not without its flaws, as most buzzing centres have them. Traffic, and burning are concerns, you are right, but I moved here from New York and that was worse for pollution, not to mention prostitution. London wasn’t much better and five times the cost of living. . I wouldnt want to put anyone off coming to Chiang Mai. I dont think a fleeting visit anywhere can really sum up the place.
Peace x

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Michael July 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Hi Ron,

Thanks for your insight. I grew up in New York and don’t see the pollution comparison at all but to each his own. Glad you are enjoying it where you are.

Cheers.

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james July 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Much of Thailand has been ruined. The type of tourist that Thailand attracts did not help matters. Add to the list of ruined locations. Chiang Rai, Pai, Phitsanulok, Koh Samui and the other islands, or just about anywhere listed in the Lonely Planet.

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Brenda Joyce August 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

I had visited BKK probably 8 times over the years. I went up to Chiang Mai on the advice of my Thai SF landlord.

After living most of each year there since then I believe I made a good choice in staying in CM rather than BKK, which I continue to enjoy.

The weather conditions you mention are true – and as another post mentioned, also true in Chiang Rai and other northern areas. Each year the government promises reform but that never happens and this year there were forest fires as well as crop and trash burnings. Even the Thais were complaining.

I found myself adjusting to the weather by arising early for all errands, staying inside most of the day and then going out at night when it was only marginally cooler but I could not “see” the air. I grew up in LA and am not a stranger to smog.

My very pleasant life includes Thai friends – that makes me feel this is really home. A brief visit will typically give only an overview of what is near your hotel or on your tour. Backpackers annoy me by showing up in shorts at a temple, even with clear signs asking them to not do so. Old guys with bar girls are as disgusting as they are anywhere. Sorry you had such a surface view of CM – but I understand everything you wrote – it’s just that there is so much more there.

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Steve March 22, 2014 at 3:06 am

I stumbled across your blog after watching your short interview on Yahoo earlier today. Then I had to check out your impressions of Chiangmai! It is interesting how defensive some people get when their hometown or new place of residence is criticized! :) As a Canadian expat, I have lived and worked in Canada, Scotland, China and now Chiangmai, Thailand. There are pros and cons about everywhere you find yourself. You are certainly not the first blogger to feel the way you did about this city.

After six years in China, a couple of months of smoky air is not so bad! And we often had the same thing in the interior of BC, Canada, during the forest fire season every summer. For now, we love it here! The weather, the food, the cost of living and the people are great. Whether we stay here forever is yet to be seen.

btw Beautiful blog design! I have been inspired to do some reworking of mine. Editor note: This commenter’s blog is at thaicanuck.com

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Michael March 22, 2014 at 8:33 am

Thanks for the background info and good luck with your blog and life in Thailand.

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khun loong February 4, 2015 at 8:08 pm

u r surprised that a city of this size has 1 street devoted 2 sleazy bars? …. 5 minutes online will tell u that air quality in north t-land can be horrible late feb. to may…. …2012 was brutal …2013 tolerable …2014 pleasant….m

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meg mcdonald April 12, 2015 at 9:21 am

I have just returned from Chiang Mai. left earlar than planned as I could not breath the. pollution was so thick.

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Michael Ray FitzGerald June 12, 2015 at 4:09 am

This is my fourth trip to CM. It’s a fascinating place, especially if you get away from the tourist areas. The problem I am having is that I don’t like most of the farangs who live here–I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Most of them seem to be in a bad mood. Maybe it’s because they’re old and cranky. I seem to be in a bad mood as well and am having headaches and fatigue. Maybe they are experiencing the same thing? Must be the bad air, I think.

The other problem is if you wanna accomplish anything here, such as getting a job or starting a business of your own, it’s such a hassle it’s almost not worth it. I am not one of those people who like sitting around all day–I gotta be doing something constructive. The only job one could get here would be teaching English. There are serious roadblocks to navigate everywhere you turn.

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