March fires in Thailand!

Chiang Mai, in March, the most polluted city in the world!

Unless you have no choice, you have to be a bit crazy to go to Chiang Mai in March. The pollution in the area at this time is quite worrying and has been for many years.

I would not recommend anyone to go to this part of the country during the period from mid-February to mid-April (Songkran) as the air is absolutely unbreathable. I myself have cancelled my future trips, as long as the situation remains unchanged, to these regions I love.

How bad is it? Just look at the following two photos of Chiang Mai's famous mountain, Doi Suthep.

On a clear day, the view should be what the left picture shows below... and the right picture is what you would see from the same place in February, March, April...

The airport and the planes are equipped to land in fog... fortunately!

 Why ?

These smoke mists appear every year at the same time. To understand this, you need to know the seasons in Thailand. Part of Southeast Asia is affected by the monsoon and Thailand has essentially three seasons: the hot season, the rainy season and the cold season.
The rainy season runs from June to October and it is during this time of the year that rice is planted and then grows.

The cold season runs from November to February, and the hot season is from March to May.
In this northern part of the country, the cold and hot periods are very dry and it rarely rains, so this is the best time to burn grass, land, fields...

These "agricultural fires" are organised by rice farmers in the valleys. After the rice harvest, there is a lot of material left, old rice stalks that need to be removed to prepare the soil for the next planting, and the best and most efficient way to clean their land is to set their fields on fire, so this is what happens at this time of the year... it results in huge amounts of smoke that pollute the air.

But there are also forest fires created by people living in the hills for many reasons: they may do it to clear an undergrowth, to flush out wild boars, or they may do slash-and-burn farming to clear trees from the forest land and use it to grow other crops.
Another habit that is very common is the tendency to sweep up dry leaves, make piles of them and then set them on fire. No matter where you are in the country, this is a very common way of disposing of leaves that fall on your property. 
Another cause of the smoke is rubbish fires due to lack of access to landfills. Thousands of villages burn their waste to get rid of it.

Entire forests are burned to replant oil palm trees. These fires also affect Myanmar, Laos and the whole of northern Thailand.
The result of all this is that thousands of people are visiting hospitals in the region, complaining of eye infections, chest pains, throat and sinus irritations, not to mention heart problems.
In Chiangmai, 189 mg/m3 of particulate matter was recorded, the maximum level considered non-toxic is 120 mg/m3 , visibility is limited to 3 kilometres.

The public health department has put its hospitals on alert to receive patients with breathing difficulties, stinging eyes, coughing, and even headaches. 140,000 masks have been distributed in 7 northern provinces.
At the end of last week, the army was called in to send water and fire trucks to reduce the haze.

Many people complain and suffer

Alors... que fait le gouvernement ?

Pas grand-chose, il faut bien le reconnaître. Dans la province de Lampang, il y a quelques semaines des menaces d'amendes ont été proférées envers les gens qui continueraient à bruler…  mais ce n’est qu’une petite province… et ces menaces, on t'elles été respectées ? je n'en ai pas l'impression.

Je constate qu’en mars 2015, la situation est toujours la même… on brule, on brule, on brule !

Personnellement, j’ai changé mes habitudes de « monter dans le nord » en mars, au moment où ma fille a ses grandes vacances scolaires.

Dorénavant, je vais me diriger vers le sud du pays, (Trang, Pattalung, Thale Noi) une partie que je connais bien mal. Ce sera l’occasion de découvrir autre chose de ramener des photos claires et nettes.

Quant à vous qui avez l’habitude de venir faire un tour sur ce site à la recherche de renseignements, de photos, , je ne peux que vous conseiller d’éviter Chiang-Mai, Chiang-Rai et une grosse partie nord du pays à cette période de l’année !

C’est dommage… car c’est bien beau « là-haut » et j’aime tellement m’y rendre... mais monter au mont Phu Chi Fa à 1600m d'altitude et ne voir que du brouillard, ou bien me retrouver au Triangle d'Or et ne même pas être en mesure d'apercevoir la rive du Laos... on ne m'y prendra plus !

So... what is the government doing?
Not much, admittedly. In Lampang province, a few weeks ago, threats of fines were made to people who would continue to burn... but it's only a small province... and have these threats been respected? I don't think so.

I see that in March 2015, the situation is still the same... we burn, we burn, we burn!

Personally, I have changed my habits of "going up north" in March, when my daughter has her big school holidays.
From now on, I'll be heading towards the south of the country (Trang, Pattalung, Thale Noi), a part I don't know well. It will be an opportunity to discover something else and bring back clear and sharp pictures.
As for you who are used to visiting this site in search of information and photos, I can only advise you to avoid Chiang-Mai, Chiang-Rai and a large part of the north of the country at this time of the year!
It's a pity... because it's beautiful "up there" and I love going there so much... but going up to Phu Chi Fa mountain at 1600m and seeing only fog, or finding myself in the Golden Triangle and not even being able to see the Lao shore... I won't be taken there again!

Mount Phu Chi Fa, at 1600 m... in the mist !

A burnt-out mountainside near Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai, polluted...