Face masks please!

Well, Chiang Mai has another season apart from the traditional rainy, cool and hot ones you read about on travel sites. It starts sometimes between February and March, and can last until the first rains come (sometime in May). Some refer to it as ‘burning season’ and the pollution during this period is notoriously bad, and apart from smelling like a small bonfire, it can lower the air quality to being borderline dangerous for your health.

Smoky season is caused by the geography of the area, with mountains on three sides and no breeze the smog just hangs over the city. The causes are attributed to various things, burning of rubbish, forest fires, burning of rice paddys to grow mushrooms (apparently these particular mushrooms only grow under burnt soil) but whatever the cause this mix of pollution, smoke and dust makes for a smoggy city! 

Being on the moped we already knew the air quality is not great, even before smoky season began! Vehicles are not emissions tested in Thailand, and you often see older vehicles pumping out vast clouds of black smoke! Also in high season in Chiang Mai, November – February, there are more tuk-tuks and buses on the roads to accommodate the additional tourists. So we took to wearing faces masks and/or bandannas, like many of the tuk-tuk drivers and local motorcyclists do, it definitely felt better on the lungs. 

We live right under Doi Suthep, and each time we head home we drive towards the beautiful mountain. In mid February we started to notice the peek was getting less clear, it looked as if a fine fog was hanging in the air. When we took guests up the mountain Mr noticed the city was obscured by a grey fog and you couldn’t pick out the usual landmarks. 

Fast forward to the beginning of March and the blue skies have turned yellow-grey, and when the sun rises it’s blurred in the sky. We’d read about this prior to moving to Chiang Mai, however we wanted to see it for ourselves. Apparently some years are worse than others. Some days our eyes would be sore, our neighbour has had a cough for weeks. Some days I couldn’t stop sneezing, but I kinda just ignored it. It wasn’t until last week, when we went out driving on one of the new, long straight road, that you could see just how bad it was! The smoke screen had lowered visibility to barely a few kilometres. And we were living in the smog! Mr has a wheezy chest and red eyes, even the dog has red eyes!

So, what can we do? The official advice is to minimise time spent outside. However as we live in a Thai house with mosquito nets and no glass or shutters, this isn’t an option for us! I think it’s time to upgrade our faces masks then – the flimsy surgical paper ones were not going to cut it. We were on our way to Homepro to check out their selection, when I spotted a 3M shop on Wualai road. 3M is the company responsible for bringing us (amongst other things) Post-it notes and professional level face masks. We stopped in, and asked the helpful shop assistant who spoke English, what masks would be best for the smoky air. He recommended 3M Aura particulate masks, which were 90 baht each. He said each mask should be 1-2 weeks for this use, so we took a box of 10. After the sale he asked to take a photo of us with our purchase for promotional reasons – he definitely should be promoting face masks right now!! These masks are really good – they fit over your nose and under your chin, and have a little filter in the middle. They are not as hot as others we’ve tried and stay in place well. The shop in on Wualai road (Saturday walking street) see the map link at the bottom of the page for the precise location!

Another option is to temporarily leave Chiang Mai, returning after the rains start. Many residents do this each year, but where should you go? If you want a real time view of what the air quality is like anywhere in the world, take a look at the Air Pollution Quality index. (I’ve just realised it’s also got a page on face masks, and we bought the right ones – yay)!

The pollution is getting to us. Luckily we’re off to BK and in the odd position of looking forward to cleaner air on arrival! We’re not sure what we’re doing to do, but one thing is clear – it’s no fun in Chiang Mai during smoky season.