Visit from Home in Smoky Thailand

I am now on the road for about half a year. Months that passed quickly and I am happy that it’s by no means the end of my journey, yet. Hence, not a touch of homesickness.

Sometimes, however, it would still be nice to spend some time with my family.  Luckily my parents are quite keen travelers by themselves. Thus, they sized the opportunity and undertook a trip to Southeast Asia. Of course, not without paying us a visit! After their short visit to Anghor Wat, Cambodia, they caught up with us in Chiang Mai. Hence, within the last seven days we happily explored Northern Thailand together.

A popular and probably most interesting route in Thailand’s north is the so called Mae Hong Son Loop, a mountainous, relatively remote tarmac road through the Mae Hong Son Province covering about 600 kilometers. Many tourists, preferably backpackers, choose the scooter or motorbike as a form of transport, many lacking sufficient experience. Consequently, accidents happen frequently and young people with bandages are a familiar sight in Chiang Mai (not only scooters but also cyclists are victims of Thailand’s hazardous traffic as a recent incident sadly proves).

We, however, chose a safer and way more convenient option and rented a car for seven days. Our trip along the mentioned loop and beyond was stuffed with quite a lot of things to see and do. Apart from driving and eating (most of the time ‘Pad Thai’) the days were filled with visiting countless wats (i.e. temples), waterfalls, a cave, a hot spring, an elephant camp, markets, etc. As the only more ‘severe’ physical activity, we undertook a 7 hours hike to the third highest peak in Thailand, the Doi Chiang Dao. The photos of the following post give a better impression of those fine days …

The whole trip, however, was unfortunately also accompanied by some dark clouds, quite literally. Already on our arrival in Chiang Mai we noticed a considerable haze of smoke covering the whole city. At that time we thought it’s a problem limited to the city itself, i.e. usual smog caused by traffic and near industries.
But to our surprise the haze density didn’t ease a bit with gained altitude or distance from Chiang Mai. On the contrary, at some point it seemed to get more severe. In consequence, although the landscape along the route we took (e.g. the Mae Hong Son Loop) is supposed to be quite beautiful, even spectacular, we weren’t able to see much for we simply couldn’t see very far. Usually just one hundred meters!
A bit of research on the internet finally yielded that the obvious air pollution is a consequence of the slash-and-burn agriculture. People, mainly in the villages or mountains are burning scrubs or agricultural waste. Thus, along the road we frequently witnessed fires or already burned areas, or observed numerous red spots in the mountains by night in the distance.

To make a long story short: between January and Mai there are days when whole Northern Thailand is covered in hazardous haze caused by purposely set fires in Thailand itself and the adjacent countries and worsen by the special weather situation, e.g. the lack of rain and wind. It results in an air pollution that is acute enough to be hazardous for the human health. A problem that is well-known since decades. Within the last days concentrations of small particular matter has been measured in Chiang Mai Province that were two to three times higher than the acceptable standard in Thailand. Values serious enough that tourists and residents escape from the region. So do we.

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