“Really?” I want to say, “You ain’t getting enough smoke?”

My neighbor (who I have dubbed the Celine Dion of Thailand) has decided to burn incense this morning. This of all mornings is one of those rare mornings where I can make the faint outline of Doi Suthep.

My apartment faces Doi Suthep which is the main mountain of Chiang Mai. I see the doi dee every morning as I open my door to sweep out my studio. This is what Thais do. They sweep the contents of their apartment, room and store out the front entrance. (in Laos they use dustbins) Of course, later the cleaning ladies will sweep up the hallways and often enough you will see dustbins for collecting leafs. Yes, it is a weird little world out here.

So, the reason why I can’t see the mountain is because the hill tribes practice slash and burn agriculture. This creates, as you could imagine, a haze that covers the city and surrounds. Coupled with the fact that there is a fair amount of exhaust from the use of cheap gasohol and smoke from Thais burning their garbage, the air gets thick with dust and debris.

The rainy season helps keep the dust down and cleanse the air from the burning garbage, but now the hot season is starting up. So, I’m flabbergasted that my neighbor is offering the air her incense this morning, especially since, as I’m sweeping up my back deck, I see ashes.

This reminds me of growing up in Hawaii, when seeing falling ash because they used to burn the sugar cane fields was a familiar sight. Or when I lived in California during one of their many wildfires, we took pictures of the fallen ash on our car and deck chairs because it was shocking. And here I am sweeping it up like its any old thing. In Cali we were advised not to go outside. For days. In CM, it’s just the way it is.

The Thai government is supposedly trying to do something about this bad-for-the-environment practice, but hill tribes are hard to regulate. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, rules are really guidelines. This phenomenon, of course, can be found everywhere. There are regulations and then there is reality.

There is plenty I love about Thailand, but this isn’t one of them. As clean air becomes more of a rarity around the world it will be interesting how Chiang Mai handles this. There is garbage pickup, but many people still chose to burn their garbage.

Imagine what it would be like if your neighbor did that, plastic and all. Let’s pretend there is no governing body to fine your already poor neighbor. What do you do?

I remember when I first heard about bottled drinking water. I laughed. I thought what a scam. Who is going to buy bottled water? You just turn on the tap and there is your water. There was your water.

p.s. Interested in checking out the air quality? Go here.

6 replies on “Air supply: I can’t breathe in Chiang Mai.

  1. I'm with you on the bottled water…I never thought anyone would fall for it. Then I remember reports claiming the water came from clear cold mountain streams but in reality they were being filled with the same tap water we were already drinking.It's definitely a hard call when you have poor people and garbage to be gotten rid of. In the villages I have been in up country there is a weekly trash pick up but the majority still burn trash although they seem to sort out the plastic.


  2. Yeah, that is what made me scratch my head. If they have trash pick up, then why do they still burn it? I've also seen the monks in the wats do this too.I moved from an apt because the burning was so bad behind us. The folks were 'squatters' for lack of a better word. Who wanted to tell them to leave?


  3. Every time I compare Chiang Mai to Bangkok with my students they always point out that Chiang Mai has mountains, some panda bears, and more pollution and traffic. I was shocked at first, but learned that Bangkok has done a lot to improve the air so that the quality is on par with similar cities. Chiang Mai's air quality, on the other hand, continues to worsen with little traction for improvement. Hopefully Ecuador will be better!


  4. That is SO crazy that Bangkok air is better than CM! But I can see how the city would be better able to manage the quality that up here in the 'country' 😛


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