Photo: Khao soi in Chiang Mai.

Burning season is once again engulfing Chiang Mai in a worrying haze. In recent years the heat, dust and smog have grown bad enough to merit the question: should you even visit Chiang Mai over the months burning hits its peak — usually February through to April?

The answer really depends on what it is you’re coming to Chiang Mai for. If, for instance, your priority is to rock climb, mountain bike, trek, or go rafting, you should know that Northern Thailand’s thriving outdoor sports scene is severely affected by the haze. You may want to slate in a different time of year for your visit.

The haze on a good day.

The haze on a good day.

Simply put, when the haze gets bad, it’s not pleasant or advisable to be outside, particularly if you have any kind of respiratory ailment.

Likewise, if temple hopping is your thing, and you’ve been looking forward to Chiang Mai’s legendary Doi Suthep or Wat Chedi Luang, then know that the majesty of these structures amid the haze is incomparable to what you’d see if you visited Chiang Mai at any other time. Of course, that said, you’d still be able to visit the temples, and they do remain impressive even with the smog.

Burning season: green on one side, brittle and brown on the other.

Burning season: green on one side, brittle and brown on the other.

During the worst of the haze, expect your sinuses to suffer from being outside and the otherwise scenic countryside to turn bleak looking at best — forget about photos of picturesque rice paddy.

Nonetheless, with Thailand’s famous New Year festival of Songkran just around the corner, those hoping to celebrate the water festivities in Chiang Mai should know that there are still plenty of fun things to do in town, even while avoiding the outdoors as much as possible.

One of the main things that doesn’t change in Chiang Mai no matter the season is the quality of its local food. Hit up the markets, or even the lakes, and consider taking a cooking class in town.

One of the best things to do for yourself during the smog is hit up a herbal steam sauna. Time in the steam will do wonders for your sinuses, not to mention your skin, muscles, and overall well-being. Our two favourite joints are called – you guessed it– Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage, and are located just minutes from each other in the old city. Just 150 baht gets you unlimited sauna time in private rooms that can fit up two people, clean towels and sarongs to wear during your session, and a complimentary homemade yogurt and honey mask.

And even though Bangkok is the shopping capital of Thailand, don’t dismiss the Chiang Mall of the north. While there are a million other outings you should explore if you want to experience traditional culture, if you want to see how the majority of Thai youths spend their time, visit Maya, Promenada, or Central Festival, three shopping centres that have arrived recently to drown the city in food courts and luxury goods. Check out the brand new multiplexes, eat some sushi, play some video games and maybe even pick up a souvenir or two.

Herbal Steam Sauna and Massage
20/2 Moonmuang Road Soi 7, Sripoom, Muang Chiang Mai
Ratpakinai Road, on the corner of Phra Pok Klao soi 6, Muang Chiang Mai
T: (053) 21 4629, (087) 300 5974, (086)911 1345
Open daily 10:00-22:00

Last updated on 9th April, 2014.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Chiang Mai? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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