How to Survive the Smokey Season in Chiang Mai

09
Mar
2018
pollution tips for Chiang Mai smokey season January to April

Every year Chiang Mai suffers from the regional pollution caused mostly by farmers burning harvest waste material. Things aren’t getting better in 2018, so here is what I have learnt in my 5 years (on and off) as an expat in Chiang Mai. This guide will help you to minimize the health damage caused by Chiang Mai smoke pollution.


Contents:

Air Pollution Levels in Chiang Mai Today:


I am not going to go into specifics about measurements and comparing statistics. It was enough for me to see yesterday that Chiang Mai had the worst pollution levels in the world the day before on the Chiang Mai news website Citylife. Also, we have a mountain view and all we need to do is look at the mountain to see how bad it is that day. See the end of this post for the pollution levels image from Citylife which shows Chiang Mai having the worst pollution in the world. Also a photo I took today with Doi Suthep (the mountain) almost hidden. Recently it is as if there wasn’t a massive mountain just 2-3 miles away! The below photo was taken in mid January when things were starting to look worse than normal for so early in the year.

protection from Chiang Mai pollution

Avoid the Smog in Chiang Mai by Leaving

This is the best time of the year to go on that little break you had planned to Ko Pha-ngan or Vietnam where the coastal air will be better. However, leaving Chiang Mai is a short term solution and smokey season lasts at least 3 months. We went to Hua Hin for a couple of weeks a few years ago when it got really bad at the end of March, but this year it is really bad at the start of February and may continue through to April.

Anyway, if you need a visa run, to visit family back home or want to do any kind of travel, the best time to do so is between approximately 1st February and 12th April. Our previous experience has been that the smoke was worst later in March, but this year it started in January and became very bad in early February. Realistically you are not going to avoid all the air pollution, so read on for how to make the best of it.

 

Improve the Quality of Your Air in Chiang Mai with Filters and Protective Masks

Nearly everyone has air conditioning and 3M sell a cheap filter material called Filtrete. I think we paid 300 Baht this year for 2 packs from Baan and Beyond behind Airport Plaza Mall. It is also available in Central department stores such as the one in Kad Suan Kaew mall.

purify air in apartment in chiang mai with air filter

Attach the 3M Filtrete to your air conditioner and you effectively turn it into a makeshift air purifier. Try to do a better job than I did below, which was added less than 2 weeks ago. I am going to replace it today and make sure it covers the whole area. By the way you can click the image above to see the product on Amazon- I have linked various items I mention so that you can verify them- they all get loads of great reviews. There is no need to buy on Amazon, everything is available cheaply here in Chiang Mai.

air conditioning filter for Chiang Mai smoke

The English labelled version says 3M Filtrete lasts 2 months. I usually change it 2 or 3 times during the smokey season then leave a strip on for the rest of the year between May and early January.

From 3M:

Filtrete(TM) Room Air Conditioner Filters are more effective than ordinary foam room air conditioners filters at capturing airborne particles including dust, pollen, mold, pet dander and smoke.

 

The face mask pictured is rated N95, which is apparently the right one to help filter out PM2.5 particles in the air. I bought it from a pharmacy for about 80 or 90 Baht for a pack of 2. My wife and I are still getting used to them, but when you realize how many people are wearing face masks in Chiang Mai, it feels natural.

best face mask for Chiang Mai smog N95

We use the N95 face masks when cycling and I recommend you use them for any long walks or exercise. The surgical face masks sold in 7/11 are almost useless, they are for preventing you spreading disease, not protecting you from the environment. The one above has a thin metal lining over the nose, so you can easily fit it to your face for a snug fit. It is made by 3M, so it will be easy to find.



Change Your Diet to Combat the Effects of Chiang Mai Pollution and Take Supplements

A study carried out last year by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York suggests that Vitamin B could help combat the effects of the pollution we experience in Chiang Mai in the first quarter of the year. In particular they found that 3 B Vitamins could help combat the effects of the tiny smoke particles measured as PM2.5.

  1. Vitamin B6
  2. Vitamin B12
  3. Folic Acid

The supplements to take for smog are any complex Vitamin B product. You will generally find these 3 vitamins in multivitamin supplements. I like to find a good deal when I can, so I discovered a great value multivitamin based around Vitamin B.

My find is a very affordable supplement and is meant for Anemia, but these ingredients are found in general multivitamins too. A multivitamin will just have more different vitamins and cost 20 times the price usually. The FBC “Anemic with Vitamins” product used to be sold in white pill containers like on the left of the photo below.

vitamins and supplements to fight the effects of pollution

I peeled off the label to take into pharmacies as it is not available anymore it seems. It was well hidden when I first found it in Boots and may still be stocked there on the bottom shelf. On 2 occasions I have shown the label and the pharmacist has gone to the back to get one of the bags you see below. My guess is that this cheap supplement is given to locals as an affordable solution, whereas the big brand names want to hog shelf space with their much more expensive options.

The Thai FBC tablets contain Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid, but not B6, so you will want to find that elsewhere. Vitamin B6 can be found in the tasty BBQ liver sticks sold on most streets. Also fish, non citrus fruit and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Fruit is sold on most streets in Chiang Mai, so this is a great reason to enjoy it every day. Green vegetables are rich in B Vitamins, which I was glad to discover as the below dish is one of my favorites; spinach or kale with rice and a touch of pork:

which food is rich in vitamin B - leafy greens like kale and spinach

 

Detox Your Body and Reduce Infections Caused By the Pollution in Chiang Mai

I have another very cheap recommendation for you to help ward off infections and help your liver detoxify those nasty air pollutants. Andrographis paniculata, which is better known as Fah Talai Jone is a superb Thai herb which you can find in capsule form in all pharmacies and herbal stores. It costs about 80-90 Baht for a jar of 60 capsules.

Fah Talai Jone herb is used for the treatment of viral infections of the upper respiratory tract.

Another local herb which may help is Jiaogulan aka Gynostemma pentaphyllum. This is a super herb which we grow on our balcony, buy dried to make into tea and I also take Jiaogulan capsules often. It has a list of health benefits longer than all our arms put together. Detoxification and boosting the immune system are just 2 benefits. This is something I take year round as it’s health benefits are actually noticeable to mood.

 

Finally – Buy an Air Purifier for Peace of Mind

These start at around 6,000 Baht and if I had kids with me I would definitely say an air purifier is essential. As ex smokers, I have decided my wife and myself can make do with the 3M Filtrete material over our air conditioning unit.

I will try to find a few air purifiers from Amazon to paste in below, so you can read up on them if you want peace of mind, that you are being as healthy as possible during the smokey season in Chiang Mai. (edit: they are not showing up for me so just click on Air purifiers to go to the search results).

You want to look for air purifiers which specifically mention smoke and PM2.5 pollutants, not the larger PM10 particles. If you don’t find what you want here, then Amazon do ship to Thailand, but shipping costs are based on weight. Therefore, I would just order things like special face masks from Amazon, which should take about a week to arrive. You will find some air purifiers in Chiang Mai which are listed on Amazon. When in Chiang Mai I always check in store on my phone for the Amazon reviews before buying any appliances. I advise you do the same as some places sell any old rubbish.

 

Update late March 2018:

The Best Affordable Air Purifier for Chiang Mai Burning Season

After a lot of reasearch and no improvement in sight for this years burning season, we decided that rather than leave Chiang Mai, we would spend less money on cleaning our air indoors. The other day we purchased the Hatari Air Purifier (HT-AP12), which is suitable for rooms up to 32sqM in size. That is about the size of our bedroom and many studio apartments in Chiang Mai. If you have a room up to 23sq.M there is a good looking Sharp air purifier to buy for 3,800 Baht.

The Hatari Air Purifier was 4,888 Baht, comes with a spare filter and each lasts for 4,500 hours. The filters can then be bought for under 1,000 Baht. If your appliance store doesn’t have them for the official price of 888 Baht, you can order them online from a website like Lazada. Apparently the filters for the Sharp air purifier are less easy to find and more expensive, so if you are on the fence go with the Hatari. It has 4 speeds so you can take a look at today’s reading and make a decision.

Since using the air purifier we have had it on all the time and my lungs feel 100% clear. Also our cat has stopped sneezing. The Filtrete over the aircon was not effective enough, we can feel a massive difference with the air purifier. Plus, 4,888 Baht is much less money than we would have spent had we gone away for a week or two to avoid the burning seasons worth weeks at the end of March. It makes less noise than our air conditioner and comes with a remote control.

best cheap air purifier Chiang Mai pollution - Hatari

The best air purifier for 30 square meter rooms, which is cheaper than 5,000 Baht.

You can buy the Hatari HT-AP12 at all local electronic appliance stores such as PowerBuy and SiamTV. Keep an eye out for special offers and don’t forget to ask for the free extra filter, which wasn’t advertised in the store. This is the best affordable air purifier for the smog here because of the price, obvious quality (it is a well made machine and like I said we can feel a very noticeable difference), plus it is the most commonly bought small air purifier for expats in Chiang Mai (probably locals too). There is a long thread about it on the Thai Visa forum where it is praised.

If you live in a larger space then you will need to look at multiple units or the much more expensive options. Hatari is a Thai brand, so don’t let that put you off. We saw a couple going for the Sharp as it was a brand name they knew. They thought again once we told them why we believed the Hatari to be the better option for a small air purifier.

It is a good job we bought it as Chiang Mai was about 3rd in the league of worst cities in the world yesterday and 6th the day before. See below for the results that made me write all this.

Proof that Chiang Mai had the world’s worst pollution on 6th March 2018

Chiang Mai world's highest pollution levels

edit: on 10th March 2018 thankfully Chiangmai is not in the top 10 worst cities. The above image was taken from the useful app AirVisual which you can also view online.

Check Pollution levels in Chiang Mai today

Below I have added a live widget from AirVisual which is an easy way to see how bad things are today. The first value is the AQI US (air quality index score), then the PM2.5 pollution measurement in Chiang Mai. Hover over it for a phrase summarising the severity of today’s rating. Basically, over 100 for the AQI is terrible, 50-100 is moderately bad air pollution and below 50 is fine.
Update: I have added this counter to the top of the page as I find myself revisiting everyday to check, so feel free to bookmark it too. I will add to this page when I come across more helpful information.

Plus a photo today of Doi Suthep the mountain almost vanished from view because of the smog. It is only a few miles away:
Chiang Mai Smokey Season Smog hides mountain Doi Suthep

Update 20th March- the mountain is half visible today but the pollution levels of around 150 US AQI are keeping us indoors. It is expected to get worse before it gets better when rain should arrive in April.