Smog persists across North Thailand

CHIANG RAI, 25 March 2019: North Thailand’s favourite tourist destinations Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were shrouded in a debilitating smog at the weekend.

Following on from last week’s raised levels of air pollution caused mainly by forest and rice field burning, there was no sign of relief for resident in the north.

Airlines serving North Thailand are losing passengers who are either postponing visits or travelling to cleaner spots such as Samui and Phuket island where the air quality index count register a low 40 to 72.

Some flights to Chiang Mai were turned back at the weekend as airport visibility reduced to slightly more than 1,000 metres.  Bangkok Airways suspended all flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son in the northwest corner of Thailand bordering Myanmar and that situation is likely to continue to at least the end of the month.

The air quality index for Mae Hong Son and Pai was around 365 on Sunday evening.

Chiang Rai suffered a similar fate as Chiang Mai as the prevailing wind swept the smog across the province reducing visibility on roads to less a kilometre. Land marks such, as the iconic Wat Rong Khun was hardly visible to visitors on adjacent roads. In Mae Sai town on the border with Myanmar the API was 277 while in Chiang Rai town centre near Central Plaza, the count stayed around 220 all Sunday.

In both provinces, residents were spraying water into the air in a vain attempt to reduce the smog. During Sunday afternoon the air pollution level in Chiang Mai crept up the scale to pass 450 in the late evening Sunday.

A survey conducted by the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department last Friday identified a critical situation in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phrae, Phayao and Tak.

Forest fires are blamed for the smog, which is incorrectly termed haze in some reports. The main culprit is the tradition of slash-and-burn practices that cut back hillside vegetation and trees to make way for new plantations. Another factor is the burning of rice paddies when it would be more environmentally friendly to plough the chaff and waste from the rice crop back into the soil