Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Chiang Mai - Choked with Smoke

Travelling to Chiang Mai on a flight from Luang Prabang felt like an incredible luxury.  WOW – air travel is easy peasy relative to the alternatives we have been subjected to over the last few months.  We all appreciated being whisked away high above the mountain passes that took forever to travel over on bus. We tried not to think about the carbon footprint our luxury was leaving.

As soon as we arrived at the airport we felt like we were back somewhere that was almost like home. Eric went so far as to comment that the parking lot and surrounding area seemed just like the airport in Victoria.  Once we were on our way to our hotel I was not so sure I liked the change.  The traffic, the congestion and the general busyness of the place was not really what I had in my mind when I had envisioned Northern Thailand. 

Chiang Mai has been described in many places as a city with a small town feel.  It is the cultural capital of Northern Thailand, has over 300 temples and is described as a quaint, moated and walled city surrounded by mystical mountains, a must see on most Thai itineraries.  I hate to admit it but we didn’t think it lived up to its billing. Throughout our visit we never had the opportunity to breath the clean air or enjoy the mountain vistas that that we were expecting.  The area was blanketed in a thick coat of yellowish grey smoggy smoke – yuk!   

In Northern Thailand and neighboring Myanmar nearing the end of the dry season, farmers burn old crops and bushes to prepare the ground for new planting.  Although it is apparently illegal, fires literally rage all over the mountainsides and the government is supposedly at a loss to stop them.  Add highly pollutant traffic problems to raging bush fires and the results are not too pleasant.

The fire below was not too far from our hotel.

Chiang Mai is apparently surrounded by beautiful mountains but we wouldn’t know as we couldn’t see them.  Sitting in a mountain bowl can surely make for great photo ops most of the time but the bowl was filled with smoke whilst we were there and the smoke was not moving anywhere except in and out of everyone’s lungs.  Our eyes burned and our throats hurt.  In spite of some spectacular sunsets the yellowish grey haze that hung over everything gave the place an ominous feel.  The air quality index was terrible and it apparently has only worsened since.  It is a significant concern and there has even been talk of evacuating persons at respiratory risk.  Every year the problem apparently intensifies and every year more and more people are put at risk.  Although we did do some fantastic things in Chiang Mai (I'll tell you about them in the next post) we cut our visit to Northern Thailand short as we simply did not want to be exposed to such pollutants.   Yet again we were reminded of how lucky we have it in Victoria!

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