Adventure Smog Alert: SE Asia Up in Smoke

Travel around southeast Asia long enough, and you’re bound to hear a tale or two of someone who got in serious trouble for “sparkin’ it up” in Thailand. But this spring, another kind of ‘blazin’ has gotten totally out of control. Thailand‘s northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son have been declared environmental emergency areas seriously affected by forest smoke. Every spring farmers torch their fields to prepare for another round of crops. Inevitably, a number of these controlled fires become, well… uncontrolled and whole regions can go up in smoke. Even when most fires stay controlled, there’s a thick haze that seems to hang over most rural parts of Asia this time of year, but this season, a number of fires in Myanmar have made it a real doozy…

Click on the NASA photo to the right for a full-size satellite image showing the locations of the fires and the thick blanket of haze covering the entire Southeast Asian peninsula.

For travelers, the worst haze in at least 14 years has meant flight delays and other hassles.

There’s few things that can ruin an otherwise good trip as much as choking smog and haze. Earthquakes, hurricanes, all these things come and go rather quickly, and there’s likely to be a need for help afterwards. But in the case of dozens of out-of-control fires burning in the not-so-friendly nation of Myanmar and poisioning the air of its neighbors, well, not much you can do there. Bring a handkerchief to cover your mouth and nose, and maybe wait for the next flight out. Too much outdoor activity in the current conditions mean a real risk of respiratory illness and your view is certain to be marred anyway.

There aren’t many circumstances under which I’d advise canceling a trip, but unless your plans have you indoors most of the time on your upcoming trip to Chiang Mai, it might be time to consider rerouting until things clear up.