Despite the Smog, Some Colourful Scenes in Chiang Mai

A brief break from writing about Turkey to chat about where I am now: Chiang Mai. After spending the holidays in England with my brother and then a few weeks in Jordan for consulting work, I stopped back in Istanbul (*cough* for a haircut *cough*) and now I’m in Thailand. Long-term readers will know that my return to Asia is almost a guarantee – a little too long without sticky rice and I start to get the shakes. I came back this year to hunker down and be productive. – I’m working on some fun projects, I wanted to focus on my photography a bit more and I wanted to eat everything in sight. While Bangkok was an option (and I do love the city) Chiang Mai is calmer and thus I hoped it would be easier to hone in on work. After all, last year’s time here was productive and fun.

However, the city is shrouded in smog and walking around, even for just 10 minutes, leaves your eyes stinging and your throat raw. Those of us still wandering around town are doing so with masks on.  The March smog is actually nothing new – for years, people have talked about asthma issues in Chiang Mai during the pre-rain season. Last year it rained quite early, so the smog was minimal. So this is the first time I’ve experienced the smoggy, hazy late winter months in Northern Thailand.

Why so smoggy? Farmers in Northern Thailand burning the fields to allow for replanting and regrowth. In 2009, the Irawaddy noted that “The traditional rural method of slash-and-burn farming, whereby fields are burned by farmers in the dry season between February and April, so that the ashes fertilize the fields while they lie fallow, is responsible for the greater part of the pollution.” And they’re so bad in the far North that there is talk of evacuation near Mae Sai.

Chiang Mai smog at dawn, Feb 24, 2012

Chiang Mai smog at dawn, Feb 24, 2012

Bad smog in Chiang Mai in Feb 2012

Can't see too far in this mess.

(Photos above, courtesy of Catherine from Women Learn Thai)

So why am I still here?

For starters, it’s not all sad faces – we even have fun in our smog masks.

Ana and I, jumping in the haze

Ana and me, jumping in the haze.

Plus, rain is forecasted for early this week, and it ought to dampen the fires, improving the air quality. If not, I’ll relocate to Bangkok. The irony of heading to Bangkok for “clean” air isn’t lost on me.

* * *

My time in Thailand thus far has also been full of reunions with close friends, visiting family members (like my adorable cousins below) and doing what I do best: eating.

My cousins, me and my friend Giorgio

My cousins, me and my friend Giorgio.

A little too excited to be eating Thai food again: I forgot to take the photo before we dug in.

What used to be pad pongali gai

What used to be pad pongali gai, a terrific dry yellow curry.

I didn’t forget the next time! Grilled chicken at a great Isaan place across from Chiang Mai University:

Grilled Chicken from 10000% Isaan in Chiang Mai

Grilled Chicken from 10000% Isaan in Chiang Mai

Somtam (green papaya salad, spicy, sweet and delicious):

Somtam in Chiang Mai

Deliciously colourful salad

And the full meal:

Isaan meal in Chiang Mai

Grilled chicken, somtam and tom yum goong.

There are plenty of less traditional dishes on offer, too – and I’m not talking pizza. At the Sunday night walking street, the temples lining Ratchadamneon are full of food stalls, including a great dim sum stand in Wat Sum Pow:

Steamed crab at the Sunday market in chiang mai

Steamed crab at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai

Steamed shumai at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai

Steamed shumai at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai

And of course mochi for dessert!

And of course mochi for dessert!

Last week  on Ratchadamneon, I noticed people climbing up atop the moat to take photos of the market below. I tried prior to get up there but was shoo’d down by the policeman directing traffic. Not this time!

From atop the moat, looking down at Chiang Mai's Sunday market

From atop the moat, looking down at the controlled chaos.

Atop the moat near Thae Phae gate, Chiang Mai

Atop the moat near Thae Phae gate

Peeking through from the moat itself

Peeking through from the moat itself

And the crowds below

And the crowds below

In a time of haze, the city remains full of colour. My plan is to stay in Thailand until April just before Songkran, when I’ll be flying to Italy to speak about social media and curation at TBU Umbria. After that, it’s back to North America for more conferences (TBEX and WDS among them), family reunions and a road trip up the Western coast of the USA.

Taking suggestions, too, for this year’s birthday mountain! I’ve got a wedding in Montreal two days before, so the mountain has to be road-trippable from there.

Fun, busy months ahead!

-Jodi