As the cool season gives away to Thailand’s burning season, travelers and expats alike are met with the same dilemma they face every year: where should one go to escape the yellow skies and smog-filled air that graces the entire upper half of Thailand?
The bad news is that the smog is prevalent as early as January and extends to mid-May. The worst is during March and April with AQI (air quality index) levels reaching the 200s (aka the danger zone).
The good news is that you can either travel down south to Thailand’s beaches or you can buy a cheap international ticket to some of the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
Escape to Southern Thailand
We get it. You want to travel to Thailand or you’re already here but you’ve got to escape the yellow skies, smoke-smelling air, and air pollution.
Southern Thailand is the place to be during Thailand’s burning season. There are few farms to burn and the crosswinds from the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand keep the air clean. Here are six clear-skied places we recommend going to.
One thing we love about Krabi is that once your flight has landed, you can have your toes in the sand within 30 minutes of driving from the airport. Krabi is a beautiful province with a variety of beaches and several really unique natural sites. Krabi Town and nearby Ao Nang are excellent jumping-off points for day trips to nearby islands.
What are some of the best things to do in Krabi?
- Visit the Emerald Pool and Blue Lagoon near Krabi Town
- Go on an island-hopping tour to Poda, Tup, and James Bond Islands
- Kayak through caves at Ao Thalane
Get the Guide: Island Lover’s 7-Day Guide to Krabi
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and is among the most popular places to visit in the entire country. Not only does it have its own international airport and dozens of direct flights every day, it has all the comforts that refined travelers and expats enjoy: high-end international hotel brands and restaurants, massive air-conditioned malls, and gorgeous beaches.
What are some of the best things to do in Phuket?
- Take a day trip or overnight trip to Koh Phi Phi
- Lounge on one of Phuket’s 30+ beaches
- Explore the delectable restaurants of Phuket Old Town
Koh Lanta is a middle-of-the-road island that provides a solid vacation spot for travelers on any budget. Its roads are easy to navigate and you’ll find plenty of cafés, restaurants, and bars along its main streets. There are several secluded beaches if you’re looking for peace and quiet and there are lots of outdoorsy things to do on Koh Lanta and its nearby surrounding islands.
What are some of the best things to do in Koh Lanta?
- Snorkel at Koh Rok (our favorite snorkeling spot in Thailand to date)
- Catch a sunset cocktail at Reggae Bar at Crown Lanta
- Stroll along the quaint streets of Koh Lanta’s Old Town
If you’re backpacking or traveling on a budget, this is the island to go to. Koh Chang is the most affordable island we’ve been to in Thailand and has a good balance of pretty beaches along its west coast and a variety of things to do. It takes a little while to travel to, but once you’re there, it’s clean, beautiful, and relaxing.
What are some of the best things to do on Koh Chang?
- Kayak to nearby islands like Koh Man Nai and Koh Wai
- Hike and visit waterfalls in Moh Koh Chang National Park
- Visit the Gypsy Village at Bang Bao Pier
Get the Guide: Island Lover’s 7-Day Guide to Koh Chang
Want to go really far south? Go to Koh Lipe, with its crystal clear turquoise waters and blinding white sand. It’s extremely tiny, so you can easily walk or ride a bicycle everywhere. Spend your Wifi-free days relaxing on the beach, getting massages, and scuba diving in some of the most beautiful reefs in the world.
What are some of the best things to do on Koh Lipe?
- Go snorkeling or scuba diving at 8 Mile Rock, Hin Takorn Dukoong, Sting Ray City, Stonehedge, and the Yong Hua Shipwreck
- Hang out on the island’s Pattaya, Sunrise, and Sunset beaches
- Take a night island-hopping trip to see bioluminescent algae
Koh Phangan has a laidback island vibe and a rustic, small-town feel. The beaches are immaculate thanks to the island’s recycling and trash-pickup efforts and the water is gorgeous. We really like how the island is organized into five zones to help visitors choose their ideal location: Commercial, Full Moon Party, Heritage & Nature, Fishing, and Health & Wellness.
What are some of the best things to do on Koh Phangan?
- Go fishing, snorkeling, or diving in the nearby reefs
- Wellness retreats that emphasize yoga, clean eating, and meditation
- Go to a Full Moon Party or Half Moon Party
International Destinations to Visit During Thailand’s Burning Season
If you have the flexibility to travel outside of Thailand, consider spending some time (especially in Thailand’s worst months of March and April) in these four international cities that offer clean, healthy skies.
In March, as Thailand rolls full swing into its smoky season, Bali’s rainy season is ending just in time for you to visit. This Indonesian island is very popular with travelers and also has a large expat community. Ubud, Semilak, and Canggu are three popular areas. The cost of living is roughly the same as Thailand and it has pretty tan, grey beaches, excellent local and international food, and a solid nightlife.
What are some of the best things to do in Bali?
- Lounge on beaches and enjoy water-related activities like surfing and scuba diving
- Experience a wellness community that improves the mind, body, and spirit
- Go temple hopping to Pura Luhur, Pura Taman Ayun, or Pura Pusering Jagat
Cebu is part of the larger Visayas island group in the Philippines and it’s a gorgeous place to visit during the smoky season in Thailand. February, March, and April are among Cebu’s driest months and yet it’s not the high season with tourists. The cost of living is slightly less than Thailand, which means that you can escape the smog without breaking the bank.
What are some of the best things to do in Cebu?
- Take a day trip to the incredible Tumalog Waterfalls in Oslob
- Get lost browsing through the hundreds of food stalls in the Taboan Public Market
- Go hiking and camping on Osmeña Peak, Sirao Peak, Chalet Hills, or Mount Naupa
Although Penang starts warming back up in March and April and there is some rain, it’s an easy destination to travel to from Thailand. In fact, passport holders of 63 jurisdictions get free 90-day visas on arrival. In particular, we really enjoyed art culture and the food in George Town, Penang’s capital.
What are some of the best things to do in Penang?
- Go hunting for art murals or visit historic sites in George Town
- Take a trip to the nearby beautiful islands of Langkawi
- Taste traditional Malaysian food and learn how it’s made on a guided food tour
|TIP: If you need to apply for a new Thai visa during Thailand’s burning season, we recommend going to the Royal Thai Consulate in George Town, Penang. It’s the place we prefer to go.|
Nha Trang, Vietnam
It just so happens that the best time to visit Nha Trang is between February and April. Temperatures are moderate and rainfall is at its lowest levels during the year in this coastal city in Central Vietnam.
What are the best things to do in Nha Trang?
- Go on a one-day or multi-day trip by motorbike along Vietnam’s coastline
- Treat yourself to an unusual but therapeutic mineral mud bath
- Go diving or snorkeling in the Hon Mun Marine Protected Area
Stay Safe If You Can’t Escape the Smog
If you’ve already bought plane tickets to a Thai city that has high levels of pollution this time of year (February to May) or you’ve settled down in the northern half of Thailand and want to give your lungs some fresh air, there are a few things you can do to reduce your health risks.
Buy an N95+ face mask
You can proper face masks from 3M stores or HomePro in Thailand or you can order them online at sites like vogmask.com (sold from 20 different countries). They are not the flimsy doctor masks you can buy at 7-Elevens.
Don’t do outdoor activities
Avoid any strenuous outdoor activities like running, biking, and hiking that make you breathe more of the bad air and overwork your heart and lungs. Unfortunately, staying indoors and keeping the doors and windows closed doesn’t add any significant protection from the smog (the AQI levels are nearly as high indoors as they are out).
Buy an air purifier and install air filters in your air conditioner(s)
If you live in Thailand’s regions plagued by smog, invest in an air purifier and install filters in your wall-mounted air conditioners. Order either online at Lazada.com or buy them at HomePro.
Thailand’s Burning Season FAQs
Whether you’ve never heard of Thailand’s burning season, just found out about it, or if you’ve experienced it one too many times, we think it’s fair to quickly address some frequently asked questions about the topic before recommended places to go to avoid it.
When is Thailand’s burning season?
It begins as early as January and goes as long as late May, but the worst months are May and April.
Where is the smoky air in Thailand?
The north and northeast (Isaan) regions of Thailand have the highest levels of smog. Central Thailand, which includes Bangkok, has unhealthy levels of air pollution, too.
In other words, all parts of Thailand except for the southern region.
What causes the poor air quality in Thailand?
Smoke from crop burning and exhaust fumes + No rain for months = Polluted air
Is Thailand’s smog really that unhealthy?
Here’s the thing: even if you don’t experience the temporary symptoms like burning eyes, itchy throat, coughing, sneezing, or difficulty breathing, you’re still inhaling particulate matter that can damage your lungs.
Your health risks increase:
- the longer you’re breathing the bad air
- the higher the AQI (air quality index) levels of PM2.5 and PM10 particles
We aren’t doctors, but if you’re traveling to Thailand’s northern half for a week or two, you’ll survive. At most, you might be uncomfortable. However, the smog is actually really unhealthy for people who breathe it in for weeks and months at a time, especially year after year.
What if I still want to visit during the burning season?
You know yourself best. Don’t travel to Thailand’s central, northern, or northeastern regions if:
- you have asthma, emphysema, or other lung issues
- cigarette smoke, bonfires, or vehicle exhaust irritate you
- if you are traveling with young children or if you are elderly
However, if you feel like you’re healthy and not sensitive to dusty, dirty air then by all means, come for a short visit.
How can I check Thailand’s air quality?
You can check the real-time AQI levels at AQICN.org. Type in the city you want to get levels for, which are color-coded based on safety:
0-50 (Green, Healthy)
51-100 (Yellow, Moderate)
101-150 (Orange, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups)
151-199 (Red, Unhealthy)
200-300 (Purple, Very Unhealthy)
For more information about the smog and how to protect yourself, you can also visit ChiangMaiAir.org.
Where do you plan to go during Northern Thailand’s smoky season?
PIN IT FOR LATER!