I wake up and walk out of my air-conditioned room. I step into the teak upstairs of my home and am hit.

A blast of steam, of hot, humid air so powerful my cool flesh immediately begins to bead with sweat.

March in Chiang Mai.

Elephant Nature Park Spring

Not pictured: the steam rising up from my body.

Coming from the desert, I am well-equipped to deal with the heat. But the desert heat is a different kind of heat. A dry heat. I used to hate when people would tell me I was lucky to live in Vegas because at least the heat is dry, versus the humid and hot air of my hometown.

I would laugh.

“You think dry heat is better?” I would ask, rolling my eyes. “Let me tell you this. Go grab a hair dryer, put it on high, and tell me how you like that dry heat blowing in your face.”

Las Vegas

Can you FEEL the dry heat?

Normally, the point came across quite quickly.

I thought coming to Chiang Mai, I would be able to deal with the humid summer. But, I didn’t realize what I was in for.

From February through June, it is hard not to melt from the heat. From the thick, sticky air. Temps soar into the 100s and there is no relief.

In Chiang Mai, there are very few places equipped with cooling systems. Suddenly, fans become the gospel. Little misters are moments of cool on a hot day.

And then, there is the burning.

Chiang Mai air quality during burning season

A look at Doi Suthep at the beginning and end of burning season. Photo courtesy: BoundingOverOurSteps.com

During the hottest time of the year in Chiang Mai, the rice fields are also glowing orange. The valley fills up with smoke, making visibility close to null. The air quality is crap, coughs become the norm, and masks to cover mouths from pollutants lingering in the air are the fashion statement of the season.

Do I like it?

Not really.

Do I tolerate it?

You bet.

After all, I live in an amazing city.

But, I do tell people who come here to skip the burning/summer season in Chiang Mai. Head south to the beaches. Unless you like that sort of thing. Then come on up, hang out with me and plop some ice in your beer … because that’s a great way to keep cool.

Koh Samui

A clear alternative to the burn and hot: island living.

What you need to know about “spring” in Thailand

What Westerners consider the spring months is actually Thailand’s summer. Here, schools close during these months and many make a mass exodus to the more temperate and cleaner air by the water.

If you are going to be in Chiang Mai (or anywhere other than the islands, really), be prepared for heat. At times unbearable heat. Heat that penetrates your every inch. Sweating dripping from every pore in your body. Thick, humid air that makes you long for air-conditioning and will send you into a 7-11 to cool off, even if just for a brief moment of air-con bliss.

There’s a reason why the high season in Thailand is November through early February — the temperature is pretty much perfect, minus some cold spells.

The SE Asia resource site, Travelfish, has plenty of detailed information which breaks up Thailand by region and gives you an idea of what to expect.

What to wear

Thailand is a more conservative culture, so for the ladies, that means skipping the booty shorts and barely there tank tops (or worse, the sheer shirts with a bikini top underneath) and opting for loose-fitting cotton shirts and light, breezy pants. Men, you have a little more freedom, but shorts and tee shirts  are the best way to go.

If you’re going to be on the road a lot via motorbike or bicycle, purchase a filtered mask to protect your lungs when the burning really gets going.

Beating the heat

Since air-conditioning isn’t widely spread, minus guest houses, there are few chances to really cool down. Fans can help (especially if you soak a towel in water and then place it on the fan), but for those who are used to cranking the AC, it will cost more money to get a room in a guest house or hotel with the beautiful cold air.

Turn off the water heater. Because the water tanks heat up as the day progresses, take a shower in the morning when it is at its coolest.

Songkran in Chiang Mai

Nothing says “cool” like icy streams of water during Songkran

Be in Chiang Mai for Songkran. The icy buckets of water can send momentary chills and relief from the heat.

Baby powder is you’re friend. While you will still sweat, picking up some of the cooling baby powder can help cut it down and cool you off at least a little bit.

Have you survived a “spring” in Thailand? What were your experiences?

22 comments

  1. You mean to tell us you’re not used to the heat yet?? 🙂
    We flew back from Toronto last month after -15 weather and just looooooved getting back to the heat!

    The cooler weather in Chiang Mai is definitely a nice change from the humidity at times.

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    1. Ha ha. I am used to the heat, for sure! Walking around the other day, it was the warmest it has been for a long time, and I LOVED it. Still will always prefer 20s to 30s/40s, but right now it isn’t so bad.

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  2. March in Chiang Mai is the worst. I wrote a big long post about it last year to warn others. The air is seriously filthy with smoke. The heat is nowhere near as bad as the smoke in my opinion.
    But then when the rainy season rolls around it’s awesome. Seeing the rain clouds roll over the mountain and sweep eastward into town is a thing of beauty (from under a roof).

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    1. I agree. The heat is horrid, but the smoke is even worse. It hasn’t been so bad this year — yet. But, I remember thinking that last year, too! I LOVE rainy season. It is my absolute favorite time of year and I am anxiously awaiting June/July to go run in the rain!

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  3. We’re ok with the heat, now that we’ve experienced two Spring seasons in Chiang Mai, but what we can’t handle is the smoke. That’s why we always leave the city for 3-4 weeks during the burning season!

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  4. I’m in cold, rainy England, wishing I was somewhere hot, but this has made me reconsider! I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

    I’ve never heard of using baby powder like that before. Can you use just regular baby powder? Does it actually cool you down or just absorb the sweat?

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    1. Yes! The grass is ALWAYS greener! As for the baby powder, it absorbs the sweat, but there are also cooling powders that cool you off for a little while absorbing!

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  5. You know how I feel — I’ll take the humidity any day! Maybe because I grew up in Florida… Or because I have dry skin/eyes. But I’ll take the sweat!

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  6. In your experience what are the dates of the worst of the smoke? I am here now and it has only been bad in the last few days.. How much longer do we have to go?

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    1. It is up to you and how you handle smoke. I spent two years in it and while it was annoying and hot, I managed. It’s a crap shoot, really. You never really know how bad it will be until you are in it. Put it this way: the park has volunteers year-round and that doesn’t stop because of the smoke. 🙂

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