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.
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.”
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.
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?
Do I tolerate it?
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.
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.
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?