Pollution choking Thailand's north hits tourism, worries public

By Reuters   April 10, 2023 | 03:54 pm PT
Pollution choking Thailand's north hits tourism, worries public
A view of the Chiang Mai city amid air pollution, Thailand, April 10, 2023. Photo by Reuters
High pollution levels in Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai and surrounding provinces are keeping tourists away and alerting locals, with the government on Monday (April 10) urging residents to avoid outdoor activities.

For several weeks last month, the city topped air quality information platform IQAir’s global list of poor air quality, ahead of Lahore and New Delhi.

Chiang Mai, known for its scenic mountain vistas, temples and chic cafes, welcomed 10.8 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic, but hotel bookings in the city have fallen to 45 percent of occupancy, the president of the Northern Chapter of the Thai Hotel Association said. Phunut Thanalaopanich, told Reuters Monday.

That’s far less than the 80 to 90 percent expected ahead of this week’s Thai New Year holiday, known as Songkran.

"It has affected my business... people don’t come (they) can’t see the view," said Sunat Insao, 53, who sells orange juice.

With deteriorating air quality in the north, Thailand’s Health Ministry on Monday urged the public to avoid outdoor activities and wear masks that can filter particles.

Chang Mai, Thailand’s third largest city, scored 289 on IQAir’s Air Quality Index (AQI) in March, which measures the levels of respirable particulate matter in the air.

On Monday it had dropped to 171 but was still 19 times above the World Health Organization recommended level.

"You can feel (the dust) on your face ... I brush my face, I see the pad and I was like, ‘This is really, really dirty,'" said Fernanda Gonzalez, 27, who was visiting from Mexico.

Authorities have blamed a combination of wildfires and crop burning in Thailand and its neighboring countries.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said last week he was coordinating with Laos and Myanmar to reduce border hotspots and curb cross-border haze.

Pathsharasakon Po, 36, who lives in Chiang Mai, said she was concerned about allergies or even cancer.

"It’s getting worse and worse every year," Pathsharasakon said.

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