Safety in Chiang Mai
- Fire: 053-241777
- Police - emergencies: 191
- Rescue Team: 053-218888
- Tourist police: 1155, 053-278559
Chiang Mai, like most of Thailand, is quite safe, even at night. The dark streets can look forbidding but crime is rare and visitors shouldn't worry unduly. As always, travellers should take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. Don't carry valuables in a bag after dark as the most common tourist related crime here is bag-snatching by youths on motorbikes. Mind your bag especially if you are walking on a dark street at night.
The safest approach is to act like your Thai hosts and wear reasonable clothing (shoulders and chest covered) medium-length skirts, long shorts or long pants, speak in a moderate tone of voice, and avoid flashing money or jewellery. Not only will respectable Thais appreciate your behaviour, you are much less likely to become a target of any criminal activity.
Unfortunately some scams from Bangkok have started to rear their ugly heads in Chiang Mai as well. Two in particular are worth watching out for: the gem scam, where you are talked into buying near-worthless gems at far above their real value; and the tuk-tuk scam, where a smooth-talking tuk tuk driver tells you that the attraction you want to see is closed, and instead offers you a sightseeing tour for 20 baht (or some similarly unrealistic amount) - needless to say, the tour will either consist of nothing but overpriced gift shops, or will smoothly segue into the gem scam. See the "Stay Safe" section of the Bangkok article for more details.
Chiang Mai's smoke levels can be discomfiting, and sometimes dangerous, during burning season which starts around Makha Bucha Day (end-Feb to early Mar) and lasts about a month. Although there is a ban on burning, the whole of northern Thailand often falls under a thick haze during this period, with tens of thousands treated for smoke inhalation. Rice farmers burning off fields are commonly blamed for the smoke, but according to the Department of Air Quality there is an extensive range of burning activities during this season. In addition to slash and burn farmers clearing fields, a smaller proportion of farmers may burn land in order to clear forests and expand fields, to flush out game, or to trigger the growth of specific mushroom varieties. As a result, there are typically dozens of deaths, and for example in 2007 58 people died of smoke-related heart attacks. You are well advised to avoid Chiang Mai during this period. If you intend to visit at this time, you are advised to check on smoke levels in advance. Thousands of residents, both foreign and Thai, leave Chiang Mai at this time to escape the smoke. The government is apparently uninterested in fixing the problem: in 2015 they blamed it on outdoor cooking. Presently, the solution is to spray the streets with water to "moisten the air". There is no political will to tackle the burning of rice fields and forests, which is the cause of the smoke. On 10 March 2015, dangerous PM10 particles measured over 255 mcg per cubic metre of air in Chiang Mai, well above the unsafe level of 120 mcg (Note: this is the Thai government standard which is more than twice the maximum level set by the World Health Organization [WHO] at 50 mcg). Neighbouring areas can be as bad or worse, Chiang Rai for example, was at 306 mcgs, so moving on to a neighbouring province will generally not help: the pall of smoke stretches from northern Laos, across Thailand to eastern Burma.
Tap water should be regarded as non-potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Nearly all restaurants use ice that is made by professional ice-making companies and is generally safe. There are street side water vending machines (1 baht per litre) throughout the city. Using one saves money and a lot of plastic refuse.