Chiang Mai’s quirky insect wonderland
On one wall of Chiang Mai’s World Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders hangs a painting of a galloping horse with a giant mosquito on its back. (Catherine Bodry)
When you step into the World Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders in Chiang Mai, Thailand, you’ll be greeted by a jungle scene: a high-ceilinged lobby filled with towering green plants topped with plastic flowers and sculptures, including one of a giant wooden mosquito. The walls are covered with psychedelic paintings of women and on display on the second floor, thousands of carefully catalogued beetles, stick insects, butterflies and mosquitoes are labelled and pinned to white boards, the life work of owners Manop and Dr Rampa Rattanarithikul, a local husband and wife team of insect specialists.
From termite-chewed branches that resemble flowers to a rock that looks like a vulture egg (the first item Manop ever collected, when he was three years old), the museum functions as both a monument to nature and a display of years of research – a balance of mysticism and science.
Personal anecdotes are posted next to statues, rocks and natural objects resembling human figures, all collected and written by Manop. A small piece of wood recalls a weeping Madonna, while a meteorite looks like a human eye. On one wall hangs one of Manop’s many paintings, a blue galloping horse with a giant mosquito on its back. Some inanimate objects have quotes or stories printed next to them, reminding the viewer of the awesome and mystical power of nature. At the entrance to the annex, for example, visitors are encouraged to ring a bell “to salute the enduring spirit of wonderful nature”. Another note reads “all of natural creations can live with understanding in the spirit of love”.
“[Our goal is to] show that nature can teach you something,” Manop explained. “I want everyone to understand nature – that things may not be alive but have a spirit.”
Despite its quirkiness, the museum’s proprietors are recognized experts in the field. Dr Rattanarithikul is a world leader in mosquito research, having identified or discovered and catalogued 459 species of mosquito, and contributing nearly half of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection. In 2011, she won the Belkin Award for “meritorious contributions to the field of mosquito systematics and/or biology”, the highest honour given by the American Mosquito Control Association. Manop is a malaria expert who even has a species of mosquito named after him: Toxorhynchitos manopi.
Though Dr Rattanarithikul is retired, she still continues her mosquito research, while Manop creates the vivid oil paintings adorning the walls. When you visit, you are likely to be given a personal tour by one of these eccentric and knowledgeable owners.
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. The main venue costs 300 baht while the smaller annex in the Old City costs 100 baht.