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
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