Doi Suthep moths- Not everyone visiting Chiang Mai has a selfie stick
Overlooking the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand there’s a big temple complex on a mountain known as Doi Suthep. It’s huge and beautiful and full of amazing architecture and golden statues. Plus, there’s a breath-taking view of the city below, and it’s definitely on any ‘must-see’ itinerary for the region.
Daily, thousands of visitors take a travel-sickness inducing winding road up the mountain to experience it and in October last year it was our second visit. We went there once before back in 2006, but the return was this time with Kate’s parents and it was their first visit.
We took a truck up, but you can also walk up, as this family did when they visited Chiang Mai with their kids. A lovely thing about doing this is that you can see some of the beautiful Chiang Mai waterfalls.
Anyway, there’s lots of info out there about the place and its history, so I wanted to do something different in this blog and mention something about Doi Suthep that I haven’t seen mentioned…
Yeah. That surprised you right? Well, hopefully.
Do you like insects? Some people do, many people don’t. It’s a shame really, because as someone once estimated
‘to the nearest approximation every animal on Earth is an insect’.
Meaning that there are so many insects, both in terms of number of species, and in terms of actual individual creatures, that basically most animals are insects. Which is good because they do a lot for us. Anyway, hold on, what’s this got to do with a temple in northern Thailand? Well…
There are loads of insects at Doi Suthep. I must admit, I didn’t notice this on our first visit, but it seems that not only tourists are drawn to the site, but also thousands of moths and cicadas which I found gathered together on walls and high up on columns, particularly around the periphery of the complex where the views over the city were best
At first I just spotted one big moth. And I mean a massive moth. The sort of moth that would give an English sparrow, and a few of my more phobic friends, a heart attack. Being entomologically inclined (it’s Kris, by the way) I exclaimed
‘Oo look at that massive moth…’.
Then I saw another of a different species. Then another. Until I realised they were everywhere. Great big moths, medium sized moths, and even little diddy ones, just roosting on the sides of buildings and not bothering anyone. People visiting the temple seemed largely unaware of these other visitors and it took a nerd like me to start running around excitedly pointing at them. Perhaps my fellow tourists just thought I was particularly enthusiastic about temple rooves.
The highlight was an atlas moth perched on a golden Buddha statue. I’d never seen an atlas moth, but I knew about them. It’s one of the biggest moths in the world and can have a wingspan of almost 10 inches (about 25cm)…and there it was, perched peacefully on Buddha like an elaborate broach.
Weirdly, again no one seemed to bat and eyelid while I was like a Sam Neil in Jurassic Park when he first sees the diplodocus.
So why so many insects?
It does seem weird eh? Not one of them seemed to be that into the sights and they weren’t even taking group photos or anything. Well, I reckon I know what they were up to.
The night before we went up to Doi Suthep we met up with a friend from work in Bangkok who happened to be in Chiang Mai at the time. He took us to a rooftop restaurant (the Furama hotel restaurant) with a great view of the mountain towering over us. And as it got darker and darker you could see the massive floodlights of the temple complex in the distance surrounded by a sea of blackness.
The ‘blackness’ is, by day, lush green forest.
So this is what happens. By day the tourists teem all over the temple, wandering around, snapping the obligatory selfies and sweating in the heat. But then they go home and the sun sets and the lights go on. Blinding white lights in the middle of a jungle…
….Moths like lights.
So I imagine Doi Suthep acts as one huge moth trap. And I mean a HUGE moth trap for HUGE moths, not just a HUGE trap. Get it? Okay. I’m pretty sure it’s a lively place when the sun’s gone as I bet the bats get pretty busy here too, for obvious reasons. Not to mention the lizards.
Anyway, then the sun starts to come up and the moths that lasted the night settle into roosting areas until the next evening, whether that be a temple wall or, more dramatically, the chest of a golden Buddha statue. And then the tourists arrive with their selfie sticks and whizz around – mostly missing the abundance of biodiversity just above their line of sight.
Maybe that’s just as well. I’m guessing some would freak out.
But if you’re not freaked by ‘the little things that run the world’ (a scientist called Ed Wilson said that about insects) and you find yourself at Doi Sutthep, after you’ve taken in the architecture and the statues and the culture – look up a little higher on the walls. You just might find a load of amazingly beautiful animals just hanging out waiting for the tourists to slip back down the hill and the sun the slide back round the mountain.
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