That buildings made of wood could survive 500 years is something of a wonder. That these wooden buildings exist in tropical Southeast Asia is close to a miracle. The improbable survivors of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang stand in Thailand's northern district of Lampang. A picture of the temple, a Lanna marvel, in my guidebook inspires me to head north from Bangkok. The town of Lampang itself is chock-full of ancient wonders and cultural intrigue. Nakhorn Lampang harks back to the ancient Thai kingdom of Lanna, of which Chiang Mai was the capital. And although a good deal smaller, Lampang today is much like Chiang Mai was, say, 30 years ago - a blissful retreat from the frenzy of Bangkok. And it holds no fewer splendours. To the uninitiated, Lampang is tricky to negotiate. The Wang River winds languidly through the town, dividing it in two. The original walled town - now minus its walls - lies to the north. Its streets meander from the river; one wrong turn and you can end up who knows where. But friendly locals make sure you won't be lost for long. And in the meantime you can savour the history on show. Many of the old houses are made of teak. There are some elegant mansions here as well - reminders of the wealth once generated by logging. The teak industry was booming at the turn of the 20th century, with labour being brought in from British-controlled Burma. Of the many ancient houses here, Baan Sao Nak stands out. Built in 1895, the house is definitively northern in all aspects bar one - its long front verandah is Burmese. The entire complex rests on a mini-forest of teak stilts, 116 of them. It now serves as a museum and is crammed full of antique furniture and family memorabilia. The Burmese left their mark in Lampang: the entire Lanna province was under their rule from 1558 until 1775. Their influence is best seen in the temples, in particular the chedi, or gilded bell-shaped spires. They stand on a huge square base and sweep upwards in numerous tiers to be topped by a delicate parasol. Prayer halls are distinctly Burmese too, their sides left open with multitiered roofs sweeping down almost to the ground. Intricately carved gables are hemmed with filigree shaped like the eyebrows of the Buddha. Lampang possesses the finest collection of such Lanna temples in the kingdom. The first one I stumble upon is Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao. It could hardly be missed, so brightly does it glisten in the sun. The soaring golden chedi is fronted by a gilded mondop, a square, open-sided structure that contains the principal Buddha. Phra Kaeo Don Tao's mondop is definitively Burmese, with its four gabled porches and multitiered tower. It is all filigree and carving, with its interior lushly inlaid with glass mosaics. Another important temple here is Wat Pong Sanuk Tai. It crowns a man-made hill, a representation of Mount Meru where the Hindu gods reside. The temple's triple-tiered wooden mondop dates back to the 18th century and retains its original finials and carved mythical figures, particularly the half-bird, half-human kinnorn. Lampang's business district is south of the river and it, too, contains a good number of century-old Lanna temples. And it is here I become disoriented. The town centre somehow manages to divide itself in two; the old Chinese business quarter lies way off to the east - east of the clock tower, that is - its weary wooden shophouses past their use-by date. And a flashy new centre has emerged in the west, with the 'flashy' represented by one or two coffee shops, smart boutiques and internet cafes. The resultant urban sprawl still permits the existence of rot mah, horse-drawn taxi carriages that have disappeared from almost all other parts of Thailand. In Lampang they thrive, the brightly painted carriages, festooned with plastic flowers, adding quaint anachronistic character to the streets. But a rot mah will not take me to Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, which lies about 17km south of town. So I rent a samlong, or motorised tricycle, to take me to the great temple complex, which serves as a monastery. Its high brick wall is as formidable today as it was when it was built more than 500 years ago. The gates are locked at night and have doubtless helped preserve the wonders within. The complex contains no fewer than five original wooden prayer halls, plus an ordination hall and a chapel housing a 'footprint of the Buddha'. The principal hall is enormous as well as ancient. Its most impressive single feature is its roof, rising from the front gable in three long, shallow tiers. These flare gently outwards, with the eaves extending way beyond the building's open sides. The effect - as Thai folklore would have it - is of a nesting hen's protective wings. And there is much here to protect. Inside is a treasury of art, richly gilded and impossibly ornate. The most impressive pieces are the stunningly decorative high royal pulpit and the multitiered shrine, which contains the principal Buddha, a giant bronze figure cast in 1563. Towering behind the prayer hall is the temple's spectacular chedi, overlaid with geometrically embossed copper plates. Tall gilt parasol-topped pillars stand primly at each corner of its monumental base. The complex is an endless source of artistic inspiration. No bracket, finial or bargeboard is left untouched by art. Several of the ancient prayer halls retain their 19th-century murals. It seems extraordinary that few foreign travellers ever make it to Lampang. At Phra That Lampang Luang, I do encounter several tour groups, down from Chiang Mai, but Lampang's other sites are devoid of tourists. The old town seems determined to keep its precious wonders under wraps. How long can it hold out? Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Bangkok. PB Air ( www.pbair.com ) flies from Bangkok to Lampang.