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The World’s 5 Most Fascinating Floating Villages in Asia

Houses, health centers, schools and other community structures over water – see the way of life in these unique villages.

From Vietnam to Hong Kong, there are quite a few villages where water is life. Ancient civilizations before them had developed around bodies of water, like rivers, lakes, springs or the sea coast. Fascinatingly, many of these creative communities are forged in one of the most unique lifestyles, living on the water rather than near the water. These ingenious floating villages have passed their traditions down the generations. Amazingly many of these villagers hardly ever set foot on solid ground.

1. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The Ha Long Bay floating community comprises four villages with around 1,600 people who sustain themselves through fishing and fish cultivation activities. Each village in Ha Long Bay is a completely self-contained society.

According to legend, the bay was formed when a gigantic Ha Long (descending dragon in phonic translation) protecting the bay from invasion, plunged into the gulf of Tonkin and created a myriad of islets by lashing its tail. UNESCO has designated Ha Long Bay as a World Heritage site.

Take an overnight cruise across this magnificent landscape of more than 2,000 limestone pinnacles that rise from the emerald green waters. Paddle a kayak, explore illuminated caves, visit a village and a cultured pearl farm. Explore Ha Long Bay with us on our Discovery of Vietnam trip.

2. Tonle Sap, Cambodia

Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. The lake swells and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. There are more than 170 floating villages consisting of houses on stilts and floating houses supported by empty gas drums. Like villages on land, these floating villages are complete with grocery stores, schools, barber shops and temples. This lake is home to many ethnic Vietnamese who migrated to Cambodia during the 20th century.

Visitors can board a traditional wooden boat or a luxury private cruise to visit the floating villages. Most of the villagers are still fishermen. Tour boats pass tree filled swamps, churches and the elementary school during the excursion. Tonle Sap floating village is featured in our Discover of Cambodia trip.

3. Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake serves up a unique aquatic world. The wooden houses of the floating villages are built on rickety stilts. Local crops are grown on floating gardens. Kayaks are used for transportation. Take some time to explore one of Myanmar’s most iconic destinations with a sunrise or sunset cruise. A must-see for every tourist are the Intha fishermen with their unique technique of rowing the boat with one leg while using both hands to fish, they are most photogenic at dawn. You can see local silk weaving, silversmithing, paper-making, and farming up close during your cruise.

4. Ko Panyi, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Just off the Andaman Sea, past hundreds of limestone rock formations is a rustic floating village populated by descendants of Muslim families who fled Indonesia some 200 years ago. Situated under the shadow of a vertical limestone cliff, Ko Panyi village has 360 families with a total population of around 1,700. This floating village features houses on stilts, a school, market, mosque, and most interestingly, a football pitch built using old scraps of wood and fishing rafts. While life in Ko Panyi traditionally depends on fishing, tourism has brought some prosperity to the villagers in recent years.

From Phuket island, most of the Phang Nga Bay sea cave tours (some tour companies promote Phang Nga Bay as James Bond Island) include a visit to Ko Panyi. Phuket island is featured in our Best of Thailand trip.

5. Tai O, Hong Kong

Tai O is the historical home of the Tanka boat people for whom life is all about the sea. These fishermen have built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for generations. These unusual structures are interconnected, forming a tightly knit community. Sampans ply the dark-green waterways, and elderly residents still dry seafood on traditional straw mats and make the village’s celebrated shrimp paste.

Both local and international visitors wander down the back alleys where small shops sell local produce such as dried fish, dries squid, shrimp paste and XO sauce. You can take a 20 minute boat tour offering a view of the floating village from the water. This enchanting world is a photographer’s paradise.

Need help planning your next vacation? Save time by choosing one of our curated tours and embark on a magical journey with your own private tour guide and driver. Our tours are fully customizable at no charge to you.

Best of Thailand
10 Days from $2,000 per person
See the best of Thailand from all corners; from ancient wonders, bustling Bangkok to its’ island paradise.
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Discover Vietnam
6 Days from $1,200 per person
Capture the lively spirit of Vietnam from both the hustle and bustle of modern life and the tranquility of a bygone era.
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Discover Cambodia
6 Days from $1,150 per person
An off the beaten track journey to what was once the most powerful empire in Southeast Asia and modern Cambodia.
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