There are some things that no self-respecting tropical resort can do without. Cool towels to greet arriving guests. A cocktail bar by the water. But the big gun, of course, is the overwater bungalow. The first overwater bungalows appeared 50 years ago in French Polynesia; today, there are almost 900 of them spread across the archipelago's lagoons. You will find them further afield, too, including such unlikely locations as Cambodia and Switzerland. Here is our pick of the world's most memorable floating hideaways.
1 ST REGIS BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
Overwater accommodation is almost compulsory in Bora Bora, but the villas at St Regis Bora Bora are the ones to beat. These super-sized villas start at a whopping 144 square metres; if you want to spread out, upsize to a 321-square-metre two-bedroom villa, which also has its own pool. With a private butler awaiting your every command, why would you ever leave? If you do decide to explore, buggies are available to ferry you around the resort, which is just as generously-proportioned as the villas.
While you are there: The St Regis' spectacular Miri Miri Spa is one of the best around.
From $A2000 a night; see stregisborabora.com
2 SONG SAA PRIVATE ISLAND, CAMBODIA
Cambodia is best known for its magnificent temples, but the private island of Song Saa is becoming an attraction in its own right. Each of its overwater villas features four-poster beds, stone walls and carved tribal statues, as well as a sunken tub. Our favourite indulgence: a private cinema screening on your deck.
While you are there: Plunge into a wide range of water sports, from snorkelling tours to sea kayaking and evening swims in the bioluminescent sea.
From$US1790 bed and breakfast, or $US2340 all-inclusive, songsaa.com
3 ONE & ONLY REETHI RAH, MALDIVES
One & Only Resorts is known for offering the last word in luxury, so it's no surprise that the water villas at this Maldivian hideaway are the stuff that dreams are made of. Sprawling across an extraordinary 149 square metres, each one features high ceilings, elegant interiors and generous private decks. Some have their own pools. Instead of the long rows of villas that feature at most resorts, these are grouped together in clusters of four, maximising your privacy.
While you are there: With 12 beaches, six restaurants, an artist studio and a rock climbing wall, there is plenty to keep you busy.
From $US2000; see oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-reethi-rah-maldives/about
4 HOTEL PALAFITTE, SWITZERLAND
It may not have tropical temperatures but Switzerland does have plenty of lakes, and one of them, Lake Neuchatel, is home to Europe's only overwater bungalows. These chic retreats feature sexy bathrooms and lakeside terraces that are the perfect spot to enjoy your morning coffee. Fancy sunset drinks in your bathtub? A sliding partition lets you open up the view to the lake. And yes, if you come in summer, you can go for a swim; the water temperature will be about 23 degrees.
While you're there: The pretty town of Neuchatel is worth exploring, as is the remarkable alpine retreat of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
From CHF 330, palafitte.ch/en/home.html
5 ROSEWOOD MAYAKOBA, MEXICO
Like to make an entrance? Then you have come to the right place. Check in to one of these chic overwater lagoon suites – which come complete with plunge pool, walk-in closet and lounge terrace – and you will be transferred to your room by boat. That's typical of the small touches that make this resort special. There is also a spa with a traditional Mayan sweat lodge, a tequila library containing 100-plus different varieties; and lagoon tours where you may spot turtles, iguana, spoonbills and even a crocodile.
While you are there: It's hard to know where to start on the Riviera Maya, where options include Mayan ruins, coral reefs, jungle adventures and freshwater cenotes.
From $US842, rosewoodhotels.com/en/mayakoba-riviera-maya
6 LIKULIKU LAGOON RESORT, FIJI
A good overwater bure should offer everything you need for a lazy day doing nothing: a deck for sprawling on, a sea for swimming in, a bed for napping in. At Likuliku, they even take care of the food, delivering a daily canape plate to your bure. (Did we mention that the food here is some of the best in the country?) That is typical of this adults-only resort, where not a detail gets overlooked.
While you are there: Want something more strenuous than just chilling out? Then try snorkelling, island hopping, village visits or one of the island's walking trails.
From $FJD995 a person a night inclusive of all meals, see likulikulagoon.com
7 PANGKOR LAUT, MALAYSIA
A private island, shrouded by an ancient rainforest and fringed with white beaches – does it get better than this? Well yes, actually. Pangkor Laut also has a sensational spa, where every treatment begins with a signature Bath House Ritual. If you anticipate clocking up some serious spa time, check into one of the resort's sleek overwater Spa Villas – inspired by traditional Malaysian architecture – which offer direct access to the spa.
While you are there: There are plenty of other activities to choose from, including yoga, cooking classes and guided rainforest walks.
From $US400, see pangkorlautresort.com
8 CONSTANCE LE PRINCE, MAURITIUS
Are you feeling relaxed yet? We're not surprised. The former French colony of Mauritius is known for its turquoise water and sandy beaches; what ups the indulgence factor at Constance Le Prince, apart from not one but two 18-hole golf courses and a wine cellar containing 25,000 bottles, is its Junior Suites on Stilts. Elegantly designed according to feng shui principles, these secluded hideaways are the perfect place to get busy doing nothing at all.
While you are there: For a change of pace, head to the Port Louis bazaar to bargain for spices and sarongs.
9 SANDALS ROYAL CARIBBEAN, JAMAICA
It's hard to believe that the recently opened overwater villas at Sandals Royal Caribbean, near Montego Bay, are the first overwater accommodation in the Caribbean islands. Environmental factors such as tides and hurricanes are said to have posed significant challenges; however, given the warm welcome that these villas – each with a private infinity pool, soaking tub, overwater hammock and private butler – have received, expect to see more overwater accommodation appearing across the Caribbean.
While you are there: Ready to go beyond the beach? On a tour of the Montego Bay Marine Park, you may spot everything from pelicans and herons to barracuda and lobsters. From $US1435 a night, a person. sandals.com/main/royal/rj-home/
10 FOUR SEASONS RESORT BORA BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
What do you want to see when you open your eyes in the morning? At Four Seasons Bora Bora, you can choose from overwater bungalows with views across the lagoon or beach, or go for broke and choose the romantic mountain view. Each of the generously-sized bungalows comes with an outdoor deck with shower and an indoor tub made for two.
While you are there: This is the only Bora Bora resort to boast its own private lagoon complete with coral bommies and colourful fish.
From €1,014, see fourseasons.com/borabora/
11 COCOA ISLAND, MALDIVES
There is a design formula that most overwater villas stick with – think thatched roofs and bleached woods – but Como Hotels and Resorts is not a company that likes to follow the crowd. At Cocoa Island, its overwater Dhoni Suites are designed to look like the traditional Maldivian dhoni boats used to travel between the islands. Other points of difference include hand-embroidered curtains and complimentary yoga, pranayama and meditation classes.
While you are there: The island's house reef teems with tropical fish and even turtles.
From $US1196 a night, breakfast included, see comohotels.com/cocoaisland
12 FLOAT HOUSE RIVER KWAI, THAILAND
It may not offer lashings of luxury, but the Float House River Kwai remains a remarkable place to stay nonetheless. Made of bamboo and teakwood, the entire hotel floats upon the fast-flowing river, and the only way to get here is by boat. That makes it a haven for those whose idea of fuss-free indulgence is sitting on your deck watching the river flow by. While you are there: Learn more about some of the darkest days of World War Two with visits to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre, the war cemetery and the notorious Hellfire Pass.
From THB4340, see thefloathouseriverkwai.com