10 fascinating floating villages
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 October 2017.
By Josh Lew, Mother Nature Network, 2 October 2017.
All around the globe, people make their living from the water. These settlements have sustained people for centuries with fishing, aquaculture and shipping. And a handful of these towns are so closely tied to the water that their residents actually live on the water rather than next to it.
Some floating villages were established so that residents could easily adapt to changes in water levels, while others were built so fishermen could keep 24-hour watch over nets or fish farms. Floating villages offer protection for their residents, with the water creating a kind of natural moat that keeps enemies and predators away. Occasionally, water-top settlements have been established simply because people had nowhere else to go.
Here are several floating villages (like the one pictured top in Peru, which will be covered below) and over-water settlements that reveal the amazing ways that humans have adapted to thrive on the water.
1. Aberdeen Floating Village, Hong Kong
Parts of Aberdeen Floating Village might still seem quite traditional, but Hong Kong’s modern development is always within view. Skyscrapers and one of the world’s largest floating restaurants, the gaudy Jumbo Kingdom, overlook the 600 traditional Chinese junks that sit in the harbor. Other areas of the typhoon shelter near Hong Kong Island are used to moor modern yachts and speedboats.
Some people still live on the boats full time, though an increasing number also have homes on land, and they use their vessels only for fishing or to provide informal ferry services. Though fishing is still a major industry for Aberdeen residents, tourism has also increased in recent years, and the primary source of income for some residents is providing rides to commuters and sightseers or offering catered meals on their boats.
2. Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru
Photo: Pavel Špindler/Wikimedia Commons
The Uros (also called Uru) are part of a tribe that thrived in Peru even before the Inca civilization began. The Uros now live on several dozen artificial islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca. The islands and all the buildings on them are made from native totora reeds. The reeds wither and rot away, and new layers need to be added every two to three months to keep the islands afloat. Since they grow naturally in the lake, however, there's always a supply of totoras on hand.
Because of their uniqueness, the Uros islands have become tourist attractions. Cruises visit the islands, and the inhabitants fashion and sell souvenirs made with the all-important reeds. A few residents even offer homestay opportunities. Tourism is the main source of income for some islands, but others are still traditional. These can only be visited by private boat, and the inhabitants, though sometimes welcoming, prefer not to be photographed.
3. Ganvie Lake, West Africa
Photo: David Stanley/Flickr
People have been living on West Africa’s Ganvie Lake for several centuries. Today, the complex of stilt houses on the lake, located near Cotonou, Benin, has a population of more than 20,000. The village was established about five centuries ago by people who were trying to escape the powerful Fon tribe, whose warriors were known for capturing their enemies and selling them to slave traders operating in West Africa at that time. The idea worked because the water provided a natural barrier and because the warriors thought it was unlucky to pursue their enemies over the water.
Tourism has grown around the village, which is one of the world’s largest overwater population centers. In fact, Ganvie is sometimes described as Africa’s Venice, and boat tours through the village are increasingly popular. Agriculture is still practiced in and around the lake, but the main industries, even after the tourism boom, are fishing and fish farming.
4. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Photo: Andrea Schaffer/Flickr
Thanks to its towering limestone spires and picturesque islands, Ha Long Bay has grown into a major tourist attraction. Cruises, on traditional junks and more-modern yachts, sail on well-worn routes through the core of the bay. Many stop at one of the three floating villages that still exist in the region.
The 1,700 people who live in the houseboats on the bay are mostly engaged in fishing and aquaculture, though tourism is playing an increasingly important role in their economy. Tour companies offer visits to these villages as part of multi-day Ha Long cruises, and some residents even have homestay opportunities.
5. Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria
Makoko, a section of Lagos, Nigeria, is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of Africa" - a nickname it shares with Benin’s Genvie. However, unlike Genvie, Makoko isn't known as a tourist destination. A low-income district with makeshift homes built above the water on stilts, many people in Makoko live without being connected to power, sewers and other basic services. Government relocation efforts have ended in violence, and many of the hundreds of migrants who come to Lagos every day seeking work end up living in Makoko, so the population is continuously replenished.
Makoko is made up of six different settlements, four of which are on the water. Charities and NGOs have set up medical facilities and a floating school in the district. Important industries such as boat making, fishing and fish processing, dredging of clay and other building materials, and other businesses mean that, despite being considered an eyesore by municipal authorities, Makoko plays an important role in the development of Lagos.
6. Tonlé Sap, Cambodia
Tonlé Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. It is fed by a river of the same name, which eventually flows into the Mekong River. The lake has a collection of unique ecosystems and was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. Tonlé Sap also has a number of floating villages, most inhabited by ethnic Vietnamese people who were not given citizenship by Cambodia and therefore could not buy land. To get around this, they established villages on the water.
Villagers have traditionally survived by fish and farming, but tourism has grown in recent decades. One of the main reasons for this is the popularity of Angkor Wat, Cambodia's much-celebrated ancient temple complex. It is located in Siem Reap, which is very near to Tonlé Sap. Many international tourists add the floating villages to their itinerary. Unfortunately, the tourism industry in Cambodia is still in its early stages of development and tourists interested in seeing the villages will come across as many negative warnings as they will reviews of legitimate cruises and homestay tours.
7. Ko Panyi, Thailand
Photo: Telgaa/Wikimedia Commons
The Phang Nga District in Southern Thailand is a haven for tourists. Known for its beaches and late-night parties, the region also has stunning rock formations, large protected marine parks and at least one stilt-house village. Ko Panyi is a small island with a fishing village of about 1,500 people. Like many other floating villages in Southeast Asia, Ko Panyi’s settlement was built over water because migrants were not allowed to own land. Land rights have changed over the centuries, and now some of the village, including a large mosque and water supply center, has been built on land.
Ko Panyi is still mostly over the water, however. Despite a rise in tourism interest, fishing is still the main occupation, as it has been for more than a century. Cruises from Phuket arrive daily, and it can get quite crowded, but some villagers offer homestays so that visitors can experience life on the overwater town after the crowds have left. One of the biggest draws is an ingenious floating soccer field that is popular with the village youth.
8. Loktak Lake, India
Photo: Sharada Prasad CS/Wikimedia Commons
Many of the dwellings on Loktak Lake, in the Indian state of Manipur, appear to be on dry land, but they're actually floating. This is because the lake is filled with large masses of vegetation called phumdis. These islands of vegetation, soil and other organic matter literally float on the water. The largest phumdi covers about 15 square miles. Homes, tourist guesthouses and even an elementary school are built on the top of some of the phumdis.
Loktak also has a floating national park. Keibul Lamjao National Park is a reserve that is meant to protect the endangered brown-antlered deer. Drainage from the rivers that feed the lake and runoff from nearby population centers have been blamed for a decrease in the thickness of the phumdis, which affects not only the deer, but also birds, reptiles and plants that previously thrived on the unique floating islands.
9. Giethoorn, the Netherlands
Photo: Bert Knot/Flickr
Giethoorn doesn't have stilt houses or dwellings built on pontoons, but the only way to navigate the town is by boat or by traveling over a maze of small wooden bridges. Many of the farmhouses here have a traditional design and were first built in the 18th century.
The waterways were originally formed when residents cut away the land to harvest peat. Giethoorn is part of Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which has more waterways and wetlands.
10. Maldives Overwater Resorts
Photo: Neville Wootton/Flickr
The Maldives is famously vulnerable to rising ocean levels. Perhaps it's practical, then, that the Indian Ocean island nation is home to more than half of the world’s overwater vacation villas. Dozens of resorts, from some of the world’s biggest luxury hospitality names to locally owned mid-range accommodations, have embraced the stilt house trend.
Most of the resorts are connected to small islands, and the more expensive options are on private islands and can be reached only by boat or plane. These resorts are certainly not “floating villages” in the traditional sense, but in a country that relies so heavily on tourism, they are not merely attractions for those with too much disposable income. They are vital to the economy (tourism accounts for one-fourth of the Maldives’ GDP), and they put tourists in touch with the country’s best asset: its crystal clear water.
Top image: Uros floating islands, Titicaca Lake, Peru. Credit: Diego Delso/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images added.]