Venice may be the one we all know, but it is by no means the only town raised above water and plied by canoes and gondolas instead of bicycles and cars. In fact, there are quite a number of floating towns, speckled all around the globe. Here we’ve gathered together five of the most fascinating, from colorful fishing villages in Thailand to fabled towns in the heartlands lands of Aztec Mexico.
Nicknamed the Venice of the East, Zhouzhuang is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world among residents of China. It’s surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers, and threaded through with an intricate weave of canals, plied by singing ferrymen transporting tourists to the Old Town on gorgeous wooden gondolas. This old town has a long and storied history: its streets are lined with ancient residential houses, and some structures, such as the elegant Chengxu Taoist Temple, are more than 900 years old. A web of bridges and walkways cross the town’s waterways, some (such as the Twin Bridges) famous for their views and the artistry of their design.
A few minutes boat journey from Santa Cruz del Islote lies the tourist island of Mucuras, a tropical paradise lined with white sand beaches, waters carpeted by coral and luxury resorts. Santa Cruz itself couldn’t be further removed from this upper class idyll. It is, unofficially, the world’s most crowded island – 1,200 people inhabit just over one tenth of a square kilometer. Visitors to Santa Cruz are really looking for an adventure and a large dose of distant culture: an hour from Colombia's Caribbean coast, the island has little electricity and a water supply that is in frequent danger of running out, and the living conditions of the locals will inspire a shift in perspective from all wanderers. Certain boat tour operators organize excursions out to this tiny but packed island.
Ko Panyi is a colorful fishing village located in the picturesque Phang Nga Bay, just north of Phuket in Thailand. Nothing remarkable there – except that the entire village is built on stilts, balanced above the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea. It was constructed in the 18th century by Nomadic Malay fishermen, and it is said that all 2000 of the residents living in the village today are descended from only two Muslim families. The village is full of cool and creative features, but perhaps the funkiest of all is a floating soccer field, built by village children from scrap wood and derelict boats.
Like a number of things in life, the Dutch town of Naarden looks particularly good from above – it’s a spectacular example of a Spanish star fort, with six perfectly carved green points cutting out into a deep blue moat. It was this striking quality that made it an ideal rallying point for Allied bombers returning to England after raids on Germany. But it’s also a pretty fascinating place to step into on foot, surrounded by imposing 17th century fortifications and dotted with historical buildings and monuments, such as the medieval gothic of St. Vitus Church. There’s also an excellent Fortress Museum exploring the history of the town.
Most of the year, Mexcaltitán is only notable for being a colorful town with a tightly packed population crammed on to a rather diminutive island. But if you look closely, you can still figure out what is so distinctive about this settlement – its sidewalks are raised several feet above its streets, so that when these streets flood during the rainy season, the sidewalks remain dry. At this time, canoes replace bikes, carts and cars as the main form of transport around town. As well as this unusually changeable nature, Mexcaltitán has a fascinating if rather mysterious history. It was created by human hands, possibly by the Aztecs – and according to some, it correlates with descriptions of Aztlan, the legendary ancestral home of the Aztec people which they left in 1091 to begin their pilgrimage to Tenochtitlan. If this is true, it would make Mexcaltitán the birthplace of the Aztecs. A museum in town, the Museo del Origin (Museum of Origin), presents Aztec artifacts in light of this possibility.