Over the water…and over the top

An overwater bungalow is magical: you can step right into the sea, sunsets and sunrises seem limitless and the soft wave sounds are balm for your soul. These hideaways exist on tropical island in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Here are six recipes for romance.

By Sharon McDonnell

Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia

This resort on a rainforest-covered 300-acre island has 43 elegant overwater villas. Spa lovers will be in heaven, with direct access to a paradise of pavilions, huts and gazebos offering plentiful treatments (massages, milk baths, scented body steaming) that incorporate Malay, Chinese, Indian and Balinese techniques. Take an Asian cooking class, which includes visits to a noodle maker, seafood merchant and fishery; do a jungle trek to spot macaques and hornbills; visit fishing villages nearby. Pangkor Laut is a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland jetty, which is a three-hour drive south of Kuala Lumpur.

Anantara Dhigu, Maldives

Forty thatch-roofed overwater bungalows face translucent turquoise ocean, thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the bedroom and bathroom and decks with loungers; six have private pools. Also on the water: the spa, offering Ayurvedic and Thai treatments. Learn the secrets of Maldivian food (similar to south Indian, with seafood coconut-milk curries) at the cooking school. Dine at eight restaurants, from Thai to Japanese to a seafood grill, at Dhigu and its sister resort, adults-only Anantara Veli, whose 60 bungalows are just a few minutes away by boat shuttle. In this country of 1,100 islands dotted with luxury resorts and toothpaste-white beaches, both Dhigu and Veli are a quick half-hour speedboat ride from Malé International Airport.

St. Regis Bora Bora Resort,
French Polynesia

All 72 bungalows have glass floor panels to watch marine life, outdoor terraces with dining gazebos, Italian marble bathrooms, colorful textiles and views of the intensely teal South Pacific, as well as craggy, lush green-velvet Mt. Otemanu. If you book the Premier Otemanu Villa, you’ll get an outdoor whirlpool and covered daybed, while the two-bedroom, 3,455-square-foot Royal Otemanu Villa touts the region’s biggest pool suspended over a lagoon. Nicole Kidman honeymooned in the Royal Estate, a secluded compound with its own private beach. Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Asian-Western fusion restaurant, Lagoon, is one of five restaurants. The 13,000-square-foot spa offers Polynesian, Asian and Clarins treatments. Take a yacht or helicopter from Bora Bora Airport, which is a 50-minute flight from Papeete, Tahiti, the French Polynesian capital.

Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi, Maldives

The world’s first underwater spa is here: enjoy a massage or wrap while admiring colorful fish through glass walls. All 26 thatched bungalows have decks with outdoor private pools, staircases into the sea, a team of butlers and 40-inch plasma TVs; if you prefer something a bit more underwater, the Ocean Bungalow has glass-bottom floors in the living room to observe the fishies, plus a three-tier waterfront deck with an infinity pool. Equally surreal: the below-the-sea restaurant and nightclub, decorated with cascades of shells from the ceiling and Italian crystal chandeliers at Per Aquum’s sister resort, Per Aquum Niyama.

Song Saa, Cambodia

In this secluded island resort, nine bungalows overlook the serene Gulf of Thailand; if you stay in a two-bedroom villa, you’ll get your choice of personal chef or jetty. Activities range from kayaking the Koh Rong archipelago and hiking forested nature trails to indulgent Khmer and Ayurvedic spa treatments in pavilions scattered within the rainforest or onshore. There’s also yoga and meditation on a platform by the sea. Song Saa, committed to nature conservation and improving peoples’ lives through its namesake foundation, is half an hour by speedboat from the low-key beach town of Sihanoukville, 140 miles south of Phnom Penh.

Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, French Polynesia

Wake up and smell the vanilla on this tiny island of emerald mountains and valleys. Polynesia’s only Relais & Chateaux resort boasts 45 bungalows decorated Polynesian-style, which means bamboo, patterned tapa (bark cloth), stone and exotic woods. Kayak to your room. Take an excursion to a vanilla plantation, black pearl farm and sacred archeological site on nearby Raiatea island. Luxuriate in the garden spa, which uses monoi, a traditional oil made from coconuts and flowers. Watch folkloric dances and fire dances, held weekly, and dine on gourmet French and South Pacific fusion at Ohiri restaurant. Take a 14-minute helicopter ride from Bora Bora to get here.

Sharon McDonnell is a San Francisco travel writer who has shopped in Bali, whale-watched in the Azores and learned to cook in India, Morocco, Thailand, Italy and France.

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