Over-water bungalows have their origins in French Polynesia, the epitome of the tropical island escape. Americans Don 'Muk' McCullum, Jay Carlisle and the late Hugh Kelley, known as the 'Bali Hai Boys', were inspired by James Michener's novel, South Pacific, and adapted traditional coral stilt homes for a tourist village on the island of Moorea after their vanilla farming venture failed. It wasn't until 1971, however, when the Hotel Bora Bora built its first luxurious over-water bungalows, that this style of accommodation caught the attention of the world's jet set. 'We had taken over a small, six-bungalow hotel on the island of Raiatea, where there are no beaches, but beautiful lagoons and marvellous tropical sightseeing and diving,' recalls Jay, who is now in his 70s. 'Seeking to call attention to our little Bali Hai resort, we decided to try building three bungalows out on the reef, right in front of the hotel, with docks reaching out to them. 'The diving was fantastic, but the bungalows were a bit small, so we built six more, larger in size. Then we went to our Moorea property and built six there. Our friends, the owners of the Hotel Bora Bora, wanted to know how it was done, so we said, 'Send your construction boss over and we'll show you.' Now there are over-water bungalows all over French Polynesia.' 'The over-water concept had been used by the Polynesians for several generations, building grass huts on stilts on the lagoon's edge,' says Monty Brown, who worked at the Hotel Bora Bora and who now works for Aman Resorts, which operates a hotel on Bora Bora. 'The idea of a tourist sleeping out over the water, with the moon reflecting off the lagoon, private sunbathing, and the multitude of fish that are attracted by the lights, made the experience unforgettable, and the boom was on.' Initially, Tahiti became synonymous with these luxurious cabins perched above lagoons, and now several resorts offer them, including the InterContinental Hotel Group's Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, which opened in May 2006, the St Regis and the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort. 'Over-water bungalows are the ultimate honeymoon splurge,' says St Regis general manager Stephane Delamotte. Resort operators in the Maldives also decided to build bungalows offshore, which are a popular holiday choice for Hong Kong couples. Soneva Gili (sixsenses.com), a resort in the archipelago, offers houses in the middle of a lagoon, complete with a maid and butler called Mr & Mrs Friday. There's no need for a 'do not disturb' sign when you can see visitors rowing out long before they reach you. The Angsana Velavaru (angsana.com) is to open over-water bungalows on the South Nilandhe Atoll on July 1. The best of them, the In Ocean Villas, come with a 290 square foot private plunge pool encircled by a sun deck, access to a sea pool and with a Thai-style sala on a lower deck, which is perfect for private spa treatments. At the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa (tajhotels.com), each of the 31 deluxe lagoon villas, measuring 1000 sq ft, offers sun decks, spacious day beds, plunge pools and bathtubs overlooking the Indian Ocean. A Mandarin Oriental is set to open later this year on the island of Maavelavaru in the northern Maldives, boasting 114 stand-alone villas, 20 of which will be perched above the lagoon. But the explosive popularity of over-water bungalows is not limited to the Maldives and Tahiti. The experience of being surrounded by water and waking to the lapping of waves against your room's foundations can be found in secluded spots around the globe. Over-water chalets are also available in spots as far apart as Fiji and Panama. In Bermuda, for instance, the tent-like, soft-sided Paradise Pier cabanas of the recently opened 9 Beaches Resort (9beaches.com) feature plexiglass panels in the timber floors so guests can watch the local marine life swim by. Closer to home, the Lagen Island Resort (elnidoresorts.com) in El Nido, northwest of Palawan in the Philippines, features cottages built above a protected lagoon, made from antique wood from old Filipino houses. In the Swiss city of Neuchatel, guests can enjoy direct access to the waters of a pristine mountain lake. Bruce Jones, an American submarine entrepreneur, plans to complete Poseidon Mystery Island off Fiji by September that will offer suites on the beach, over the water and even under the sea. In Dubai, another developer is drawing up plans for a one million square foot complex of suites, shops and ballrooms complete with its own missile defence system. But back in Tahiti, where it all began, the Aman Hotel Bora Bora is closed for reconstruction to coincide with its 50th anniversary. When it reopens it will have fewer bungalows so as to recapture that Tahitian magic that Jay Carlisle recalls each evening at his story telling hour with guests at the rambling Club Bali Hai resort.