THE TURN-OFF TO Boao from the coastal highway between Sanya and Haikou takes travellers via a twisting road lined with trees that give way to charming but dilapidated farming villages. Water buffalo turn the fields in the distance. Then, suddenly, the Boao Aquapolis comes into view. For a glimpse of just what modern China's can-do spirit is capable of, there are few better places to visit in the entire nation than this ultra-modern conference facility that has sprung into existence in just five years. Its reason for being is the Boao Forum for Asia - a non-governmental international organisation inspired by the World Economic Forum. Like Switzerland's Davos, which is the seat of the latter, Boao is the permanent home of the Forum for Asia. The small villages that nested in Boao and the three islands that are now home to the Aquapolis have seen enormous changes. The villagers who lived on the islands were moved to Boao town and the resident population has doubled to 30,000 from the 15,000 who lived there in the '90s. Many of them now pin their hopes for the future on tourism. While an international conference centre might sound like an unusual pitch at the average travel agency, Boao is a laid-back destination with some excellent golfing, water sports, a smattering of culture and local colour - along with one of the best hotels in southern China - the Sofitel Boao, Hainan . The big drawback for Boao - apart from its relative isolation, though for some that might be an attraction - is that it is dangerous to swim here. Chinese tourists take speedboats out from the Aquapolis wharf on Dongyu Island to a spit of sand between the mouth of the Wanquan River and the South China Sea, but a paddle along the seashore is about as far out to sea as they can go. The spit, known as Jade Belt Beach, is said to be the narrowest natural peninsula in the world, and a few minutes of walking is enough to escape the crowds of bussed-in tourists who mill at the water's edge for 15 minutes before heading back to the Aquapolis. There is little else to do. Boats can be hired for a pleasant journey inland on the Wanquan River, and fishing excursions are available, though at a heavy price. In an effort to endow the area with some cultural attractions, a Zen Buddhist temple has been constructed with foreign investment. The Boao Chan Temple has some impressive Buddhist statues, including a Buddha image donated by the King of Nepal during this year's Boao Forum for Asia in April, when the temple opened. But most of all, Boao is a place to chill out. In the evening, when there are no conferences, you will almost have the place to yourself. Both major hotels have immense swimming pools and the Golden Coast Hot Spring Hotel provides the opportunity to soak away your cares. See it while you can. Boao has big plans for the future. Among the many initiatives in the planning stages are a Boao Film Festival, four more golf courses, a national winter training centre for water sports and Asia's biggest duty-free shopping mall.