Sri Lanka is one of those places that no one really thinks about, at least not in North America. Truthfully, the small island off the south coast of India only landed on my radar because dating a die-hard surfer means our travel plans are dictated by chasing waves. Sri Lanka has some of the best surf in the entire world, making it the perfect place to celebrate Michael’s 30th birthday.

Before this trip, I was starting to worry that we were getting a bit desensitized to, if not disenchanted with, Southeast Asia. Looking back at our first trip to Bali in 2015, this part of the world used to seem enchantingly exotic and different. Now that we’ve been living in Malaysia for a year, we’re pretty used to it, and the beaches of California that I used to be so accustomed to are starting to have that “foreign” allure instead. Maybe it’s just that we have been traveling so much that we were starting to get burnt out of this lifestyle. But this trip to Sri Lanka changed everything.

Despite its relatively small size, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. Its diverse landscape has everything from rainforested mountains and lush national parks in the northeast, to golden beaches and turquoise water in the southwest. With jungle safaris, age-old heritage sites such as Galle Fort, and tea plantations, Sri Lanka has a little something for everyone. But being the beach bums that we are, we spent almost our entire trip surrounded by sand and saltwater, which was just fine with me!

As far as tropical paradises go, Sri Lanka has it all. The paradisal slice of heaven has the most beautiful palm-fringed beaches, uncrowded waves, and a sense of calm engulfing the entire island. That is, until you start driving. Sri Lanka has got to have some of the craziest drivers in the entire world (says a girl from Southern California), and it’s a miracle that neither of us got ran over by a bus on this trip! Even with a recent influx in tourism, Sri Lanka’s local culture seems to remain completely intact with little influence from the west, which is refreshing to find these days, even in Asia. While I did not find the people to be overly welcoming like they are in Indonesia, they always greeted with us with a warm smile and friendly chit chat.

I think what really stole my heart about Sri Lanka was the unpretentious, laid-back island vibe. Sri Lanka is a place where you’ll find beauty in the simplicity. Life really does move a little slower here, and relaxation is the only thing that is taken seriously. One thing that really surprised me was how clean the beaches were. Normally in developing island countries, the beaches are full of trash, but not here.

We spent the first few days in Weligama, the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka, where we were lucky enough to stay in the honeymoon villa at Eraeliya Villas & Gardens. The boutique resort overlooks a glistening surf beach with a shallow reef and a relatively empty lineup. It was perfection. I’ve said this before, but I always feel at home near the ocean and there’s nothing I love more than falling asleep and waking up to the sounds of crashing waves. Our villa was a bit secluded from the town of Weligama, which meant we didn’t have to deal with maddening crowds, and Michael didn’t have to put up with surf school kooks. This place was paradise, so much so that we hardly left the villa.

Behind the resort we got to see the famous “stilt fishing” for which Sri Lanka is known. Disclaimer: they are not actually fishing. They just do this for the tourists, and charge you to take pics!

We also spent some time a little further south at a surf camp in Mirissa, a chill little coastal town. Michael was determined to surf this famous break called Matara, so we hired a tuk tuk and went on a little “surfari” to find it. My favorite part about traveling is seeing how the locals lives, and to get to Matara we had to go through a small village with no tourists, except for a few other surfers. It was awesome! It made me think about all the off-the-beaten-path places I have been lucky enough to discover simply because of Michael’s surfing – there have been a lot in the past few years! It’s pretty cool how travel and surfing are so intertwined.

Unfortunately, the waves in Sri Lanka are notoriously fickle, and luck was not on Michael’s side this time around. I guess that means we’ll have to go back someday!

The last few days, we hung out in Hikkaduwa which was my favorite part of the trip. Not only were the beaches wide and immaculate, but the town was lively with lots of great shops and restaurants. We stayed at the charming Villa Saffron Hikkaduwa, a light and airy boutique villa situated right on the most pristine beach with soft sand and hardly any people. The villa was so comfortable and homey, decorated with a mix of minimalist contemporary with Sri Lankan elements.

But the highlight was definitely the sea turtles!! I heard you can spot turtles in Hikkaduwa, but I didn’t realize they would be everywhere! At one beach they would all just chill near the shore and you can literally just hang out with them. They were so mellow with lots of personality, and they were massive! They probably weighed 3x as much as me. I love that no matter where we go, animals always seem to play a big role in our travels, and this experience just reaffirmed my love for turtles. They’re like modern day dinosaurs.

Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but think about the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in 2004, including the places we visited. It tragically killed over 30,000 people in Sri Lanka alone, and I feel like that still haunts the country today. The ocean fascinates me because it is simultaneously the most peaceful thing in the world, and the most powerful. Being in Sri Lanka was an incredible reminder of the force of mother nature, and the resilience of humanity.